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India can hit terror networks across border if need arises: Rajnath Singh

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‘Will never let sanctity of our borders be violated’

Jammu: India is getting more powerful and can hit terror networks on this side of the border as well as across it if the need arises, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Monday, asserting that the world has understood the meaning of “zero tolerance for terrorism” through the country’s actions.

“Pulwama and Uri were both unfortunate incidents… The prime minister took just 10 minutes to take a decision (on carrying out surgical strikes) which shows his strong willpower. Our forces not only neutralised the terrorists on this side but also went across the border to finish them off,” Singh said.

Addressing a national security conclave held at the University of Jammu, the minister stressed that the world, including Muslim countries, is united against terrorism. He said cash-strapped Pakistan would achieve nothing by “parroting Kashmir” and should instead put its house in order.

In his over 40-minute address, the minister asserted that India has taken major action against terrorism under the Modi government and referred to the surgical strikes carried out across the Line of Control (LoC) in 2016 and the Balakot air strike in 2019.

“Bharat ab pehle jaisa Bharat nahi raha. Bharat takatwar banta jaa raha hai. Zaroorat padi to Bharat seema ke iss par bhi maar sakta hai aur zaroorat paditoh uss paar bhi jaa sakta hai (India is not the same as it used to be. It is getting more powerful. If needed, India can hit on this side of the border and can go across the border as well,” the defence minister said.

“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government started effective action against terrorism and, for the first time, not only the country but also the world came to know the meaning of zero tolerance against terrorism,” he said amid applause from the audience.

Terrorists attacked an army camp in the border town of Uri in September 2016, resulting in the death of 19 soldiers. A fortnight later, the Indian Army carried out a “surgical strike” across the border and destroyed “launch pads for Pakistan-sponsored terrorists”.

In February 2019, forty CRPF personnel were killed in a suicide attack on their convoy by terrorists in Pulwama district of south Kashmir.

Twelve days after the terror attack, the Indian Air Force (IAF) destroyed the terrorist camp in Balakote in Pakistan.

The defence minister said Jammu and Kashmir has suffered the brunt of terrorism for a long. “People here know how the poison of terrorism hollows out the society,” he said.

Targeting the previous UPA government, he said it failed to take strict action against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism despite nefarious attempts by Pakistan to bleed the country that left thousands of innocents dead.

Noting that the entire network of terrorism was operating in Jammu and Kashmir for decades, he said, “Today strict action has been taken against that network by weakening it to a great extent.”

“We have stopped the funding of terrorism, stopped the supply of arms and drugs and along with the elimination of terrorists, the work of dismantling the network of underground workers who work here is also going on,” the minister said.

Without naming Pakistan, he said countries using terrorism as a state policy have to understand very well that this game will not last long.

“Today, most of the big countries of the world are united against terrorism,” he said, adding the joint statement issued recently by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden clearly shows how India has changed the mindset of the whole world, including the US, on the issue of terrorism.

“It has been clearly stated in this joint statement that there should be concerted action against the UN-listed terrorist organisations, which include Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen.

“It has also been said in this joint statement that Pakistan should put a stop to every terrorist act taking place in its territory and should not allow its land to be used for this,” Singh said, adding Pakistan was also asked to take action against those behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes and the Pathankot attack.

He said it is natural that the rulers of Pakistan will be annoyed by this joint statement.

“There has been a rote statement that India is diverting the attention of the world from Kashmir. I want to clearly tell the government of Pakistan that nothing will be achieved by parroting Kashmir. Take care of your house,” he said.

The defence minister said Pakistan does not have a locus standi on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

“A unanimous resolution has been passed in the Parliament of India regarding PoK that it is a part of India only. Not one but at least several proposals with this intention have now been passed in the parliament,” he said.

He said that given the improved situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the “oppression and injustice being meted out to the people in PoK, the day is not far when the people of PoK will demand that they want to be part of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Referring to the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, Singh said while the common people of Jammu and Kashmir were kept away from the mainstream for a long time, it posed a “hindrance” in taking action against anti-national forces.

