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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek story

FEBRUARY 11, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 5

'Pakistan Unpredictable'
But India can hold its ground, says Fernandes

Giant killer. Ace troubleshooter. Battling socialist. Self-declared pacifist. In his 51 years as a politician, those are just a few of the sobriquets Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes has earned - with at least one of them now redundant. Following India's atomic tests in 1998, George, as the minister is fondly called, turned from being an avid proponent of unilateral disarmament to a nuclear hawk. The overnight change did not surprise those who know him. Fernandes, after all, has always reveled in contradictions. As minister of industries in the 1970s, he kicked out Coca-Cola and IBM from the country - only to play an instrumental role in the subsequent tie-up between a leading state-owned electronics firm and the German multinational Siemens.

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Pakistan: Of Rhetoric and Reality
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New Vows in Islamabad
A judicial clampdown reflects wider troubles

India: 'Pakistan Unpredictable'
But India can hold its ground, says Fernandes

Indonesia: Washington on Wahid
America's top man on East Asia applauds Indonesia's president

Thailand: The Enemy on the Border
More than anyone else, it's Myanmar United Wa State Army that threatens Thailand's security

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Fernandes has a long and intimate association with India's vibrant trade union movement. At the height of India's war with Pakistan in Kashmir's Kargil area last year, he was in Bombay celebrating the anniversary of a railway strike he once led. At 70, and 10 years divorced, Fernandes is among the most outspoken politicians in India, for which he is both admired and reviled. (Though he claims he was misquoted by a reporter, George's first major gaffe as defense minister was to call China "enemy No. 1" after India's 1998 nuclear tests.) He recently spoke with Contributor Sanjay Kapoor in New Delhi on a range of defense-related issues, including his new doctrine of "limited warfare" with Pakistan. Excerpts from their conversation:

What is at the core of India's conflict with Pakistan?
The conflict lies in the very nature of Pakistan. Pakistan's belief that Kashmir should be part of it is based on the theocratic nature of their state, something that is unacceptable to us.

How much of a threat is Pakistan?
In terms of numbers and capability we are much stronger. But Pakistan is unpredictable in terms of the enterprises it gets involved in, including the latest one in Kargil. Pakistan can misjudge the collective resolve of the people of India to deal with any type of aggression.

Besides altering the balance of power on the subcontinent, India's nuclear tests were supposed to convey to the world that the country could not be trifled with. In light of the Pakistan-backed intrusion in Kargil last year, would you agree that New Delhi's nuclear doctrine has failed to measure up to expectations?
Nuclear-weapon states more powerful than India have had to fight conventional wars and take a beating. The U.S. lost 50,000 men in Vietnam. To believe that a nuclear deterrent can do away with a conventional war is a difficult theory to subscribe to. A nuclear deterrent is meant to be used against those who are threatening to exercise the nuclear option - not those who use conventional weapons.

How will your new military strategy of "limited war" work against Pakistan?
We have fought only "limited wars" with Pakistan and I am not trying to propound a new thesis. What I am trying to say is that limited wars, confined to a geographical area such as we witnessed in Kargil, are inevitable with a hostile neighbor.

How does India plan to keep localized conflicts from spreading into a larger, possibly nuclear war?
The idea that a limited war can escalate into something more serious is not on our mind. But one cannot trust Pakistan and we have to be prepared to face any situation. In my speech at the Asian Security Conference [in New Delhi last month] I said that Pakistan chose the time, place and terrain [in Kargil] and we demonstrated that we could still defeat them.

Has there been an escalation of tensions at the India-Pakistan border since Gen. Pervez Musharraf took over next door?
Pakistan has always had military dictators. There has not been any perceptible change in attitude after Gen. Musharraf took over. If there is indeed any change, then it is more a matter of style, and less of content.

Gen. Musharraf has made it clear that any dialogue with India must be through the Kashmir issue.
This has always been the problem with them. I think his survival depends on taking such a position. After all, having removed an elected prime minister in a bloodless coup, he has to justify himself. If they want to start the dialogue with Kashmir, then the talks are going to be a non-starter.

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