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Chinese troops could return to Doklam after winter: Army chief

While there has been a thinning out of Chinese soldiers in Doklam plateau in recent weeks, Army chief General Bipin Rawat on Friday said there is a possibility that they could return again after the winter. Stating that India was prepared for any eventuality during the 73-day faceoff in Doklam last year, he said all effort was made to ensure that no conflict takes place between the two sides. Gen Rawat also said that India has “for too long” kept its focus on the western borders, and that “militarily, the focus has to shift to the northern borders” now.

Addressing his annual media conference on the eve of Army Day, Gen Rawat said India had to stop Chinese troops from making the road in southern Doklam since otherwise it would have altered the status quo by allowing China to claim the whole Doklam plateau. “The process of disengagement at Doklam was to ensure that the soldiers of two armies are not face-to-face. We returned to our side on the watershed and the Chinese moved by an equal distance,” he said. “The Chinese are still there in north Doklam area. There is thinning happening, a large amount of troops have gone out (from the time of the face-off) but Chinese tents, observation posts, storage shelters and structures remain there.

“The de-escalation by the Chinese could be due to winter months. These temporary structures are there, (and) there is a possibility of Chinese movement after the winter. Should they (the Chinese) come in again, we will take a call on how to deal with it.” Gen Rawat said, “We understand China is a powerful country but we are not a weak nation. Militarily, the focus has to shift to the northern borders — for too long we have focused on the western borders. The development of infrastructure needs to be stepped up, and requirement of systems met. We should start preparing for the next kind of warfare, which are cyber and information warfare.”

Responding to US Ambassador Ken Juster’s proposal for “reciprocal military liaison officers at each other’s combatant commands” by the US and Indian armies, General Rawat said that the proposal is still being debated and considered. He asked for a “wait-and-watch” approach on the impact of US pressure on Pakistan, arguing that the US also has its own compulsions vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Stating that “terrorism in J&K is not over”, Gen Rawat said the Army will shift its focus to north Kashmir this year, after having focused on south Kashmir last year. This, he said, will lead to cutting off routes of infiltration used by militants after crossing the LoC, from where they move to south Kashmir. “Dealing with ceasefire violations, LoC, terrorists, the Army has been told by the government to conduct operations as it deems fit,” Gen Rawat asserted. He said that all ceasefire violations initiated by India on the Line of Control (LoC) are part of counter-terrorism action where only Pakistan army posts that are being used to launch terrorists into Kashmir are targeted.

“Terrorists are a disposable commodity for Pakistan. Unless the pain is not felt by its forces, and it is a victim of its own actions, Pakistan army won’t learn,” he said. “It is again and again asking for going back to the 2003 ceasefire because of the pain felt,” the Army chief said. “If there is a drop in infiltration from Pakistani side, we are willing to call a ceasefire.” Claiming that the Army has achieved success in destroying Pakistani posts on the LoC, Gen Rawat claimed that while “both sides have suffered casualties on the LoC, they are much higher — at least three or four times (higher) — on Pakistani side.”

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