Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today said that maintaining optimum state of readiness of the armed forces on “all fronts” would be given top priority, comments which came amid concerns over security challenges on the country’s northern and western borders. “We should be prepared to deal with security challenges without discussing who is a stronger enemy -– China or Pakistan. Our defence forces need to be completely prepared. We need to fill the gaps and the government is committed to strengthening the armed forces,” she told reporters, in reply to a question. To a question on Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s statement that India should be prepared for a two-front war with China and Pakistan, the defence minister evaded a direct reply and said that it would be her priority that there was no dearth in preparedness of defence forces.
She interacted with senior officers of the Indian Air Force at the frontline Uttarlai airbase in Barmer in Rajasthan. Sitharaman was the first defence minister to visit the sensitive airbase in 16 years, after George Fernandes in 2001. Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa was also present at the base. The defence minister was apprised of the role of the airbase and the nature of its operations, the IAF said. Talking to mediapersons, Sitharaman said that meeting the demands of the armed forces with a view to maintaining optimum state of readiness and preparedness on all fronts would be accorded priority. The 58-year-old defence minister said, “I am obeying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directions to meet the jawans posted on the frontiers.”
“I was in Goa earlier in the morning to flag off Indian Navy women crew’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe and now have come to Uttarlai Air Force base in Barmer,” she said. The newly-appointed defence minister said that Uttarlai airbase was important from the strategic point of view. On the issue of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, she said that the government was making all efforts to counter terrorism in the state. The Union government was closely working with the state government to counter terrorism and the local police were doing good work in the dealing with the issue. Asked whether India would have a dialogue with Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, she said that the external affairs ministry had clearly expressed its view on the issue.