SUSHANT KULKARNI: Southern Command is important especially considering the strategic importance of both the Indian Ocean region and the border in the northern limits. It is also a command where all the three services are integrated. Can you tell us about the inter-services interaction from the Army’s side?
LT GEN RAWAT: The Southern theatre is one where we have a land boundary with our western neighbour. It also has the Indian Ocean region. And there is an active presence of all the three services. This is an ideal theatre, where we could look at a joint services command, which we don’t have at present. But on the other hand, we have an active interaction with the Navy and Air Force. We have constant interaction with the SWAC (South Western Air Command), Western Naval Command in Mumbai, and the Navy Command in Kochi, apart from other Air Force commands in the area. And here, distances don’t matter as we have extremely good communication. We have been able to integrate our communications. At the ground level, it is a step further. We are actually training with each other. As we speak, we have a training going on at the Andaman and Nicobar islands. At the command level, the rapport is very good. We talk to each other and not at each other.
SUNANDA MEHTA: We recently had a multinational military exercise in Pune and these exercises are an emerging trend. How far is it good for the Army? In a way we do expose our strengths and perhaps our weaknesses too.
LT GEN RAWAT: We are calling them foreign training exchange programmes. Why do nations want to train with the Indian Army? Because they see strengths in us. We have not only proven ourselves in wars but also in counter insurgency operations, humanitarian disaster relief and UN missions. So there is a lot of faith in us and others want to learn some of our best practices. We do want to portray some of our strengths. Countries maintain armed forces for deterrence. We have to be prepared for wars but they mainly serve as a deterrent. And we are well prepared. They may be picking up some of the weaknesses too. But we are very cautious when we do these exercises. We always put our best foot forward and troops that participate are specially selected and so are the events. Weaknesses can only be picked up in combat. So the concern that foreign armies would pick our weaknesses is minuscule.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: In spite of these friendly interactions, there is a trust deficit between India and China. There have been transgressions. And there is a perception that the Chinese are more aggressive.
LT GEN RAWAT: There may be disputes on the border-which are not for armies to settle. There are parts which are claimed by both sides. The perceptions are varying. Yet at the level of Armies, we want to maintain peace and tranquility. We don’t want to initiate a war just because there are differences. So this Track-II diplomacy is also needed in the form of such exercises. Your question about them being more aggressive I would say is a perception. And as the defence minister has stated, when there are disputed borders, both sides transgress into each other’s territories. When they come into our territory, those overtures get portrayed in the media. When we go into their territory, there is no media. On our sides, we have become open to the media and so these things are reported.
GARIMA MISHRA: In many countries of the world, women are being inducted in the combat wings of the armed forces. India is also warming up to the idea. What is your take on it and do you think there is need of a separate training setup?
LT GEN RAWAT: This is a wrong perception that we do not have women in combat roles. Women are in the Engineers and Signals, performing the same tasks as their male counterparts. What we are looking at is whether we can get women into the main combat role which is Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry. The operating conditions in these arms are very difficult. Now, whether women are ready to operate in these conditions or not, is a call that women themselves will have to take. I am a strong believer of one thing, equal opportunity means equal responsibility. I have served in the United Nations and I had an African contingent with me, where the infantry battalion had 30 per cent women. When I was going around at night, I found that each sentry post had one man and one woman standing side by side. They have adapted to these situations.
For example, when I was in Congo, I had seven women officers in the contingent. Two were at the HQ and two were Milobs (Military Observers) and I felt that it was my responsibility to ensure the safety of the women officers. One day, two male and one lady officer went for a patrol and around 30 kilometers away from the base, their vehicle broke down. They could not return to the base and at the base, there was only one lady officer and one male officer. So I asked the company commander to invite the two for dinner. We delayed the dinner a bit and told the two later that they could not go back to the base and made them stay at the company HQ. Now that was my concern. The lady officer was okay with staying along with a male officer. But I played the game because I felt a little different. The lady met me after 10 days and was offended when she came to know that I made them stay back. She asked me if I did not trust her and I replied that I trusted her but it was the way I was brought up in the Army.
