In July, Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen KT Parnaik spoke to me at length on issues relating to India’s northern borders, Pakistan’s continuing attempts to stir trouble in Kashmir, China’s increasing footprints in Gilgil-Baltistan and most importantly why India must NOT withdraw from or demilitarise Siachen.
In the light of a controversy stirred by a Track II dialogue between a group of retired military officers from India and Pakistan over Siachen, it is important to understand that the OFFICIAL MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT is so far steadfastly opposed to any dialogue on any proposal to demalitarise Siachen. Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh, Gen Parnaik’s course-mate from NDA and IMA, is also on record that the Indian Army has no plans to give up its advantage in Siachen. This reality needs to be understood.
Read full transcript and view the full video of the interview here:
Nitin: 13 years ago, it was this month, when the last of the Pakistani intruders were evicted from this area, Dras and Kargil. You are back here for the 13th Anniversary celebration of the Kargil Vijay Divas in Dras. It is also fortunate we have with us the Northern Army Commander, Lt General KT Parnaik here in Dras-Kargil sector to celebrate and join the troops in the celebrations of Vijay Divas. In that busy schedule he has found time to talk to NDTV, and answer some of the questions. Sir, Thank you for your time. You are here in Dras. When you look back to 1999 and the situation in the last 13 years, what is your assessment of the current situation in this sector?
Lt General KT Parnaik: I would say there is a marked improvement in the situation that exists today, because in the wake of the Kargil war, a large number of steps were taken by the Army to ensure we never have a situation like this. And amongst them was our ability to guard these borders in a much more determined and deliberate manner. So you are aware that the additional troops that came here, to fight and reclaim and regain these areas, continued to stay here. So today, the defensive posture in the Dras-Kargil sector is very formidable. And I don’t think that any repeat of Kargil can really take place here. To that extent the situation has improved considerably. We have continued to have the similar population with us. And they helped us during the Kargil war and at the same time suffered because of heavy shelling here. So we have ensured that their families and people are looked after, and we continue to take care of their means, because they are far away from civilisation here, so they are being looked after. So the situation is fairly in control as to what we are doing here. And the situation has highly stabilised here.
Nitin: Coming to the Kashmir Valley, which is always under scrutiny, summer is here, so, what is your assessment for this summer as far as the Kashmir Valley is concerned?
Lt General KT Parnaik: Let me start with the events that took place in 2010. In recent times, I can call it as a watershed of a very planned methodology by the adversaries to try and balance terrorism with political defiance. Because of their worries on the Western borders, because of their inability to put enough attention this side, they embarked on this strategy to ensure that whatever was happening inside Kashmir, should be made to look as if it was indigenous. And to that extent they masterminded the protest and the protest led to political defiance, which unfortunately led to many deaths, because the forces trying to deal with the law and order situation were not adequately equipped and the situation went out of hand. But once we retrieve the situation, by end of 2010, then in a synergised manner, the security forces, along with the administration, managed to chalk out a strategy, to pre-empt anything that would happen as in 2010. There were 3 main ingredients. One was to ensure that there were no triggers, because from 2007-08 to 2010, incidents rolled out in the valley based on triggers, whether it was Mattoo or any other. So we understood that we could not afford to have a trigger here. The second our ability to synergise our activities and preempt any effort made by the people who generated hysteria of political defiance; and that also helped us, to prevent them from reenacting what they did in 2010. The last point I wish to make is that we seriously looked at the centre of gravity as the population, and in the population, the youth. So engagement of youth was one of the most important factors in our strategy to ensure that this kind of defiance does not trigger.
Nitin: And how was the response?
