“WE WILL GO ACROSS AGAIN”
YOU CAN’T ALWAYS REMAIN DEFENSIVE, WE MUST HAVE THE CAPABILITY TO CONDUCT OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS
24 Safdarjung Road, the official residence of the vice-chief of army staff, thrums with activity early on a foggy January morning, just days after General Bipin Rawat assumed office on New Year’s Day as India’s 27th chief of the army staff. (His official 4 Rajaji Marg residence is under renovation.) His twin Dachshunds, Dash and Tickle, shoot around like little guided torpedoes clad in identical red-andblack-trimmed winter fleece. Staff officers and Tavor rifle-wielding bodyguards of the special forces flank the fleet of black armoured Scorpios waiting to make the short two km drive to his office deep within the sandstone corridors of South Block. The general appears in the verandah of his home, proffers a firm handshake. He’s of medium height, stockily built, with salt and pepper hair and a neatly trimmed white moustache. He listens carefully, looks you in the eye when he speaks, and the clearly articulated sentences are delivered like a military drum roll. He clearly plays on the front foot. There is simply no question that will induce any hesitation on his part, from tackling China and Pakistan, surgical strikes, the controversial Cold Start war doctrine to the polemic around his selection as army chief, superseding two senior army commanders. As he sat down for an extensive interview with Executive Editor Sandeep Unnithan, General Rawat revealed why he was supremely confident of navigating the minefield that lies ahead in his threeyear tenure. Excerpts: What do you see as your main security challenges and how do you plan to handle developments like the reorganisation of China’s armed forces? The primary role of the armed forces is the defence of the borders, preparation for conventional warfare, maintaining internal security and focusing on disaster relief. We are studying the restructuring of the PLA to see its efficacy. We will study their reforms and see whether they have relevance in our context. If so, we will put them across with modifications to the government. The army’s China-specific Mountain Strike Corps has been languishing for want of funds. Is this relevant in our context? We raised the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) as part of a transition from dissuasion and deterrence to credible deterrence. All adversaries respect credible strength, which comes from such formations capable of striking across the border. We are expected to remain defensive in order to ensure there are no incursions and the sanctity of the borders is maintained. But you cannot always remain defensive. We must also have the capability to conduct offensive operations. Whether these forces are going to be used physically will depend on the situation, but surely these forces meet the purpose of credible deterrence. So, we’ll certainly give impetus to raising the corps. The government has given us permission to induct manpower, infrastructure development along the border is taking place, weapons and equipment are coming in. Did the army’s September 29, 2016 surgical strikes define our new red lines in a strong response to a high-casualty attack by terrorists? All nations and armies define their own thresholds. The December 13, 2001 Parliament attack was a threshold. In a terrorist attack, it is the nature of the attack and the success the terrorists are able to achieve—sometimes what happens is that the terrorists get success because of incidental damage caused. Uri, for example, was an incidental success because there were troops in tents, troops who were grouped together. In Nagrota, they did not get so much success… they did not get so many people, we were able to eliminate them before they could do damage. So the threshold level will vary and [determine] the kind of reaction, because our nation is not a warmongering nation. We want peace and tranquility, and if we find that something can be resolved through negotiations, an attempt is always made to resolve it through negotiations… but if we find these incidents getting repeated, we define a threshold, a decision is taken, recommendations are made, and we will go across again. It is very difficult to say if there are red lines (in response to terrorist attacks). What I can say is that there are dotted lines, and those dots are then joined together by us to draw a red line. Is the Cold Start doctrine—instituted after Operation Parakram in 2001— still an option in response to attacks like the one on Parliament in 2001 or 26/11 in Mumbai? The Cold Start doctrine exists for
WARS WILL BE INTENSE AND SHORT... WE HAVE TO BE AWARE OF THAT. WHATEVER ACTION WE TAKE WILL HAVE TO BE QUICK
conventional military operations. Whether we have to conduct conventional operations for such strikes is a decision well-thought through, involving the government and the Cabinet Committee on Security. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in the combined commanders’ conference in 2015, said that future conflicts will become shorter, and wars will become rare. Do you have any strategy for short, intense wars? In our case, we prepare for short, intense conflicts, and at the same time have to be prepared for wars becoming long-drawn. Based on that, we have a well-defined strategy. What the PM said is right; wars will be intense and short because there’ll always be international pressure in wars between two nations. We have to be aware of that; whatever action we take, therefore, has to be quick; forces have to be ready and have to achieve success. The modernisation of the Indian Army has been an area of major concern for you and your predecessors. Have you identified any key areas for delivery during your tenure? Technology is constantly changing. You cannot be using older technologies for your weapons systems and equipment. My thinking is that you have to look at emerging technology because of the time it takes for a weapons system to be inducted into the armed forces. So you have to look at tomorrow’s technology for inducting weapons. With that in mind, we have also focused on certain weapons systems. Infantry is the most affected—deployed along the border round the clock, in internal security situations, and in the face of frequent ceasefire violations on the border—we need to give them modern weapons technology best suited to such an environment. The mechanised forces need future battle tanks and Infantry Combat Vehicles, new aviation assets, air defence systems, artillery and other longer ranged weapon systems that have more lethality and accuracy. We are also looking at upgrading operational logistics systems. The modernisation priorities have been spelt out by my predecessor [Gen. Dalbir Singh] and we are continuing with the same vision and thrust areas because I feel they have been thought through and holistically define the army’s requirements. Do you see an emerging threat in the new China-Pakistan proximity and how do you propose to respond to it? National security strategy by any nation is defined by its national interests. China has defined its national interests by coming close to Pakistan in looking for access to the Indian Ocean Region, for energy security, trade. Today, economics defines national strategy and wherever people find economic gain, there are cooperative mechanisms and alliances. We also have to look at our national interests and continue doing whatever is best in our national interests. We will also counter such mechanisms through our own means; our government is quite capable of handling [these]. We are also carrying out actions to negate the nexus developing between China and Pakistan. Would you elaborate on these measures? We are addressing the neighbourhood, the extended neighborhood and the Far West. We are looking at certain countries on China’s eastern seaboard, and the Americas. There are groupings that are taking place. While we are proud of being non-aligned, there are times when you have to get into some groupings, which is of course in the domain of foreign policy, so I wouldn’t like to really comment. We have masters in foreign policy and they do it really well. Our diplomacy is moving well, the prime minister’s focus is on the global arena, we will be able to counter whatever is happening through our foreign policy. What are your expectations from a closer military partnership with the United States? Our expectations are that we must live like friends—the economic partnership will grow stronger and everything else will fall into place. We are sharing expertise but that is more in the field of humanitarian assistance and disaster response. We do try out some joint training as far as counter-insurgency [is concerned]. The US does consider us a lead nation in Counter Insurgency Ops; they have specialisation in special forces operations which we look at. As for equipment, we have a system of global tendering, and I feel we should go for whoever gives us the best. Finally, we should support our domestic industry. What it will depend on is who is willing to come here, share technology and help our domestic industry grow and help us in becoming self-reliant, so we needn’t be country-fixated. Is somebody out to create such a rivalry? This is like prejudging a case without even hearing the witnesses… the judgement should come out only after seeing the results. I have commanded mechanised forces in the southern command and I can say that they are as professional as any other fighting arm in this field. Possibly because of infantry seeing more action in counter-insurgency, there is more limelight on field commanders who are constantly under observation. But by virtue of constantly being under observation you are also constantly under pressure. There are bouquets and brickbats. We have been hearing a lot about the rivalry between the infantry and the armoured corps. Would you set the record straight on this?