SUNANDA MEHTA: Have there been any instances, where women have asked for concessions?
LT GEN RAWAT: Women have not asked for any concessions but the issue is that we have not yet put them in these conditions.
SUSHANT KULKARNI: One more front where we fight a war is the cyber front. We don’t just have to face the state actor but non-state actors too who are increasingly using these tactics. How prepared are we?
LT GEN RAWAT: We term it non-contact warfare. This one form of warfare will keep emerging even further. The adversaries will always to try to engage in non-contact warfare, degrade the systems and bring the level of preparedness down. We are aware of the capabilities of our adversaries and so a heavy emphasis is given on cyber security. At this stage, we are focusing on strengthening the systems and having a setup in place to detect all types of threats. We may at times have to shut down parts of a system to ensure that there is no leakage of information. We are cyber ready. Strict actions are taken for any cyber security violation. For example, we have banned pen drives. They might have a malware which can take information out. These are not the best ways but we have take these measures in the wake of threats. Computers are checked regularly.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: Much is being talked about Make in India. How self-reliant are we when it comes to defence?
LT GEN RAWAT: To an extent, we are self-reliant but not to the extent that we ourselves want to be. We have to rely on imports. Institutions like DRDO were set up for defence research but there was an issue of restrictions on transfer of technology. Now our focus is on developing our own systems. The government has come with a new DPP (Defence Procurement Plan). It is a very good thing and we are now looking at our own industry to manufacture defence systems. India has great human resources and we are good at imbibing new things. DRDO has worked well in some areas like missile technology, but in some other areas, more work is needed. We cannot just look at DRDO, as there are other supporting areas too. Now, industries are coming up. This will bring in competition and thus lead to better quality products.
ALIFIYA KHAN: The Army’s role in combat and disaster is always appreciated. But there have been incidences where the Army has been called in for some other purpose. For example the Art of Life event in Delhi. How do the forces feel about this?
LT GEN RAWAT: The Army operates on a role and charter. The primary role is to defend the borders. We also take part in internal security and relief operations when the civil administration asks for it. My concern as the Southern Army Commander is to ensure that we always have all our equipments ready. At times, the government has security concerns, and in some cases, they may fear a stampede. In some cases, only the Army can be mobilised at such short notice. But I cannot comment on that particular case and under what conditions the Army was deployed. I would like to quote another example where we built a bridge in Bopkhel to facilitate civilian population, because there was no other alternative. We have the National Disaster Response Force, which was specially created for this purpose. They have a good setup and are doing a good job. Maybe, we can train the NDRF. They can procure such bridges. And in some instances, we can also use their equipments.
NISHA NAMBIAR: You spoke about Bopkhel. There are many issues of conflict between the civil and defence administration, such as land issues, road closures and others.
LT GEN RAWAT: When it comes to road closures, people must understand that the Army is not against civilians. We are a part of the society and we will go back to society. When it comes to military establishments and cantonment areas, the security threat in the hinterland is increasing. The adversary wants to weaken us in the hinterland. It’s a proxy war. There is also a threat of the IS. Some of the roads which pass through defence establishments can be used by these elements. If the roads are to be kept open for civilian traffic, there will have to be checks and that will bring in delays. Closure may cause inconvenience, but it is being done only where it is necessary. These elements will target Air Force bases, ships and Army stations. Also, when there are emergencies, we do allow passage. There have been instances when builders promise customers access to certain properties, but that access is not available.
SUSHANT KULKARNI: Another issue of civil-military friction is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. There have been cases of atrocities. What is your take on the issues? Does that legal framework need changes?
