IAF firepower demo not aimed at any country: Antony

Pokhran (Rajasthan), Feb 28 (IANS) Even as he expressed concern over Pakistan not dismantling the 42 terror camps operating on its territory, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Sunday the massive air power demonstration the Indian Air Force (IAF) staged here was ‘not aimed at any country’.

‘It was not aimed at any country and no message was sought to be sent,’ Antony told reporters after the demonstration that featured 107 combat jets, helicopters and transporters and as part of which a mock ‘terrorist camp was destroyed’.

‘The exercise was not meant for sending signals. It was only meant to show the capability of our armed forces,’ Antony added for a good measure.

The response came when Antony was asked if the IAF would react in actual practice if another 26/11-style attack occurred in India.

‘We are not warmongers and I would like to assure the nation that every inch of our country is safe in the hands of our armed forces,’ he maintained.

‘I have repeatedly expressed concern that 42 camps are still there and that no serious effort has been made to dismantle them. Therefore, our armed forces are taking all precautions to prevent any eventuality,’ Antony said.

Asked whether he thought Pakistan would deliver on its promise to eradicate the terror mechanism operating from its soil, he said: ‘We took a conscious decision to hold talks (at the foreign secretary level). We never expected a miracle. It’s a beginning.’

Antony, however, replied cautiously when asked to comment on the reported statement of Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor that given Saudi Arabia’s good relations with Pakistan, it could be an interlocutor to ease sub-continental tensions.

‘The prime minister is in Saudi Arabia on a very, very important mission. My understanding is that a large team is also there. When the prime minister is abroad, it is not proper for a member of his cabinet to comment,’ the minister contended.

The minister replied in the negative when asked if he was disappointed at the miniscule 3.98 percent rise in the defence budget for 2010.

‘Don’t read too much into it. The finance minister had to perform a very, very difficult exercise. He has overall performed very well. I am not concerned (at the nominal rise in the defence budget). He has assured us that if we want more money, he will provide it,’ Antony replied.

Asked about India’s response to Thursday’s Taliban attack in Kabul in which 17 people, including nine Indians, were killed, Antony said: ‘The prime minister has already expressed his concern. I am sure the Afghan government will make a proper enquiry.’

President Pratibha Patil, Defence Minister Antony, the three Service chiefs, the defence attaches of a number of foreign countries and senior officers of the armed forces witnessed the firepower demonstration, which was held in three modes: day, dusk and night.

‘The president also conveyed her appreciation to the air chief for the magnificent show,’ Antony said.

‘Essentially, what we wanted to demonstrate was that we can operate in every environment and face any eventuality,’ the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Naik, explained.

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