Hawkish and selective media reporting distorts army chief's optimistic assessment
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Jan 14
Army chief General Bikram Singh's unmistakably optimistic assessment of the situation on the borders, in Afghanistan, and in Jammu & Kashmir has ironically evoked a sharp rejoinder from the Pakistani military's public relations wing. The reason - with the Indian media reporting only hard line statements, cherry-picked from the army chief's overall positive appraisal, the sense conveyed was of hawkish posturing, rather than the positive mood that Gen Singh tried to strike.
Speaking at his annual Army Day press conference on Monday, the army chief had made an important statement on ceasefire violations. Insisting the army would not be easily provoked, he stated: "Our country wants to move head. These (ceasefire violations) are issues at the tactical level. And, tactical level operations should not impinge on the strategic initiatives of the nation, which are for growth of the nation in a regional context. They are part of the grand strategy of the nation. My job is to ensure that I engage the adversary where necessary to the quantum of force that is required and do not escalate the situation into one that will impinge on the strategic initiatives."
He said after the two armies' operational chiefs, the director generals of military operations (DGMOs), held talks last month, relative calm had been restored on the Line of Control (LoC). He stated: "I think it is a move in the right direction to ensure that the ceasefire holds and the environment over there is conducive for development on both sides and the aspirations of the locals. A large number of locals in those areas suffer (in firing incidents) and the ceasefire looks after their aspirations."
The army chief added, "At the moment I am quite positive… We are having the meeting of two brigade commanders the dates for which have not been fixed. The DGMOs are speaking to each other on the hotline on a regular basis. We are hopeful that this will result in ensuring ceasefire along the LoC."
At the same time, Gen Singh revealed the Indian Army was responding to firing with firing. "Let me assure you that action has been taken. If you see the Pakistani media, I was watching Geo TV on 23rd December, they were talking of one (Pakistani) officer and nine jawans being killed, and 12 or 13 being wounded. This has happened due to the firing of your soldiers on the ground," he asserted.
The army chief was upbeat about the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between China and India, stating the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement the two countries signed last October would ensure "better understanding and bonhomie and peace and tranquillity on the borders."
Taking a broader strategic view of patrol violations on the ground, he said, "This agreement is going to further strengthen the understanding at the LAC level and even at the army headquarters level and also at the national level. Our endeavour is to move ahead in right earnest to ensure that we maintain peace and tranquillity to enable the strategic and national initiatives to fructify and consolidate."
In contrast to the foreign ministry's pessimistic assessments about Pakistani influence growing in Afghanistan after the NATO troop drawdown this year, the army chief believes the Afghan National Army (ANA) would hold its own against any challenges. "Given the capacity that has been given by the international community, along with our contribution, the ANA and police forces should be able to deal with the situation."
While Indian intelligence agencies have sounded dire warnings about jihadi fighters from Afghanistan being funnelled into J&K after NATO leaves, the army chief was far less pessimistic, conveying this was no more than a possibility. "A good army man hopes for the best but caters for the worst. From that point of view, it is axiomatic, it is imperative that we see that there might be a certain spillover from Afghanistan into Jammu & Kashmir. There are certain inputs alluding to this already. And therefore we need to be on our guard," he said.
Asked about the possibility of withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from J&K, the army chief did not reject the idea as flatly as the army has done in the past. He said, "We need to look at what happens in Afghanistan in 2014 before we can (consider revoking AFSPA). Perhaps it may be prudent to watch and wait for a while."