The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal alert on bio terror

New Delhi, Oct. 26: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today asked the armed forces to be alert against the possibility of chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of “non-state actors”.

“We must sharpen our intelligence capabilities and build up our defence with the armed forces being an integral part of the multi-disciplinary effort. Technology has now created chemical and biological weapons of great diversity, which are difficult to detect. Many of the techniques and weapons can fall into the hands of non-state actors,” the Prime Minister warned, addressing a conference of commanders from the armed forces today. He said the defence and national security apparatus should be fully prepared to face these challenges.

Vajpayee stressed that the mobilisation of troops along the Line of Control and the international boundary with Pakistan had buttressed India’s position and convinced the world that Pakistan was sponsoring cross-border terrorism. He claimed that the global community had also been told that “we would not talk with Pakistan while the terrorists’ guns are held to our heads. Most countries have accepted the validity of our position that we can have a meaningful dialogue only if cross-border terrorism ends”. The Prime Minister said it was for India and Pakistan to resolve all contentious issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, bilaterally.

Keeping alive the speculation over his proposed visit to Islamabad for the SAARC summit, Vajpayee urged Pakistan and the members of the regional forum to first decide on the agenda. “We do not want to trivialise the association through a summit without substantive content. Let us, therefore, first talk of substance before we start focusing on dates,” he was quoted as saying at the conference.

Vajpayee also referred to insinuations from Islamabad that New Delhi was not confirming the dates for the summit and holding the regional forum hostage to bilateral issues. According to the officially released summary of his speech — the proceedings of the commanders’ conference are out of bounds for the media — the Prime Minister said India has always insisted that regional cooperation in South Asia should not be held hostage by bilateral political differences between member countries.

“We have consistently advocated economic cooperation and cultural exchanges as a means of preparing a climate conducive for political reconciliation. But we have reached a strange situation where every worthwhile proposal for economic cooperation is being systematically sabotaged on irrational fears and political considerations. Then we are told we are dragging our feet on dates,” the release said.

The Prime Minister’s views leave the question of his visit to Islamabad open. Defence minister George Fernandes had said earlier this week that India’s commitment at the end of the last SAARC summit in Kathmandu — that it will participate in the next round — had not wavered. The Cabinet Committee on Security, too, is understood to have taken stock of whether Vajpayee should visit Islamabad. But, as of now, New Delhi’s public position on Vajpayee’s visit continues to be ambivalent.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani iterated that India would fight cross-border terrorism on its own even if the international community is not forthcoming with help. Referring to Pakistan as the epicentre of global terrorism, he lauded the armed forces.

Addressing the commanders, Fernandes emphasised the importance of “jointness and synergy”. He referred to a series of measures, including establishment of joint structures such as the Integrated Defence Staff, the Defence Intelligence Agency, and the Andaman & Nicobar Tri-Services Command.

Referring to military cooperation, the defence minister said joint exercises with advanced countries like the US have provided valuable first hand knowledge of observing and interacting with a group of experienced professionals, trained on modern systems and designs. External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha also spoke on the security scenario.

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