Lt General KT Parnaik: The way we went about was, that we started looking at perception management in a more deliberate manner. We understood that a lot of activity that was generated in the Valley was through the cyber, and it was instigations from across. And the mentors, they used the large part of the separatists, the UGWs, the terrorists, to generate that kind of hysteria. But once we were on cyber ourselves, we could gauge the mood, we could prevent things from happening. That changed the whole situation. We engaged the youth in a lot of activities. In fact the conduct in Kashmir primarily, was one such move that proved to be fruitful in trying to engage them in sports instead of throwing stones. We were also able to appeal to the good senses. We took some of the stone pelters on a tour and we thought we could get them to be integrated as the rest of the children. That also paid us some dividends. And lastly, today we are engaged with them in the manner, that we invite them to attend our seminars, we have interactions, they are open to discussions; there is transparency. And we have even helped them in the sense that we have opened these youth registration centers, which allows them to understand what is the future for them, and we can assist them. So a large number of programmes have been unleashed. 2011 slowly changed the situation, and because of little or no human right violations, I think the situation came under control. So 2012, as it’s almost halfway through, so far has been on the right lines, as we have expected and it was as per our plans. But we do understand that the people across are watching and studying the activities. At one stage there were notions that they could create disturbances here on the basis of the colour revolutions that took place in North Africa and other regions. The situation and conditions being different, we did not let that happen. I see 2012 also, likely to pass the way 2011 has. The only worry is that there are desperate attempts now being made from across, to try and engineer incidents. We are looking at incidents in the past 2 months, whether it was activation of South Kashmir, the threats that went out to these sarpanchs, the targeting of the police. We also had an incident where they targeted the Army too and we had a casualty. Now these haven’t happened for a long time, and more recently you see there are very unfortunate incidents of the burning of the mosques. I see this as a pattern of trying to create a trigger.
Nitin: Is there is a pattern?
Lt General KT Parnaik: I don’t know whether it’s a pattern or not. Incidents, which occur now, will tell us whether it is a pattern or not. But for sure I can tell you that the people, who sit across the border, have not been so successful in trying to infiltrate as they have been in the past few years. The infiltration figures have come down. But that is not to say that there is no infiltration. There are desperate attempts of trying to infiltrate right from the time the snow levels have receded, and even before that. As you know that there are a number of launch pads across the LoC, there could be anywhere around 400-500 terrorists waiting to be infiltrated. These are figures confirmed by the intelligence agencies. I think from the beginning of the year, about 40 attempts would have been made, and in 3-4 cases, we clearly defeated these attempts. We had encounters with the terrorists, and we were able to neutralise quite a few of them. In a large number of the attempts, we were able to detect them and deter them from infiltrating to our areas, so they had to run back. However, I would still put a figure of about 30-40 terrorists that would have successfully infiltrated over the last few months. Some part of it is corroborated by the encounters we have had in the so-called reception areas. And that confirms that these were infiltrating groups. But with the strategy that we have to counter infiltration, we have very aggressive patrolling, we have good surveillance, and we are also ensuring that there is a deployment from LoC backwards, to ensure that we do not allow them to succeed in the manner that they would want to. That is why their attempt to use other borders, to infiltrate from say, Nepal and others, it is suspected that they would try to use these borders.
Nitin: But there is a very noticeable thing, as far is 2012 and 2011 is concerned, there is a difference between 2011 and 2012, is the concerted attempts to get the AFSPA withdrawn from certain areas. That has suddenly died down and we don’t hear or read about it. What is your assessment of that?
Lt General KT Parnaik: See, we have always said it’s a matter of security. The need of the hour in J&K is synergy and joint operation. As much as we may see the peace indicators in the terms of tourists, economic activity, which is a good sign, and we fully support it, we cannot be complacent in allowing things to drift. In the sense that even those areas, which seem to be peaceful, we need to continue to dominate them. And I think one or two incidents that have taken place, and please substantiate what I’m saying, and let’s say the South Kashmir issue that the threats and the targeting of police and all, indeed in some places where things were quite peaceful, we had scaled down the activities, which was the requirement. But having seen that it has suddenly risen in toll of aggressive and violent incidents, we have re-commenced our operation, and the effects are there for us to see.
Nitin: The people have understood that the AFSPA…
Lt General KT Parnaik: See, it’s a question of, the population always wants security, and I have a feeling that as long as the Armed Forces conduct themselves in a manner befitting of their ethos, and they do not carry out any human rights violation, which is what has caused the major change, I think the rest of the matter would settle itself. But once again I want to state that I have no issue in the respect with the Govt. or anybody, and it is a totally professional advice that we continue to give, and the decisions are with the Central Govt, to make.
