Indian Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Saturday cautioned against a collusive threat to the Siachen glacier from Pakistan and China and stressed that if the government ordered his force to seize control of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) from Pakistan, it will act on those directions.
Naravane also underlined that “allegiance” to the Constitution of India and its core values will guide the conduct of the army. His comments come at a time when there’s a debate in the country over the so-called politicisation of the armed forces.Talking about his overall focus as the army chief, Naravane said it will be ‘ABC’ — “allegiance, belief and consolidation”. He said the force will be guided by its core values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.
He said it was critical for India to keep the glacier under its possession to pre-empt the joint threat. The army chief also explained how India will deal with a possible two-front war scenario.
“Siachen is an area where one formation is looking after both western (Pakistan) and northern (China) fronts. And that is what makes it so strategically important. We must not lose sight that it is from where the collusivity can happen, and, therefore the importance of always being on our guard and keeping that particular area always in our possession,” Naravane told reporters at his customary press conference ahead of Army Day on January 15.
He visited the Siachen glacier — the world’s highest and coldest battlefield — on Thursday, his first outstation trip after taking over the top job on December 31.
The glacier acts as a wedge between the Shaksgam valley under Chinese control and Baltistan that is occupied by Pakistan, and prevents the two armies from linking up and posing a threat to Ladakh.
Responding to another question on Siachen and the possibility of China-Pakistan collusion, the army chief said: “As far as the land border is concerned, Siachen is where the two countries (China and Pakistan) are the closest to each other. And that is why the threat of collusivity is maximum at that location, that is, in Siachen and Shaksgam valley,” the army chief said.
He said such collusion could be “physical” on the land borders and it could play out in other realms too such as “in technology, coming to each other’s assistance in times of trouble and so on and so forth”.
Asked on how India would deal with a two-front war, he said the army was conscious of the fact that India faced threats from both fronts.
“In case of simultaneous threat from both directions, there would always be a primary front and a secondary front. Wherever the primary front is, the bulk of our forces and resources will be concentrated to deal with that threat. And on the other front, we will adopt a more deterrent posture so that we are not found wanting on either account,” he said.
Naravane said the army had “dual task formations” that were ready to swiftly move from the western to the eastern front and vice versa to deal with all emerging threats. “In this manner, we will be able to deal with both the fronts while ensuring that our sovereignty and territorial integrity is not compromised,” he said.
He said the army was “balancing out” its deployments to cater for threats from both the west and the north. He said significant capacity-building was happening along the northern borders with China as part of the rebalancing exercise, including the deployment of advanced weapons in the country’s east.
“We are going in for a lot of capacity-building and that includes creating roads to forward areas, creating capacities in terms of habitat, storage for ammunition, moving some of our more advanced weapon systems towards the eastern side. We are balancing out so that we are able to meet a threat from any direction,” he said.
Asked to comment on if the army was ready to take PoK back from Pakistan, he said the force was ready to follow any orders given by the government.
“As far as PoK is concerned, there was a parliamentary resolution many years ago that the whole of erstwhile J&K is a part of India. If Parliament wants that area should be ours at some stage and if we get such orders, we will definitely act on those directions,” he said.
The army chief said that the ground situation along the line of actual control with China had improved after the informal summits between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in April 2018 and Mamallapuram last October.
“After the two summits, strategic guidelines were given by the two leaders to resolve border tension or differences at the lowest level. After that strategic guidance, small differences are being resolved there itself and we don’t let matters become serious. Due to this, northern borders are peaceful,” he said, adding that the Indian and Chinese armies would soon have a hotline to swiftly respond to border issues.
He said the hotline had been in the works for quite some time but some procedural issues had to be ironed out. “I am glad to say we have resolved those issues and we will now have a hotline between our director general military operations and China’s Western Theater Command,” he said.
Naravane said the government’s decision to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff and create the department of military affairs was a “game changer.” “When we go in for joint or integrated theatre commands, we will do so keeping our own requirements and operational realities in mind. We will not blindly copy any existing system in any other army of the world. It will be an India-specific model and we will do whatever it takes to make it a success,” he said.
He said for joint structures to work, the armed forces will have to train for integrated operations and future wars that will be fought in a highly complex, volatile and uncertain environment.
He said his message to the army was it was to be guided by the country’s Constitution. “As an army, officer or jawan, we swear allegiance to the Constitution. We take an oath…And that is what should guide us in all our actions and at all times. It translates into being guided by the core values enshrined in the preamble to the Constitution: justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. And that is what we are fighting for. We are deployed on the borders safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and securing for our people these core values. We need to keep that in mind at all times,” he said.
Last month, his predecessor General Bipin Rawat (now CDS) triggered a controversy by publicly condemning those leading violent protests, asserting that leadership wasn’t about guiding people to carry out arson and violence, comments that were widely seen as being aimed at the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests across India.
The comments by the general drew sharp criticism from Opposition leaders who alleged that the armed forces had been politicised.