Saying that India needs to be ready for a two front scenario, the army chief pointed to increasing collusion between China and Pakistan, both in military and non-military domains, and described it as a potent threat.
“There is no doubt that a collusive threat exists. This is not just something that is part of a strategy paper but it very much manifesting itself on the ground,” the army chief said at his annual press conference, without getting into details of the nature of cooperation.
Reports have been received by Indian agencies that point to Pakistani assistance to the Chinese PLA in the form of communications interceptions and intelligence sharing as the Ladakh crisis ballooned from May last year. An enhanced presence of Pakistani troops has also been noticed in the Gilgit-Baltistan region.
The army chief said that India needs to be prepared to deal with both the adversaries by prioritising the larger problem at any given time. On the border situation with China, he said that efforts are on to reach a solution through talks but the army is prepared to hold on as long as it takes.
“We will ensure that through the medium of talks we reach a solution, which is acceptable and not detrimental to our interests. If the talks get prolonged, so be it, we are prepared to hold our ground for as long as it takes to achieve our national goals and interests,” Gen Naravane said, adding that a solution needs to be found on the grounds of “mutual and equal security”.
On the recent pull back of 10,000 PLA troops from depth areas in the Tibet region, the army chief said that not much should be read into it as frontline positions remain fully occupied in friction areas and there has been no reduction of tensions.
“We should not read too much into their presence or absence… these areas are well in depth and are as much as 500 km to 1,500 km away from the border. All the same, we keep an eye on their deployments on the Tibetan plateau because these are the forces that could be mobilised to the borders in 24 to 48 hours,” Gen Naravane said.
The army chief underlined that there has been de escalation along the border as frontline troops remain deployed at close distance. “What is more important is that in border areas, where there is eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, there has been no reduction of troops. That is where we have to be concerned and careful,” he said.
Answering questions on the sudden Chinese build up in eastern Ladakh last year, the army chief said that Chinese troop positions were being monitored as they were routine exercise moves but when Beijing changed intent, it had a first mover’s advantage.
“They come for training every year and we had full details of the areas they were present in. We were regularly monitoring the situation but suddenly they had the first-mover advantage,” the army chief said, adding that this first mover advantage was taken by Indian troops in late August when key heights along the southern bank of the Pangong Lake were occupied. “This first-mover advantage will always remain like we had in August. Even though we were in eyeball-to-eyeball contact, China had no clue and we could surprise them,” he said.