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War is an instrument of last resort, but India prepared, Army chief says on Ladakh tensions

Gen Naravane also makes it clear that China’s new land law, which seeks to unilaterally delineate and demarcate territorial boundaries with India and Bhutan, isn’t binding. 

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New Delhi: War is an instrument of last resort, but India would emerge victorious in case of one, Army chief General M.M. Naravane Wednesday stressed. He made the comments while noting that the threat level at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has “by no means reduced” despite disengagement at multiple friction points.

The Army chief also made it clear that China’s new land law, which seeks to unilaterally delineate and demarcate territorial boundaries with India and Bhutan, isn’t binding on India. The Chinese law is neither legally tenable nor in accordance with bilateral agreements, Naravane said. 

Addressing his annual press conference ahead of Army Day on 15 January, Gen Naravane said the Army has carried out a reorganisation and rebalancing of forces.

“Re-orientation of additional forces to the Northern Borders has been carried out, while retaining our punitive strike capability, along the Western Front,” he said.

Also read: India against third-party mediation in talks with China, military on alert ‘for any eventuality’

On friction with China and operational preparedness

Speaking about tensions with China that have persisted for nearly two years now, the Army chief said the last year-and-a-half provided an opportunity to fast track infrastructure development along the LAC while also enabling the forces to ramp up capabilities.

“We are in a much better situation and much better prepared to deal with any challenge presented in future,” he said.

Gen Naravane underlined that the situation in eastern Ladakh is stable and under control and there is hope that differences will be resolved through dialogue. However, the Army is prepared for any challenge.

“We are in a position to meet whatever is thrown at us in the future and I can assure you on that very confidently,” he said. “War or conflict is always an instrument of last resort. But if resorted to, we will come out victorious,” he said in response to a question on the possibility of escalation.

The Army has continued to maintain the highest levels of operational preparedness along northern borders while engaging in sustained dialogue with the People’s Liberation army (PLA), he said.

“We will continue to deal with the PLA in a firm, resolute and peaceful manner, while ensuring the sanctity of our claims. Necessary safeguards are in place,” the Army chief added.

“After persistent joint efforts, mutual disengagement has taken place at many locations. So there has been positive movement… But while there has been partial disengagement, the threat has by no means reduced. Force levels, in areas where disengagement is yet to take place, have been adequately enhanced,” Gen Naravane said.

“Threat assessment and internal deliberations have resulted in re-organisation and re-alignment of forces, in keeping with the Army’s mandate, of ensuring territorial integrity, and to cater for the major augmentation of PLA forces, and military infrastructure,” he said.

Hot Springs talks

The Army chief spoke about the military talks happening in Moldo Wednesday, noting that it was about disengagement from Patrol Point 15, known as Kongka La and Hot Springs. He said legacy issues like Depsang will be taken up later.

Now that the Chinese have made a lot of infrastructure development along the LAC and increased its troop deployment, “it remains to be seen whether they will permanently station them there or will be amenable for some de-induction for time to come”, Gen Naravane added.

ThePrint had earlier reported that China is seeking to cement the current status quo, while India hopes for disengagement in the Hot Springs area, and eventual de-escalation.

Also read: Gen Naravane urged to drop L1 regime from defence procurement. That’s just one problem area

‘Capability increased manifold along border’

Gen Narvane, who is due for retirement in April this year, said two years of his tenure have gone by in a flash.

“When I took over I was the 28th chief and had 28 months. I am already in the last quarter and it is unbelievable how time flies. Last two years has been extremely challenging not just because of Covid, but also due to the situation at the northern borders,” he said.

The Army chief rued that but for the Covid pandemic, he could have done much more.

He said that the army’s response to the Chinese attempt to unilaterally change the status quo at the border was very robust and it was able to thwart Chinese designs.

“It gave us an opportunity to review our operational plans and based on that we took steps to augment our capabilities not only in eastern Ladakh but all along the northern front. And in the last year-and-a-half our capability has increased manifold along the northern border.… We are in a much better situation and much better prepared to deal with any challenges presented in future,” he said.

Gen Naravane also said disengagement has to happen from friction areas and only then can a “little bit of de-escalation” be thought of.

“I mean moving back from being bang on LAC to depth, but remaining in the general area. Then de-induction can be decided. Whatever we do, it will be based on mutual security, till we reach those steps, we will have to be prepared for as long as it takes,” he said.

Situation in the Northeast

The Army chief said that the overall security situation in the Northeastern region remained under control.

 A robust security posture has significantly curtailed the operational space for terrorists, he said, adding that there has been a graduated de-induction of Army units from areas where the security situation has improved.

On the Indo-Myanmar Border — an important facet of our security calculus — due impetus to guarding the border is being given by the Assam Rifles, Gen Naravane said.

“We intend to progressively increase the number of Assam Rifles battalions deployed for border guarding in times to come,” he said.  

Talking about the 4 December ambush by security forces in Nagaland which led to the killings of civilians, he said it is being thoroughly investigated.

“We remain committed to the security of our countrymen, even in the conduct of operations. We have SOPs that encapsulate our operational experience, which have stood the test of time. Appropriate action will be taken and corrective measures instituted to further refine our SOPs, based on the outcome of the investigation,” he said.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: CDS Bipin Rawat’s successor ‘unlikely to be named soon’


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