LT GEN RAWAT: We need to understand why the AFSPA is in place in areas which have insurgency or terrorism issues. Police have powers to arrest and search, we don’t. When the Army is deployed in such areas, we are given these powers, which police have under the CRPC. Now under such scenarios, we also need safeguards. But the AFSPA in its original format has been toned down in real practice. There are Supreme Court judgments in place. There are Chief of Army Staff’s commandments which are binding on us. We have also made some rules of engagement. For example under AFSPA, the Army has powers to break locks and search buildings. But we don’t do it. Also, our rules of engagement say no first firing. Even UN regulations say that maximum force can be used for self-defence. But the Indian army still chooses to use minimum force, being sensitive towards human rights. We have a 12 lakh strong Army. Some bad elements would always be there. And bad incidents don’t just take place in these areas but elsewhere too. But when in happens in AFSPA areas, its gets blown out of proportion. We are not sparing anyone committing crimes irrespective of whether there is AFSPA or not.
CHANDAN HAYGUNDE: In your Area of Responsibility, Maoist activities are on the rise, not only in jungle areas but also in urban areas. Probes in some cases show that these operatives were even asked to follow Army trucks coming out from the Ammunition Factory. The Army is not engaging directly with Naxals but they are watching you.
LT GEN RAWAT: When it comes to the issue of Naxalism, we had come to a conclusion that it was a law and order issue arising due to development grievances. And so police and paramilitary forces are tackling the issue. If the Army starts getting involved in every issue, then we are playing into the hands of the adversary, who wants us to be constantly engaged in the hinterland. And so the deterrence I was talking about is diluted. Police and paramilitary forces are doing their job. But we are watching. In the Southern Command, not many districts out of 108 are affected. More of it is in Central Command. Then we do have odd signatures in places like Pune and others. Police are capable are handling them and from initial setbacks, they have come a long way. We support them in training and equipment. Now increasingly, Naxals are also losing people’s support due to their own actions.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: Would you like to comment on the Pathankot incident? There have been several media reports about the JIT visit.
LT GEN RAWAT: I will not comment on media reports. We gave the people from that side a chance to come and have a look. And the fact is, by doing this, for the first time we have made them acknowledge that they are involved. We will see what the outcome is and there is pressure on them. The international community is on our side, and they have recognised that there is neighbour who is involved in fomenting trouble in our country. And the neighbour itself has got embroiled in the same problem.
SUSHANT KULKARNI: Media is one of your fields of interest. Your study is on how the media can be used as a force multiplier. Don’t you think that the friction between the media and military is because the military wants us to be a force multiplier, but the media wants to play its role of a watchdog?
LT GEN RAWAT: There is no cause for friction between the media and military. You have a charter of being a watchdog and bring out the truth. We have many issues covered under the garb of secrecy and security. I am of the opinion that media interaction is necessary. As I rose in ranks, I started communicating. When I was commanding my sector in Sopore, whenever there used to be an operation, we would tell the media what was happening, and then give them a tentative time when the next update would come. At a senior level, I feel that some kind of interaction should take place with the media at regular intervals. At the lower level, when an incident takes place, the commanding officer at that level should be made available to the media to explain what has happened. There are two reasons information cannot be given. One is security and the other is that we ourselves are not sure what exactly is the situation. It is not advisable though to take the media along where an operation is on. It is not safe. We do not know when a stray bullet will strike. Also for example, an operation is on and the media is showing it live, it may be giving information and visuals to our adversaries.
SUSHANT KULKARNI: Do you find free time? What do you do for relaxing?
LT GEN RAWAT: Before I came here, I thought that being an Army Commander was a comfortable job. The area is vast-almost 41 per cent of our land mass. So there is a lot of traveling. I visit units and formations, inspect them, check their preparedness. But whatever little time I find, I read-two hours a day, mostly late in the night. My interests are military history and military strategy. I don’t like fiction that much, but when I read fiction, I pick small books which I can finish in a few sittings. I have read the Bhagwad Gita, the Quran and the Bible.