Nitin: In that context again, if you remember there was this case, fake encounters, and you have the Army in both the cases. People are still confused as to how the Pahtribal case is going to proceed from here. They are going to be court martialed or they are going to be tried again, so if you could just throw a little light on it.
Lt General KT Parnaik: Subsequent to the Honorable Supreme Court’s judgement on the issue of these legal cases, we have applied for trial under the Army Act, Section 125, and taken over the cases of both encounters. Pathribal is an old case Machil is recent. Now as far as the procedures that will follow, the Army Act and the Army rules lay down the method of conducting inquiries, summary of evidences and court martial. So we will go through this entire process. In case the Army enquiry has already been held, that is Machil, we will go for summary of evidence and after deducing the evidence that is available the next step will be taken. Therefore, similarly, as far as the Pathribal case is concerned you are aware that the inquiry was done by the CBI and unfortunately our witnesses had not deposed. So as per the provisions of the law, we have given a chance to our witnesses also to depose in the enquiry, through the summary of evidence and then, as and how the charges emerge, purely based on evidence, and keeping the legal aspects correct, the third step of the court martial will take place as a consequence of the summary of evidence.
Nitin: Will you be calling the civilian witnesses?
Lt General KT Parnaik: Yes, very much, in both the cases, the Army will call all those involved, whether they are Army, they are other security forces, they are civilians, everybody. So the trial will have to be a fair one, so that everybody gets to state his case. We have a provision of applying Army Rule 180, which gives the privilege to the accused to defend himself. There are four things he can do during the investigation. He can give any evidence he wants, he can make a statement, he can cross-examine any other witness who deposes in the investigation, and he has the right to peruse all the documents, which are being produced.
Nitin: The feeling of getting over with this tomorrow or day after, it will take its own course?
Lt General KT Parnaik: Yes, we would ensure that it does not get delayed on account of our procedures. We would ensure that it is conducted in the proper manner, in the transparent, open and keeping matters in place. The only delays that take place, as per our experience, are when the witnesses are either not available or they are not willing to come and depose, or we have to secure their presence for deposition. In the Pathribal case, a large number of people have retired or they are in other places. But this process of gathering witnesses has already begun. While our attempt would be to try and wind up these cases as soon as possible, but for sure we will have to follow the legal procedure, and legal procedures have their own methodology, to that extent, some time will definitely be taken.
Nitin: The other two enquiries are one, the rebellion in unit of Ladakh, which took place and a senior General who has alleged to have been involved in corruption. How are both the cases?
Lt General KT Parnaik: Both these cases, the artillery regiment in Nyoma and also the officer, they are complicated cases. As far as the regiment is concerned, because of the manner in which events have taken place, it has taken long to identify who all were involved and to what extent they were involved. So today we have a situation where a large number of people are under investigation. The numbers have exceeded 40-50 because they’re officers, JCOs, they’re men, and there’s material evidence to, to indicate what could have happened and what has happened. As I mentioned to you, about the Court of Inquiry, it is essential that when you are looking at the character of a person being, you know; then he has to be placed under Army Rule 180. Now, in this inquiry, imagine there are 30-40 people sitting in court at any one time. Now one witness who comes as a new witness to depose, all of them have the right to cross-examine. All of them can make a statement after that; and all of them can produce evidence against what he says or doesn’t say. So, procedurally, it is taking a lot of time. And when you have 20-30 people asking questions in a different way for the presiding officers and the members, it takes time to, you know, to get and stitch together what must be happening at that time. So it is this factor that is taking time. So I think this inquiry will take a little more time and the idea is to get to the truth. So, we do not want to hurry up things, for the want to get it done quickly. We do not want that justice is denied where it needs to be given. Now, as far as the other case is concerned …
Nitin: And the Unit?
