Chief of Defence Staff cautions Pakistan against taking advantage of India-China tensions

Quad should ensure Freedom of Navigation in Indian Ocean: Gen. Rawat

India’s wants the Quad to become a system to “ensure Freedom of Navigation (FoN) and Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS)” in the Indian Ocean and around, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat said on Thursday, while highlighting the threat of a combined challenge from Pakistan and China on two fronts, and cautioning Pakistan against taking any advantage of the tensions with China.

“As far as Quad is concerned, we feel this is a good arrangement which will ensure that the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and all other oceans around, there is complete FoN without fear of any other nation singularly trying to dominate the oceans,” Gen. Rawat said in a webinar by the U.S. India Strategic Partnership Forum, when asked about the Quad grouping consisting of India, Australia, Japan and the U.S.

“We are very keen to ensure that there is complete FoN on the seas and in the airspace above,” he stated.

Two-front challenge

Talking of the situation on the borders, Gen. Rawat said the threat from Pakistan will be mainly in the form of a proxy war but should any threat develop around our northern borders, Pakistan could take advantage and create some trouble there. “Therefore, we have taken adequate precautions to ensure that any such misadventure by Pakistan is thwarted and they are not able to succeed in their mission. But in fact, they may suffer heavy losses should they attempt any misadventure,” he said.

Talking of China, Gen. Rawat said there were border management protocols signed from 1993 onwards that have been modified continuously. “But of late, we have been seeing some aggressive actions by the Chinese but we are capable of handling these in the best suitable way,” he said, without making any specific comment on the ongoing stand-off in Ladakh.

Infrastructure development in the Tibet Autonomous Region, completion of the highway renovation project and development of strategic railway lines, in addition to the recently introduced military reforms by China are being monitored and their implications factored while devising future military strategy, Gen. Rawat said, stating that formation of theatre commands improves Chinese ability to “conduct synergised operations”.

“Opportunities exist for us to develop strategic asymmetry in select military domains, especially operations at high altitudes,” Gen. Rawat noted.

He also stated that Chinese economic cooperation with Pakistan in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, along with continued military, economic and diplomatic support, mandates high levels of preparation and also poses the “threat of coordinated action on the Northern and Western fronts”. To offset this, Gen. Rawat said strategies have been devised to deal with the primary front and the secondary front. “We have earmarked forces for that and we have conceptualised our strategies to deal with such threat scenarios emerging on both our borders,” he said.

India-US cooperation

Asked about India-U.S. partnership, Gen. Rawat said several agreements have been concluded of late that had improved strategic cooperation. Stating that the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed in 2018 enables Indian military to get a better picture of the maritime activities in the IOR, Gen. Rawat said, “What we are looking for from the U.S. is information sharing and continued supply of high technology battle field systems that we can use to our advantage.”

Highlighting aerospace systems, space technology, cyber and artificial intelligence as high technology areas for India-U.S. cooperation, Gen. Rawat said, “With 74% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in defence, India should become a preferred destination for investment in defence manufacturing.”

On the COVID-19 situation, Gen. Rawat said the “pandemic has turned out to be a national security issue” and added it was being ensured that troops deployed in the frontline were not impacted by the virus.

With inputs from The Hindu