In the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic hitting both India and Pakistan, General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), has said that there are lingering doubts over the possibility of terrorists infiltrating into Jammu and Kashmir could be infected with coronavirus.
“… we know that Pakistan has also been hit by coronavirus. So, there are always doubts that the terrorists could be infected with the virus. We know that the residents of the Valley understand the ulterior motives of Pakistan. Their only objective is to spread terror, be it through terrorism or coronavirus,” General Rawat said during an exclusive conversation with India TV.
The significant remarks come a day after the five Indian security personnel, including four from the Army, were martyred during a counter-terror operation in Handwara, Pulwama.
During the conversation, the four-star general also threw light on the planning that went behind the armed forces’ tribute to the country’s doctors and other frontline warriors in the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Q. It was for the first time that the armed forces of the country have paid their tribute to the warriors. Who was behind the plan and how successful it has been?
A. Look, whenever our armed forces have carried out any move, they have been wholeheartedly backed by the people of the country. As the country battles the coronavirus pandemic, the doctors, the sanitation workers, or be it anyone else engaged at the front lines, are doing a commendable job.
Even in the coming days, these professionals would be involved in the massive effort to tackle the spread of coronavirus. It will be wrong to say that we have completely overcome the pandemic.
So, we decided that it would be apt for the forces to express their gratitude to the frontline warriors of the nation. The decision was taken after consulting the three chiefs of the armed forces and obviously, several ministries were also kept in the loop.
Q. So, how did we ready the plan? This was for the first time that the country had witnessed a spectacle like this.
A. There were no problems in reaching an agreement on this. We have the Army, Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard. All the individual forces made the best use of their capabilities. The Air Force had the planes, the Navy had ships and the Army had ground-based capabilities. We also have the military bands.
Taking everything into account, we instituted a coordinating agency and we tried to make the best of our capabilities.
Q. We have been seeing the Make in India campaign getting a boost in the midst of the ongoing lockdown? What are your thoughts on indigenisation of production, especially when it comes to manufacturing in the defence sector?
A. There is no doubt that we must move towards indigenisation. We need to be self-reliant in producing weapons, defence systems and other related products. Till when will we depend on imported defence products.
The coronavirus crisis has definitely helped us in realising that our industry and workforce, and all other institutions, can come together to rise up to any challenge.
While I do admit that we don’t have some of the latest technologies, but there are foreign companies which are ready to partner with us to produce some of the defence products in the country itself.
There are many companies and countries who want to partner with India at this stage. We can opt for transfer of technology agreements and try to indigenise our modes of production by entering into pacts with such foreign players.
Q. What would you say to the forces, especially in the wake of the Handwara encounter in Jammu and Kashmir?
A. Whenever any such counter-terrorism operation is launched, each unit and sub-unit is assigned a particular task. I reckon that the local unit could have been told that some terrorists, with the intention of causing harm to the local population, needed to be neutralised.
The soldiers involved in the Handwara encounter, with clear instructions from their command, must have been thinking how they could ensure the minimum collateral damage to the local population.
There is obviously a great deal of risk involved when you have the task of ensuring no to minimum civilian casualties in mind during such encounters.
I must say that the Army party did a commendable job. They eliminated the terrorists and ensured no collateral damage at the same time.
Q. Haidar, one of the terrorists killed in the encounter, had infiltrated into the Indian side in 2017. We have also been seeing continuous attempts by Pakistan to violate the ceasefire. How do you see these events?
A. It is not a new thing at all. The summers are around the corner, the snow in the higher reaches has already started to melt. There are bound to be attempts by Pakistan to push in terrorists, more so due to the prevailing peaceful atmosphere in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. People in the UT want peace to prevail, which is an irritant for Pakistan.
Pakistan has always strived to foment disturbance in Jammu and Kashmir, in hopes that the blame would be shifted to the government and our forces. It has been their time-tested strategy, but we are ready as always to deal with such threats.
Q. What would you say to reports of Pakistan trying to push in terrorists infected with coronavirus through the border? We saw recently that terrorists gunned down during an encounter had bodysuits on. Are there any intelligence inputs?
A. Pakistan, for sure, is not conducting any tests on the terrorists they are infiltrating into India. So, it is hard to ascertain who among these terrorists has an existing infection.
But we know that Pakistan has also been hit by coronavirus. So, there are always doubts that the terrorists could be infected with the virus. We know that the residents of the Valley understand the ulterior motives of Pakistan.
Their only objective is to spread terror, be it through terrorism or coronavirus.