Lt General KT Parnaik: See the unit continues to be where it is. The Commanding Officer has changed. The erstwhile Commanding Officer has been attached for the inquiry. New Commanding Officer has come. Some new officers, JCO’s, and men have been posted to the Regiment and it is functioning normally. As far as people under investigation is concerned, depending on the charges framed upon them, based on the evidence that is deduced, then we will proceed against them. There could be some that could be court martialed. There would be some who could be given administrative punishments. But all that will happen only after the Court of Inquiry gives its findings and it is brought to the higher authority for the decision to be made.
Nitin: And the corruption charges?
Lt General KT Parnaik: About the other enquiry, because of the nature of the charge, it is essential that we secure the presence of a large number of civilians in this, a large number of them being contractors and his acquaintances and all. And since Northern Command is a large command, there are a large number of contractors that operate here for ration supplies, transport, etc. So some time is being taken to secure their presence and to, you know, investigate them. Similarly, he has the rights of cross-examining and making his own evidences. Thirdly, a lot of documentary evidence is also required. Now some of it is available, some of it needs to be procured and there are processes and procedures, officially, to procure these things. But it is progressing well, I would say.
Nitin: How are we as far as the border with China goes? Are we okay with it? What is the situation there?
Lt General KT Parnaik: The LoC border is quiet and under control. The usual activities of transgressions, which are an annual feature, continue, like in previous years, this year also. The number of transgressions generally remains the same, apart from a variation in that some areas they come up and some areas they go down. So if you have the Aksai Chin areas in the north and the lake areas, Pangong Tso, and you have the Demochok Pokche areas, they keep fluctuating in terms of numbers at the times that they visit the areas. Basically, it is nothing else but the Chinese, the PLA, and all who are patrolling the borders. Since the borders are not demarcated, there are some perceptional differences on where it runs from. And we continue to visit those that we perceive to be ours, and they do the same. And it is in some of these areas, which have now been, we start calling them ‘disputed areas’ because of lack of clarity on those issues; when we visit those we term them as transgressions to the Chinese. We have had no unusual activity on the Chinese border. Therefore, I would continue to confirm to you that the borders are quiet; that there is usual activity and we continue to have border personnel meetings and other interactions with the PLA, as per the norms of the PTPA, the Peace and Tranquility Treaty that exists, and the existing orders on these issues in the mechanism.
Nitin: What is our worry as far as the China front is concerned? Because we always think that China is worry that we will face in the future …
Lt General KT Parnaik: See, we need to be concerned about our security. For one, the Chinese have got a very good infrastructure in Tibet; and infrastructure flaunts capability. It enables them to quickly move forces, concentrate them, posture them and then use them. I’m not suggesting that this is what they’re doing. Far from it, they’re carrying out their usual activities like training and patrolling. But the availability of infrastructure in their side of Tibet is a cause of worry. And therefore our priority also, in addition to managing the borders, is seeing how our infrastructure can be speeded up. We need to get our roads and tracks up to the borders. We need to make sure that the forward-line areas are available to us because the areas get cut-off because of roads. We need to ensure that logistically and operationally, we are facilitated. The other domain is a matter of surveillance. You know, it’s a vast area devoid of any cover, so this requires not only human, but it requires technical intelligence also, imagery intelligence also. So we are paying a lot of attention in trying to update our surveillance so that we are able to have a look-see and be warned up to our area of interest. And that has to be done through technical means, so that is the other aspect. Once we get our surveillance right and once we get our infrastructure right, I don’t think we have anything to fear.
Nitin: How are you looking after that aspect, the PLA working in PoK?
