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Ready for any eventuality with Pak; Rafale an export bonanza

In his first interview since the Indian army carried out a surgical strike against terrorist bases across the Line of Control, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that India had made enough effort in the past to reach out to Pakistan diplomatically and pledged that borders would be “completely safe” under the Narendra Modi government.

Speaking to CNBC-TV18’s Shereen Bhan, the Defence Minister did not directly discuss the operation, which took place in the aftermath of the Uri attack, but maintained that India was prepared for any eventuality.

“My mother used to say: If you are going to the forest to hunt a rabbit, you should be prepared for a tiger. We have nothing to be nervous. The other side should be nervous,” the minister said in a freewheeling conversation in which he discussed subjects ranging from Pakistan to China.

The interview was also Parrikar’s first since India signed the historic USD 8.7 billion Rafale deal for 36 fighter jets in flyaway condition, and he said India had asked French manufacturer Dassault to try and ensure deliveries start before the legally-binding deadline of 36 months.

He said that the Rafale was a top-class 4.5-generation fighter jet and said that the Ministry had requested India-specific customisations “to ensure it matches any fifth generation aircraft”.

Parrikar also commented on the price and said criticism over the headline price was misplaced as the deal included cost of weapons package, performance-based logistics support and a five-year maintenance and logistics support offering, besides the aircraft.

“It is a good deal. The questioning is coming from a lack of understanding of fighter aircraft,” he said. “A fighter without a weapons package is of no use.”

According to the Defence Minister, the Rafale deal gives a fillip to the government’s Make in India programme as 74 percent offsets are directly linked to purchases from India.

“There is an opportunity of exports worth Rs 22,000 crore for supply of components to the French firm,” he said.

At the same time, Parrikar said India was moving swiftly to fill gaps in its air combat capacity. “It is a concern but not very worrying. In the next four-five years, we will be ready with at least five squadrons of Tejas light combat aircraft. We have also improved serviceability of IAF aircraft.”

Since the Modi government came into power it has tried to reach out to both its key neighbours Pakistan and China, and analysts view the development of India’s relationship with the latter as having a somewhat mixed record.

But Parrikar said India’s relations with China were much better than they were earlier. “The border management is much better in spite of some erroneous reports about incursions. Incidents have dropped dramatically and we have taken many confidence-building measures with China.”

India follows an “autonomous” policy with respect to both the US and China, Parrikar said, adding that pursuing good relations with one does not come at the cost of the other.

On the issue of Pakistan, the Defence Minister said that diplomatically, India had put across its point of view on terrorism emanating from the country well before the international community but stopped short of commenting whether the Uri attack had put a full stop to the engagement process between the two countries. “That is the domain of the Prime Minister and External Affairs Ministry.”