Full video interview here
41 years ago on 17 June 1972, the Indian army’s northern command was raised to guard the borders with China and Pakistan. This was as good an occasion as any to speak to Northern Army Commander Lt. General K.T Parnaik and find out from him how the command is faring in its efforts to guard these borders as well as have the counter insurgency, counter infiltration operations going on in J&K . Incidentally, Gen Parnaik will hang up his boots on June 30th after 41 years of service in the Army. The full video interview will be telacast later this week.
Ans: First of all, let me say that today (17 June) is our 42nd raising day, and this was necessitated after 1971 war, when we realised the dynamics of two hostile, maybe disputed borders as well as the insurgency which commenced in the late 1980s required independent command to deal with the strategic and the operational issues that were emerging here and that’s how Northern Command came up here in 1972. Over the years Northern Command has grown from strength to strength, what was 15 Corps in the entire area in the entire region, we now have 3 Corps, one each in the valley, south of Pir Panjal and in the Leh-Ladakh region. I would say over the years we have developed capability, we have modernised and we have enabled ourselves to deal with both the borders as well as the proxy war has been thrust on us by our neighbours.
Since last year, I would say that we have been able to maintain the peace parameters in the state of J&K, and we continue to dominate the space, with an effort to ensure that we provide the necessary window of opportunity for growth, development and governance.
NDTV: It’s been a good year in that sense?
Gen Parnaik: I would say we are passing through a transitory stage and you can call it a consolidation face and I would say the job is still not done because until all the infrastructure and intent is taken out, the capability of adversaries to calibrate infiltration and violence inside the state insurgency will continue to remain and that will be our ultimate aim to see that it is put down.
NDTV: So in that sense your counter insurgency, counter infiltration efforts continue to be calibrated according to the situation as it changes along the LOC?
Gen Parnaik: Yes, we have refined our methods for both the counter infiltration and counter terrorism operations. Many years back the centre of gravity was the terrorist and we were more concerned with detecting and neutralising the terrorist here alone. Today with the change in scenario our focus has shifted to counter infiltration operation. If we can prevent infiltration across the border, we can bring down the levels of violence. We also realise we need to reduce visibility in the populated areas, because we have been there for a lot of years, and therefore the counter terrorist strategy now revolves around specific operations and people friendly operations. So both of these have helped us to continue to dominate the space, neutralise the space, reduce their leadership and bring more peace in the area.
NDTV: Its interesting, when you say that you want to reduce your footprints in the populated areas because revolving around that is one of the constant demands of removal of the AFSPA if not fully, at least partially…
Gen Parnaik: This is a part of a larger strategy. It also there to locate or hound terrorists. However focus is shifting to leadership of the tanzeems, because it is they who command control and create activities and violence in the state. Secondly, with reductions in the violence levels, there has to be a larger flow of population. So it is of our own violation that we are shifting to those areas, which provides us the wherewithal to prevent information and at the same time, we are able to carry out in specific counter-terrorist operations. I would not want to connect it with anything else, but as times and situation changes. The Indian army and Northern Command is therefore able to change its operating philosophies within the state.
NDTV: Then perhaps an explanation is needed why AFSPA is a must?
Gen Parnaik: Well, AFSPA is a enabling act, it provides protection to our officers and men for carrying out difficult and dangerous task, which we continue to do even now, while we may have vacated certain spaces to allow circulation and reduce footprints, but the AFSPA enables us operate in these areas selectively. And I must remind you that large number of incidents, operations we have carried out in these populated areas. We have seen that where ever we have reduced our visibility, those areas become safe sanctuary for terrorist. Now they won’t come there and start creating violence, what they need is space to establish themselves, get some bases and on that basis start targeting the targets. So we are very conscious and watchful of the fact that we do not allow such spaces to them. We may have moved out but we dominate along with CAPFs and police. Peace is still fragile in the state. We must remember a period of peace is followed by a period violence many times in the past 20 years. The need of AFSPA is to dominate the space and we are making sure, people friendly operations are being launched and we have given professional recommendations to the centre and that’s where the matter is.
NDTV: That also bring me to the interesting term that you used synergised operations with CAPFs and the police, the J&K police. Have they come up to your expectations? Has that worked very well for you?
Gen Parnaik: See over the years the J&K police and the central armed police forces both have definitely graduated from what they were and they have been with us to address the serious law & order problem in the state. And they are proving to be effective, they also they also assist us jointly in carrying out counter terrorist operations or counter infiltration operations. They have the advantage of local intelligence and they have the advantage of local terrain which helps us in carrying out these operations. Also we are training the central paramilitary forces for counter terrorist and counter infiltration operations in our battle schools so that they are acquainted with the methods and SOPs. However it is unfortunate that these para military forces have to be time and again pulled out of these places for addressing law and order situations or election duties elsewhere in the country.
NDTV: You also spoke about the ease with which the period of peace can be over taken by period of violence. Is it because terrorist infrastructure that exists across the border is still intact?