Singh said it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Modi-led government has laid a strong foundation for “revolutionary reforms” in the country, which is the biggest achievement of this government.

“I remember the words of Modi at his oath ceremony in 2014 when he said ‘saughandh iss mitti ki desh nahi mitne doonga, desh nahi jhookne doonga (I vow on this country’s soil, I won’t let the country be erased. I won’t let the country bow down),” he said, adding the prime minister has kept his pledge in letter and spirit.

On the eastern Ladakh standoff with China, Singh reiterated that India wants to resolve the border issue through dialogue and in a peaceful manner while asserting that the government will never compromise on the country’s border and its self-respect.

“We will never let the sanctity of our borders be violated,” the defence minister said, adding that the talks are continuing at military and diplomatic levels to resolve the dispute.

On the drone deal with the US, Singh said the defence ministry will compare the acquisition cost of the drones with the best price General Atomics offered to other countries, adding the acquisition will be made only by following the established procurement procedure.

India and the US firmed up the drone deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s high-profile visit to Washington.

Singh rejected speculative reports on the price and other terms of purchase relating to the procurement of 31 MQ-9B drones from the US.

His comments came a day after the defence ministry said it is yet to finalise the cost and specific terms of purchase of the MQ-9B long endurance drones from the US.

Singh also mentioned the deal between US defence major General Electric Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to co-produce F-414 fighter jet engines in India.

“With this deal, we will become the fourth country to manufacture jet engines. Tejas aircraft will be fitted with these Made in India engines,” he said.

Singh touched upon the measures taken by the government to bolster national security, including strengthening border infrastructure and achieving ‘Aatmanirbharta’ (self-reliance) in defence.

He listed out a number of steps taken to attain self-reliance, which included notification of positive indigenisation lists and earmarking 75 percent of the defence capital procurement budget for the domestic industry in 2023-24.

Asserting that India has witnessed a paradigm shift in its security scenario in the last nine years, he touched upon the measures taken by the government to bolster national security, including strengthening border infrastructure and achieving ‘Aatmanirbharta’ in defence.

The defence minister also underlined the importance of coordination with major world powers, such as the US and Russia, to protect India’s security interests.

“India and the US are being seen as natural allies and their strategic partnership is being further cemented,” he said, adding India-US defence cooperation has grown rapidly with the expansion of military-to-military engagements, information sharing and cooperation in the fields of artificial intelligence, cyber, space and mutual logistics support.

He termed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US as a landmark event, which ushered in bilateral defence cooperation in a new era.

He called for an integrated and united response to deal with global threats and challenges. “India is a major regional power. Therefore, it is important for us to align our security concerns with other countries in our extended neighbourhood.”

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh slammed former US president Barack Obama’s statement about minority rights in India, saying he should first think about how many Muslim-majority countries were attacked during his tenure.

Interacting with mediapersons at a national security conclave here, Singh said Obama should know that the people of India believe in the concept of ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ and consider all people as members of one global family.

“He (Obama) should also think about how many Muslim countries he has attacked (as US president),” Singh told reporters when asked to react to Obama’s remarks.

Singh said India has a secular character as people of different religions, including Hindus, Muslims, and Christians live together harmoniously.

“I want to tell you with confidence that even Muslim countries would not have all the 72 sects of the community. It is only in India that you will find them all,” he said.

The defence minister said that certain forces across the world are responsible for creating a negative perception of India. But people should investigate the number of Muslim countries that India has attacked.

Singh’s comments have come a day after Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hit out at Obama, saying his remarks were surprising as six Muslim-majority countries had faced US “bombing” during his tenure.

The finance minister alleged that “organised campaigns” were being run to level “baseless” allegations on the treatment meted out to minorities in India at the behest of the Opposition as it cannot electorally defeat the Modi-led BJP.

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