Moving back to the bigger picture, you have two very different adversaries on both sides of the Northern Command, with completely different agendas, vis-à-vis India. One adversary using proxy and the various strategic assets that he believes are adequate to bleed India by a thousand cuts. The other adversary constantly trying to brow beat India and Delhi in particular with the whole management; and their interpretation of the boundary line & perceptions differ. There have been cases in your tenure, when you were faced with dual challenges on two fronts, how did you see these challenges and how was it; were you adequately placed to deal with both challenges at same time?
To start with yes, there are two adversaries, dealing with them has absolutely different dynamics. On one side you have the Line of Control (LoC), you have infiltration, counter infiltration processes, you have ceasefire violations and you have a proxy war but we have laid down drills to deal with infiltration and the proxy war. I will come back to proxy war little bit later. There are various Corps Commanders & Division Commanders, under me who are focused towards this adversary, towards this challenge, well geared, well prepared, and well trained for this particular challenge, so there is no problem. On the other side (China) there is another spectrum. The challenge on this side is meeting him on an equal plane, with varying perceptions of the line of actual control (LAC). There are some places where there are specifically differing perceptions, therefore there are frequent transgressions in those areas but there are ways to deal with them. We have a very specific, very well laid out border mechanism in place. We talk to each other more, we are discussing with each other at varying levels to resolve the issue. So I think, to some extent, that in the management of the border we have been able to do a lot and have set a series of procedures in place. Our challenge now is to improve our infrastructure and our capability in that area. I am focusing more on managing things on LAC so that we are able to reach up to a level that we can handle things better in the future.
Going back to both these challenges, at least I would like to, for the purposes of this interview and for those, who will be viewing it, to clarify that infiltration and cross border efforts of proxy war, largely orchestrated by Pakistan, and the other pressures on you and your command, in terms of the perception of border and how to manage it, coming from China. Now in the case of Pakistan you have complete authority and delegated authority to your commanders to respond, at the place and time of your choosing, with the weapon systems, they think, are most appropriate. Simultaneously, under your hat you have a situation, where there are huge restrictions on you, not to let the situation escalate and no firing to take place vis a vis China, so how do you feel, that as a commander, as the supreme commander in the Northern Area, that how are you being able to encourage one lot to hit and respond and contain the situation as required, and in the other situation, you use huge amount of resolve and patience to contain the situation; to me that is a huge psychological challenge ?
It is a challenge however it is not so difficult as it appears. The reason is obvious, because the situation itself is different in the two sectors. The LoC is active, which is an active situation while the LAC is not active; there is an agreement in place; a methodology, and mechanisms in place by which you deal with the situation. There are steps laid out, a set series of steps you need to follow and over the last year or so these mechanisms on the LAC with China have been actually refined very well. You would notice in the last few months ,we have met quite often, almost every week, either at Battalion Commander’s level or higher commander’s level, and the authority to meet, to hold talks, to discuss the border issues, rests with me. I have delegated it to my Corps Commander, who can hold meetings, whenever there is a border or Air Space Violation or some civilians coming across, there is a methodology in place to resolve it. There is NO situation where we actually need to up the ante. Having said that, I can’t expect the man at the LoC to deal in same manner and so he needs training and guidance. So when a unit arrives in a formation, the unit is briefed and trained. Over a period of time, there are a series of actions put in place. Once we are satisfied with their level of training we deploy them on ground.
So my understanding is that your responses and your ability to handle the situation is also positively or negatively affected by the basic approach of the adversary country concerned, in terms of their dealing with India and Indian troops and the ground reality. I think that has facilitated it. Sir, I want to move on to another area which is in the news from time to time. It is the 30th anniversary of our presence at the Siachen Glacier, which also is world’s highest battle field. Your turf again, this is a third situation which is completely different from the LOC and LAC situation, where in the AGPL & the issue of India, Pakistan, interpretation of what should be done and the understanding amongst the public and political leaderships about where it is and what is the problem, why is it so important to us, as a tangible military gain, perhaps most tangible one, since the 1971 war, that we need to actually create greater awareness both amongst our leadership nationally, and amongst the public, about the challenges the troops and the commanders face there; could you throw some light on that?
To start with the Glacier, the Saltoro Ridge line that we are occupying has a strategic perspective. We are all aware that we are dominating. Our security perspective and also our operational requirements have been clearly spelt out to the Govt. There is no ambiguity on the security aspect and the strategic perspective. As far as the challenges are concerned, we have spent 30 years on the glacier and are an experienced army now. We are trained in Super high altitude areas and warfare and our drills are in place. We know how to survive in super high altitude areas, our habitats and living conditions have improved.
Our logistics have improved. Today, our medical hazards are almost negligible because we systematically deal with the three things which help us; One- we train the people properly, Two- we acclimatize them so well that they are able to survive in that area & Three – our logistic management is geared up. We have very negligible casualties. I don’t think we can be pushed away from there.
Moving back once again to the LOC, and next to Siachen Glacier when Pakistan did the intrusions, North of Kargil on those icy jagged peaks, the entire area between Muskoh valley and NJ9842. It was said that Indian responses would lead to another Siachen for Indian troops. Is the challenge of manning that part of LoC as big or bigger than the Siachen Challenge since the experience of doing things in Siachen and doing it right is much more, everything is in place, as you said. How well are we now placed to handle the challenges of the general area of Kargil, 10-12 yrs down the conflict?
Yes, the challenge is there. It is also a high altitude area though it is not glaciated, but it is very difficult. I must say the terrain is very-very harsh but the challenges are different and over the years in this part of LoC, the formations and units deployed there are well placed, the habitat has improved, routes have been made and marked to reach locations. There are some posts, which cannot be held during certain parts of year, in severe winter, our endeavor is to bring their number down. But over a period of time the infrastructure has come up and we are able to hold what you refer to as the Kargil area.
These are extracts of the interview
conducted on 12th May 2014 made
available courtesy the DISCOVERY