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Nobody can ask us to pull back: Fernandes

NEW YORK, JAN. 20. The Defence Minister, George Fernandes, today questioned the right of nations to ask India to pull back its troops and raise the fear of a border conflict turning into a flashpoint, and ruled out the threat of a nuclear war.

Addressing the Indian community leaders here, he took objection to western nations asking India to pull back its forces on the border saying such a step could spark a flare-up.

Mr. Fernandes said Indian defence forces were disciplined and professional and obeyed the orders of the political leadership and the Government. They would not act on their own and were more than capable of defending against any threat to India's security and sovereignty.

He described the talk of nuclear danger in the sub- continent as an insult to the people and leaders of the region and said that there was no nuclear threat. He said there were several eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations during the Cold War era but nuclear bombs were never used.

Referring to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, he said it was also abetting militancy in the north-east though its activities in Kashmir were in the spotlight.

Asking Indians not to be obsessed with Pakistan, Mr. Fernandes said Islamabad was no match for New Delhi in any sphere. On his discussions in Washington with senior Bush administration officials, he said the defence ties between India and the U.S. had seen many ups and downs. He added that relations between Washington and New Delhi should not be dependent on any third country.

In an interview to Fox News television, Mr. Fernandes virtually ruled out de-escalation on the border until Pakistan fulfilled two of India's demands that Islamabad hand over criminals and terrorists and stop cross-border terrorism.

``What good it would do when you (Pakistan) enable these terrorists from your territory even today to move into our territory,'' he added.

Asked whether he expected a peaceful solution, he said ``all of us want a peaceful solution. That is why despite having sent our troops right up to the frontlines, we got into seeking diplomatic ways of resolving this problem''.

On Gen. Musharraf's promise in a recent speech to crack down on terrorism, Mr. Fernandes said the words that there will be a crackdown ``do not take us anywhere when we are witnessing trans-border terrorism on a daily basis. Nothing has changed since the speech in terms of delivering''.

When the interviewer noted that Gen. Musharraf had turned over seven members of Al-Qaeda to the U.S., he replied ``if he has turned over seven members of Al-Qaeda to the U.S., then he should hand over the 20 others we have named''.

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