Freewheel public comments of India’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Bipin Rawat have been increasingly becoming major embarrassments and a source of diplomatic unease with neighbouring countries. At a time when it has been confirmed that Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met his Pakistani counterpart Gen. (Retd) Naseer Janjua at least four times, speaking in the run-up to the Army Day, General Rawat on 12 January stated, “Pakistan’s nuclear bogey will be thoroughly exposed if it actually comes to a war with the western neighbour, which often brandishes its short-range Nasr (Hatf-IX) nuclear missiles as a battlefield counter to India’s `Cold Start’ strategy of swift, high-intensity conventional attacks into enemy territory. We will call their bluff. If given the task, we will not say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons”.
It led to a spate of reactions from Pakistani authorities with the Pakistan Army’s spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor told state-run PTV World, “Should they [India] wish to test our resolve they may try and see it for themselves. We have a credible nuclear capability exclusive[ly] meant for threat[s] from [the] East.”
Since then Pakistan’s Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal responded and term the comments of General Rawat as “very irresponsible”.
In the same address, General Rawat remarked that there was a major reduction of Chinese troops in Doklam. China skirted the question but insisted that its soldiers stationed in the area were exercising “sovereignty rights”. “The Dong Lang (Doklam) area has all along been part of China and under China’s continuous and effective jurisdiction. There is no dispute in this regard,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the media when asked about Rawat’s remarks.
In June 2017, during Doklam standoff, General Bipin Rawat, in an interaction with ANI said, “Indian Army is fully ready for a two-and-a-half front (China, Pakistan and internal security requirements simultaneously) war”.
China’s Defence Ministry reacted sharply and described General Rawat as “that officer” in the Indian Army.
On 6 September 2017, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks on the sidelines of BRICS summit in Xiamen following easing off the Doklam standoff, General Rawat speaking at a seminar organised by the think-tank Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Rawat said, “As far as the Northern adversary is concerned, flexing of muscles has started. Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits or threshold is something we have to be wary about. Remain prepared for situations that are emerging gradually into conflict.”
On 22 December 2017, General Bipin Rawat once again stated that the Indian Army is “ready” to tackle the threats from Pakistan and China. General Rawat stated there was no need to be “scared” of the presence of Chinese soldiers alongside the Pakistan Army troops, and if they take action, India “will be completely ready”.
India, for that matter any country, must always remain ready to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, but using the readiness as a threat of war on the drop of a hat is another matter. Such utterances neither behove the office of India’s COAS nor do they convey any seriousness or more worryingly, civilian control over defence forces.
The time has come for Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaram to reign on General Bipin Rawat who sounds more like US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un on the access to and size of the nuclear buttons.