Lt General KT Parnaik: It is true that a large number of Chinese are working in PoK. Now basically there are 3 issues. One is they have already put across the Karakoram Highway, which runs through Khunjerab Pass, so they are responsible to ensure that it is maintained. To ensure that the infrastructure stays intact the Chinese have been invited by the Pakistanis to take care of the infrastructure. In addition to this, they are also engaging in maintaining other infrastructure in the Northern areas. So, you see, a large number of construction companies and others, who are engaged in maintaining the infrastructure, maintenance and development. The third aspect is, in addition to the infrastructure, they have also taken on installation of hydel projects. Now some of these hydel projects are in river valleys that are very close to our Line of Control- like the Neelam River. Now that’s where we can practically see their activity across the Line of Control. As far as these activities are concerned and PLA is concerned, it is quite possible from those who are present there they could be from PLA also, because PLA has construction companies and other things. The concern is that we have two unsettled borders with our two neighbours. Now to have this other neighbour also present at this unsettled border, diplomatically and in terms of security, it raises questions. We have sensitized the government on these issues and I have a feeling that these issues will be taken up through these channels. But we are keeping a check to the extent that we can and ensuring that there are no unusual activities taking place, otherwise we do hope that, at the highest level, these issues will be addressed.
Nitin: What is it that Indian Army is concerned about with respect to Siachen?
Lt General KT Parnaik: You see, to understand Siachen, I think one needs to be geographically oriented to the region. And let me simply put it, because I’m telling you without a map, but the Siachen Glacier is bounded by the west by the Saltoro Range, which is a very high range and to the east by the Karakoram Range and the Nubra River. So, per se Siachen Glacier is a sort of iced river, which flows in between them. The Saltoro Range actually provides domination of the entire area. If we do not stay on the Saltoro, I won’t go into the history of the demarcation of this thing, and how the area north of 9847 was left to the imagination, when they said that the LCA runs northward thence. Now northwards, if you literally and practically take northwards, it is along the Saltoro Range. The Pakistan’s contention is that actually northwards means that it runs through the Karakoram Pass. Karakoram Pass is almost, I would say, 45 degrees from 9847. But the issue was that in ’80s and ’70s and late ’70s and ’80s, when we realized that a large number of expeditions were being conducted by Pakistan, we did perceive that, if in the excuse of expeditions they come and occupy that area, it would cause a lot of threat to us. So we occupied it in ’84. There is a strategic implication of the Saltoro Range and the implication is you have the Pakistanis sitting in the northern areas, which we keep saying is an illegally occupied, it’s a Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Now out of the other areas that they have occupied, they have illegally seeded the Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley, Shaksgam Valley lies to the north of the glacier. And if Saltoro Range was held by them, it practically enables them to bridge this Aksai Chin and northern areas gap, which is with China, and also exercise complete control over the Karakoram Pass. Therefore, strategically, it is an important area. And we feel, by holding these areas, would effectively deny approaches to Kargil and Leh. Now, in security parlance, for the country it is of strategic importance, that is one reason. Second reason is that we have had a number of rounds of talks on this. A large number of solutions have been offered. One of the biggest issues that has not been resolved yet is that we insist that for anything to happen in Siachen, the Pakistanis must first accept the actual line of ground position and delineate the line along the positions that are being held by the troops today, both theirs and ours, as is, where is. They do not seem to be amenable to this sort of a thing. They continue to say that we should go back to ’71 and ’53, when this whole area was not demarcated, so you should vacate it. Don’t forget, Kargil happened because of Siachen and why they did Kargil. If you peruse their own records, which are now public, the Kargil War in Pakistan is now in a public domain. And one of the major objectives of what they did in Kargil was to force us to vacate the Siachen Glacier. Now if that is their intent and that is their credibility, it is up to you to judge whether we should be really vacating the Glacier or not.
Nitin: Does the Government understand these strategic implications?
Lt General KT Parnaik: The government fully understands the strategic implications and they are absolutely with us. And all through these talks, they have always projected this issue in the manner that I’ve told you.
Nitin: And the offer made by Pakistan on Siachen talks?
Lt General KT Parnaik: See, the offer that was made by the Pakistan Army Chief, probably in wake of the tragedy that took place in Gayari, if they find it difficult they are most welcome to withdraw to safe places. And let me assure you Indian Army has no evil designs to set across for those areas and capture those territories. And this aspect is also well known to our leaders. So that is where it rests.
Nitin: Thank you for your time and being so frank about such contentious issues. We have the borders in your safe hands.