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Will call Pakistan’s nuke bluff if tasked to cross border: Army chief

Highlights
  • Gen Rawat also said “Pakistan’s nuclear bogey” will be thoroughly exposed if it actually comes to a war with the western neighbour.
  • The Army chief said his force was “shifting its focus” from the western front to the “northern borders” with China.
  • The Army chief was sceptical about US President Donald Trump’s stern warning to Pakistan against harbouring terrorists.

The Army on Friday said it will not allow an expansionist China to intrude into Indian territory at any cost, while roundly dismissing Pakistan's reckless threats about its tactical nuclear weapons being an effective counter to India's conventional military superiority.

"China is a powerful country but we are not a weak nation...We will not allow our territory to be invaded by anyone. We are prepared," said Army chief General Bipin Rawat, in the backdrop of the People's Liberation Army needling India with as many as 415 "border transgressions" across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) last year, which also saw the 73-day face-off at Doklam and 215 other troop confrontations.

Speaking in the run-up to the Army Day on January 15, Gen Rawat also said "Pakistan's nuclear bogey" will be thoroughly exposed if it actually comes to a war with the western neighbour, which often brandishes its short-range Nasr (Hatf-IX) nuclear missiles as a battlefield counter to India's `Cold Start' strategy of swift, high-intensity conventional attacks into enemy territory. "We will call their bluff. If given the task, we will not say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons," he said.

The Army chief was sceptical about US President Donald Trump's stern warning to Pakistan against harbouring terrorists leading to any concrete change on the ground as far as India was concerned. "We will have to do our own job," he said, adding the US had its own "compulsions" to maintain relations with Pakistan.

But even as Indian Army continues its punitive fire assaults to "inflict pain" on Pakistan Army for actively abetting cross-border terrorism and infiltration, with the latter suffering "three to four times more casualties", Gen Rawat said his force was "shifting its focus" from the western front to the "northern borders" with China.

"Yes, China has become assertive and is exerting pressure. But we are capable of (militarily) handling this assertiveness along the border...the terrain is to our advantage," he said. Though the government is dealing with China in a holistic manner, with the diplomatic engagement "going well", India should take care to ensure its neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Bhutan and Afghanistan "do not drift away" from it. "We have to see we are not isolated against China in this region," he said, also referring to the emerging "quadrilateral" with the US, Australia and Japan in the Indo-Pacific maritime domain.

As for the heightened tensions along the 4,057-km LAC, which stretches from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, Gen Rawat said: "contacts" (troop face-offs) were on the rise because the two armies had stepped-up their patrols. "There are differing perceptions about the LAC with overlapping claims. But we have bilateral mechanisms to diffuse tensions and avoid clashes," he said, adding that the DGMO-level hotline between the two armies was also on the anvil now.

"We made all efforts to ensure Doklam (near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction) did not lead to a conflict. But if it had escalated, we were prepared for it," he said. Indian troops had blocked Chinese soldiers from constructing a road towards the Jampheri Ridge in south Doklam in mid-June, which had led to the 73-day eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation before the rival troops finally disengaged on August 28.

As earlier reported by TOI, Chinese troops have established a permanent presence in north Doklam, with the construction of two helipads, upgraded roads, scores of pre-fabricated huts, shelters and stores to withstand the chill in the high-altitude region since then.

"This is disputed territory between Bhutan and China. There has been a reduction in the strength of Chinese troops there. But there is the possibility that they could come back (in force) after the winter. We have to wait-and-watch," he said.

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