Gen Parnaik: It’s a combination of whole lot of factors .To start with we have to understand that the infrastructure that supports and propels this entire proxy war across the border is intact whether they are the training camps or the launching pads or the communication facilities. Secondly the continued efforts of the establishment in Pakistan to push the infiltrators across the LoC continue. The number of ceasefire violations that we have had and a large number of incidents in which they had tried to breach the LoC and the fence have been detected in the past. So I feel as long as the intention on the infrastructure doesn’t change we cannot keep our guard down. That is one issue. Secondly I agree that the local recruitment levels have dropped. People in the state have realised the futility of carrying out these insurgency operations against the state. And as you are aware now that a large number of terrorist as who had gone across into Pakistan and were settled there by the establishment are now yearning to come back. The rehabilitation policy that has been put in place by the state government and the central government are allowing some of them to come back and join the mainstream. So while they come back and join the mainstream I would say the instigation levels are from across continue to remain. The separatist and the other elements within the state also contribute to this problem. If you are not careful you saw what happened in 2010. There is a propensity for events to spiral, become triggers, turn violent that would result in unnecessary deaths, which can change the entire environment. Therefore we are taking pro-active means, so that we remain ahead of triggers and the need of the day continues to dominate the space, and not allow terrorist to revive the space.
NDTV: Is there any assessment about the number of camps and approximate number of militants who are trained by Pakistan in these camps?
Gen Parnaik: These assessments are being carried out regularly as intelligence agencies and security forces put their heads together and we have a semblance of figures. While these figures have marginally changed over a period of time, it is not the numbers that are important it is the fact that they continue to be there and every season these camps get activated for training and motivation. Intelligence agencies have confirmed that these camps continue to be active. So these are talking about 42 camps across and 4,000-5,000 is generally the strength. They come for training and go away, but the important part is why should the adversary maintain these camps, why should they give them the patronage? They get arms, equipments, state of the art communication equipment and wherewithal to carry out infiltration. This itself highlights the problems that exist today. Despite N number of dialogues, there is no improvement, that’s why we can’t let our guard down.
NDTV: That brings to me the LoC incident, where the beheading happened. How did you handle that?
Gen Parnaik: Well the mutilation of the soldier in the Mendhar sector was very unfortunate. I would say it was a grave violation of the Geneva Convention as well as the ceasefire agreement between the two countries. There was fair amount of anger and motivation to avenge it amongst the troops. However our initial reaction was of restraint and peace, because we understand that we cannot be operating in anger and haste but we ensured, we dealt with the situation firmly and deliberately. By targeting any suspicious movement across the LoC effectively and within 2-3 weeks time, we had caused enough damage and were able to regain the domination of the LoC and we continue to dominate it. Now also our troops have to deploy ahead of the fence for carrying out these duties and we have to ensure that we give them adequate protection.
NDTV: Was there any lesson learnt? Anything that went wrong in that particular operation?
Gen Parnaik: Surely. These are tactical level operations, there have been lessons and they have been incorporated, whether in terms of surveillance operations, protection and have been incorporated in other areas as well .
NDTV:Earlier you spoke about Kashmir valley, counter insurgency, counter infiltration, but is it that bigger challenges for Northern Command comes from looking at China border. And what exactly happened at Depsang/DBO? What is your assessment?
Gen Parnaik: As we perceive the movement of patrols in areas of differing perceptions has been on for some time. Since the Chinese side has constructed limited roads, they are able to move in vehicles, our patrols are per force going on foot, so the reaction is that much more delayed. We are also trying to get our infrastructure in place. I presume that we have established mechanisms to resolve the issues here and whenever there are faceoffs, we either use the hotlines, the flag meetings or the border personnel meetings. These are held frequently either on their side or our side and all the issues are discussed threadbare and our concerns are conveyed to each other. In the Depsang, they came to their areas of perception and decided to stay put.
At a lower level, it’s a intention to show that these areas belong to us, so we want to come and stay here but cutting the whole thing short, I just want to tell you that our response at Depsang was patient but firm. We ensured our concerned areas were secure, we engaged in dialogue with PLA as per the established norms, understanding each other’s point of view does take time, we don’t speak their language and vice versa. The entire incident was put through border personnel meetings and dialogue and ultimately both sides agreed to revert to April 15 status quo and the disengagement and de-escalation which took place happened without us making any compromise on the issue. We lost nothing, did not dismantle any of our defences. We broke none of our structures and within the realms of BPTA treaty which exists there was a simultaneous effort on the ground, tactical level as well as dialogues between the two countries at the foreign office level which you are aware of .
NDTV:But just to reiterate, there was no compromise. Was there a demand to do all that?
Gen Parnaik: They have been making demands to say that we want you to dismantle some structures and there is a sense of equality when it comes to these and maybe it’s a method of putting pressure. But we haven’t yielded to any pressure. And I want to tell the viewers and you, that no compromises were made in settling the issue.
NDTV: Why are they so concerned about the infrastructure that India is building in Eastern Ladakh? Is it because their highway linking Xingjian and Tibet is threatened?
