As India – China border tension escalates, there seems to be an environment of ultra watchfulness as both armies have ramped up their troop presence.
Countering the spread of COVID-19 virus is the leading target for the country at the moment, says, Chief General MM Naravane,who isthe chief of the 1.3 million-strong Army.
In an exclusive interview to Praveen K Singh over email, General Naravane spoke about the current status at Indo-Sino border and about the consequence of spread of COVID-19 on the Army, its attentiveness and contingency planning.
The challenge of countering the spread of COVID-19 virus has brought in every individual as well as every system of the government, including the armed forces, at the forefront of this fight.
Following are the excerpts:
In the middle of coronavirus spread as well tensions on the Indo-Sino border, how Indian Army is prepared operationally and in terms of other paraphernalia and strategies?
It is the ardent liability of the Indian Army to keep the borders safe and sound whereas the country is preparing and fighting COVID-19. We are embarking on our operational tasks like before and there is no effect on operational attentiveness.
While we are carefully and assiduously attending the requirements at the Himalyan borders, within the country we are taking various measures and have disseminated with respect to restricting the movement of personnel, cancellation of conferences/ seminars, postings and other activities in view of spread of COVID-19. These measures are a must to prevent any further spread of COVID-19 and in sync with various directions and advisory issued by the Government of India.
There are emergency plans in place and spread of COVID-19 will not affect the fundamental and principal competence of the Indian Army. The momentary phase of postponing our routine activities will soon be overcome by rescheduling them as and when the situation stabilises. For now, our focus will be to combat COVID-19 forcefully and uncompromisingly by taking safety measures, following lockdown and curfew measures effectively and preparing own resources for future scenario.
We are all set and glad to pronounce that there is an exceptional symphony between all organs of the government and Indian Army is prepared to stumble upon any sort of environment.
From the attentiveness and preparedness point of view, what is contingency plan the Indian Army is prepared with? What is arrangement in different bodies of the Indian Army – AMC, field units and in others?
At this juncture, it is difficult to say how the situation will develop. However, after having analysed the impact of COVID-19 over last two-three months in other countries, one can start planning and preparing for difficult times.
The Indian Army has certain inherent capability to rise up to various emergency situations by virtue of organisational structure and training. And in keeping with that, the Indian Army is planning and preparing to fight COVID-19.
In case of worsening of the situation, how army will undertake the emergency roles in terms of help to the civil administration?
If the situation worsens and there is likely to be an increase in demand for medical services for both infected/ suspected cases within the Indian Army as also requisition from civil administration in the coming days. Necessary instructions have been passed to Command Headquarters to augment medical facilities and infrastructure. Including, increasing the capacity for surveillance/ isolation at MH/BH/CH. All Field Hospitals have been instructed to be ready to set up a 45-bed isolation facility and create 10 bed ICU facilities exclusively for COVID-19 at six hours’ notice. Vacant KLPs/ existing infrastructure are earmarked for the same.
Thirty per cent of field hospitals have been kept on standby for constructing COVID hospitals in COVID hotspots. Responsive and agile Quick Reaction Medical Teams (QRMTs) to be ready to mobilise at six hours’ notice to meet the requirements of the hospitals/ civil administration.
On day to day basis, how do you prepare the brass for this fight and how things are moving on the ground?
I have been reviewing the situation on a day after day basis. I am in touch with the Army Commanders and PSOs. Various advisories and instructions have been issued to the environment to create awareness and contain spread of COVID-19. Command wise COVID-19 helpline numbers have also been given. Overall, I am satisfied with the planning and preparations undertaken by the Indian Army so far. As I mentioned in my reply to a previous question, six hours’ notice has been given to medical units at different levels.
How do you see Pakistan’s agenda of pushing terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir, and our mild response? What’s your view on Handwara encounter and when do you think Pakistan will give up its policy of state sponsored terrorism?
India will give proportionate response to all acts of infringement of ceasefire and support to terrorism by Pakistan. We are proud of the five security personnel who laid down their lives saving civilians from terrorists at a village in North Kashmir locality and particularly complimented Col Ashutosh Sharma who led the operation.
I would like to emphasise that Indian Army will give proportionate response to all acts of infringement of ceasefire and its (Pakistan’s) support to terrorism. The onus remains with Pakistan to bring peace in the region. Unless Pakistan gives up its policy of state sponsored terrorism, we will continue to respond appropriately and with precision.
The recent infiltration attempts by Pakistan along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir showed that Pakistan is not interested in battling the coronavirus pandemic and is still following its own myopic and limited agenda of pushing terrorists inside India.
The low priority given to the Pakistani citizens by its own government and the army is apparent by the exponential rise in cases and massive shortages of medical equipment and supplies in Pakistan.
During the SAARC video conference also, Pakistan’s narrow-mindedness was on full display when it used the platform to complain about “non-existent” violations of human rights in Kashmir instead of finding ways to keep its citizens safe from the pandemic. The increased intensity of ceasefire violations by the Pakistan army, where its targets innocent civilians on the LoC, just shows that the country is a global risk and is not interested in providing relief to its own citizens.
In fact, Pakistan’s removal of names of hardcore terrorists from the terror watch list just proves that it still believes in exporting terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
Pakistan has sought to blindside the international community by making superficial changes and amendments to its non-existent checks on terror financing and money laundering. It still continues to employ proxies to inflict terror and violence not only inside India but also in Afghanistan where it supports the Taliban militarily and financially
In the fight against Coronovirus, what is your message to the nation at this point of time as the Army Chief?
In a military language, I would say that at present COVID-19 is still in the intermediate stage of impact in India and we are making concerted efforts to prevent COVID-19 from establishing a firm base. Concurrently, we are preparing for stringent countermeasures, should COVID-19 manage to regain a foothold. Next few weeks will be crucial to prevent negative effects of this deadly mutant virus.
The Indian government is taking all precautions and doing the necessary preparations to tackle the outbreak of COVID-19. I would only request my fellow citizens to abide by the instructions given by the Government and help India emerge victorious in the fight against COVID-19.