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SOURCE: Tribune News Service

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat on Friday, while referring to the ongoing border tensions with China, has said there is a possibility of matters “spiralling into a larger conflict”.

India, he said, would not accept any shifting of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). General Rawat was addressing a webinar to the National Defence College (NDC) as part of its diamond jubilee celebrations. During the webinar, he said: “Our posturing is unambiguous. We will not accept any shifting of the LAC. In the overall security calculus, border confrontations, transgressions, unprovoked tactical military actions spiralling into a larger conflict therefore cannot be discounted.”

The NDC is an entity under the Ministry of Defence.

While General Rawat was speaking, the eighth round of senior military commander talks between India and China were underway in Chushul in Ladakh to resolve the ongoing standoff.

Talking of the situation in Eastern Ladakh, Gen Rawat said the situation remained tense and Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was facing “unanticipated consequences of its misadventure” in Ladakh because of the strong response of the Indian side.

India was facing myriad external security challenges, Gen Rawat said.

“Constant friction with two nuclear-armed neighbours, who are increasingly acting in collusion, poses an omnipresent danger of regional strategic instability with potential for escalation, threatening our national integrity and strategic cohesion,” he added.

The CDS said the “unabated proxy war” unleashed by Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir accompanied by a “vicious” anti-India rhetoric on social media and efforts to create social disharmony within India have taken Indo-Pak relations to a new low.

“The surgical strikes post Uri terror attack and the Balakot airstrikes have delivered a strong message to Pakistan that it no longer enjoys the impunity of pushing terrorists across the Line of Control under the nuclear bogey,” he said.

“The new Indian template has injected ambiguity and uncertainty in Pakistan, evident in its media reports, about Indian Armed Forces reaction, if Pakistan-sponsored terrorists cross the threshold of tolerance,” Gen Rawat added.

The CDS said despite internal problems, failing economy, international isolation and vitiated civil-military relations, Pakistan would continue to “profess” that Kashmir was their “unfinished agenda”.

“And its Army would continue to raise the bogey of an existential threat from India to justify its disproportionately large strength and need for funds to maintain its warfighting capabilities,” he said.

Gen Rawat said Pakistan had continued to remain the epicentre of armed Islamist insurgency and terrorism.

“For three decades now, the Pakistan Army and the ISI, known as the ‘Deep State’, have been waging a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and are now increasingly resorting to non-kinetic means by launching vicious anti-India rhetoric on social media and propagating false communal narratives to create social disharmony within India,” he said.

Gen Rawat also listed various initiatives to reform the Indian defence forces through a variety of measures, including the ongoing work on setting up of theatre commands, reforming the procurement process to ensure optimal management of the allotted budget, initiatives to ensure jointness among three forces in training and logistics.

“We are moving towards a Peninsular/Maritime Theatre Command, an Air Defence Theatre Command and three land-centric Integrated Theatre Commands for our Northern and Western borders. We are presently in advance stages of firming up the contours of the structures and transformation,” he said.

Referring to evolving geo-political situation, the CDS said China, with its ambition of emerging as a global power, is already making inroads into South Asia, Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and especially East Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“Chinese aspirations are evident in the ever-expanding Chinese military maritime footprints in the Indo Pacific, huge investments in the IOR littorals, and entering into strategic partnerships with a number of countries in the region like South Africa, Egypt, Pakistan and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN),” he said.

Gen Rawat said the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic had made China repressive at home but aggressive abroad as was evident through its posturing in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Taiwan Straits.

“For India, the challenges have manifested with military flare-ups along the LAC. In the coming years, we are likely to witness the aggressive pursuit of hegemonic interests by China manifesting through economic exploitation of weaker nations,” the CDS said.

About internal challenges, he said the ‘Left Wing Extremism’ and growing ‘urban terrorism’ had also contributed towards vitiating India’s security environment. With warfare ranging from conventional to hybrid, he observed that the overall security dynamics were replete with strategic unpredictability.

“This gets further compounded by the phenomenal economic and military rise of China and the unique hybrid capabilities of Pakistan and machinations of its Deep State. Equally important is the need to reflect the context in which all these activities are taking place as it affects national interests, undermining our values and ethos, that we mandated to protect,” he said.

The CDS observed that the present environment and the future trends indicated a host of challenges India must overcome “to compete, deter, and if necessary, to fight and win tomorrow’s wars”.

“In addition to conventional war, the challenges in the hybrid and sub-conventional domain are more immediate and of profound concern, calling for an integrated response for which the Armed Forces will require to be duly empowered through technology absorption duly fused with appropriate and right-sized organisations,” he said.

Gen Rawat said the future civil-military integration would hold the key to a ‘whole of nations’ approach towards national security.

“In the wake of contracting envelope of the defence budget we must look at creating dual-use infrastructure through civil-military fusion,” he said.

He said the emergence of a hyper-connected and super-collaborative world spawning innovation in artificial intelligence, cognitive sciences, robotics, drones, bio-weapons, directed energy weapons, quantum computing, nanotechnology and cyber capabilities would revolutionise warfare in the years to come.

“These disruptive technologies are having a foundational impact on how wars will be fought. China has been focussing on military transformation and force structuring that blend with the development of disruptive technologies,” he said.

He said it had raised a ‘Strategic Support Force; that is acquiring capabilities in space, cyber and electronic warfare domain to conduct an “intelligentised” form of warfare.

Addressing same the webinar, Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said proactive action and a strong posture dissuaded China from making any further attempts to alter the status quo in Ladakh.

The border standoff has entered the seventh month.

The standoff has been ongoing since early May at several spots along the 826-km LAC in Eastern Ladakh. Several rounds of military and diplomatic talks have been held since, in which India has maintained complete disengagement and de-escalation along the LAC and pull back.

The situation in eastern Ladakh deteriorated following at least three attempts by the Chinese soldiers to “intimidate” Indian troops along the northern and southern bank of Pangong lake area between August 29 and September 8 where even shots were fired in the air for the first time at the LAC in 45 years.

Both sides had agreed to stop sending more troops to the frontline and refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground. Both sides have made preparations to maintain thousands of troops and equipment in extreme conditions in the high-altitude winter.

Meanwhile, the meeting of senior military commanders commenced at 9:30 am on the Indian side at Chushul, Eastern Ladakh.

This is the first round of talks with the Indian side led by Lt Gen PGK Menon, who took over as the 14 Corps Commander on October 13. Lt Gen Menon has attended the last two rounds of talks.