Gen Parnaik: Look at this way. About the aspect of the western highway, it is fairly far off from anything being done in the area, where we are, it is not going to threaten the western highway, so I want to dispel the notion. There is a Kailash Range in between, and these are high mountains, with various passes. The second point is the Chinese have had a edge over us in creating the infrastructure, they have Class 9 roads, which branch out from the highways. We have not been able to develop our infrastructure with the same pace. However in the last couple of years, we have made an attempt to improve it, and you are aware that if we are to stay there and look after the defence and security of the borders, so slowly we are making a attempt to get our infrastructure in place. These efforts were started few years back, maybe they are trying to show they are worrying them, but they can’t have the infrastructure and not allow us to make it. These points have been discussed frequently and whenever we do something, we make it a point to inform them, we are making infrastructure developments. So there are perceptions of how and why of things. Time will tell us on how these developments took place, but on the lower level, I want to assure you that we are very alive and aware of their methods of functioning and when this incident took place, there was absolute calm and people went about doing their jobs, we have our wherewithal to assess methods they may use and we are also developing our responses accordingly.
NDTV: Please feel free, if you don’t want to answer this. You need the ITBP to under operational control of the army. Has any forward movement happened on this issue?
Gen Parnaik: All that I will say is many issues have been discussed and we have made our recommendations and our perceptions to the government. The MOD, MHA are very well aware of all these. Now the decision is left at their levels. There are not functional problems, but there are certain factors. We have made known to them and whatever decision is taken will be told to us.
NDTV: You know during your tenure of two years you also had this couple of other challenges. One of this was a rare occasion when soldiers and officers clashing at Nyoma during the field fighting exercise. How did you handle that?
Gen Parnaik: Nyoma where this incident took place was a major aberration I would say. The Indian Army has got very strong traditions of morals, ethics and discipline which is part of our day to day conduct and therefore it is not common for things to be out of hand. However in this case it did get out hand may be because the unit discipline had probably broken down and also may because of the absence of the commanding officer from the unit for a longer time. However we handled it with great patience. It was the commander of the brigade and the GOC of 3 Infantry division who reached the spot when this thing took place. It was all triggered by action of an individual and the actions and counter actions by officers and men had led to this ugly incident. The GOC was able to calm down the people involved he used great patience lot of courage and he exhibited good leadership in time to calm down the sentiments of the people. He sat them through, talked to them. The aim was to understand the causative factors which resulted in this incident and they have been able to address those in a large way. The people who were involved were then brought out of the regiment and they were subjected to a intense court of inquiry and the Army act/army rule 180 was invoked during the inquiry. The inquiry had since concluded and they have recommended a large number of people for disciplinary actions for their indiscipline. As a result of the inquiry report summary of evidences have now been ordered and we are in the second stage of finishing the summary of evidence which is the primary step to decide the charges and than resort to the process of court marshalling and punishing the people. I would say that we are very strict and firm in our resolve to bring the culprits to book and those who are found guilty through this process will be punished. It’s a strong message for the troops that we have zero tolerance for the indiscipline and such grave indiscipline will not be tolerated. Ever since this incident has taken place and the inquiries have taken place things have resumed to the normal and we are hopeful that these will not reoccur.
NDTV: Zero tolerance is what Indian Army is also known to have on corruption. Several cases of corruption come out these days. Does it worry you?
Gen Parnaik: With the changing environment, we have had some of the cases of malpractice and corruption, but we have shown transparency and resolve to address this irrespective of the rank and that is the message that has gone through, that if they indulge in wrongdoings, they will not be spared. I am not particularly worried about this issue, overtaking the ethos and morality that exist in the organisation. It will not shake the foundation of the armed forces, but I am sure, it will send an appropriate message to everybody to suggest they have a responsible task to do, and if they indulge in any misdemeanours, they will be caught and punished. We are not looking to put anyone in stress. The idea is to address the malpractice and deal with people appropriately, so if we deal with things correctly we should be able to control them.
NDTV: You had more than four decades in the army, what is the first thought that comes to you, looking back? Satisfaction, pride?
Gen Parnaik: Indeed it’s been a long journey of 4 decades in uniform in the army. I think when I look back, I count my blessings that my parents sent me to the army, I came to this wonderful organisation, which taught us team spirit, discipline. These are virtues which any ordinary citizen would want to be introduced to. We were trained to be leaders. I was fortunate to rise in the rank and my last innings here in Northern Command, I felt honoured somebody considered me to lead this huge Northern Command, I think this is the ultimate challenge to all our training, our guidance, grooming, knowledge and perceptions that we developed and at the end of it , I feel that one has been thoroughly satisfied, I am immensely proud of the fact that I served and I wish more people can continue to serve, because this gave us the opportunity to serve the nation, the feeling we were doing something for the sake of the nation, and the last feeling that I carry is that after more than 45 yrs, when I stepped into this career in NDA, I feel proud to say I am physically fit, mentally aware and morally straight. This virtue we were taught. So I am glad, I remember my prayers at NDA.
Part of the video interview: http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/no-compromise-on-our-defences-says-army/279559
June 30, 2013 -
The juniour officers always look up to him as their role model.General has lived up to all the values we prey for in NDA every morning before starting our day. And may I also add , he has always put Service Before Self