Army can carry out drone strikes in J&K if there is no backlash: General Bipin Rawat

The Indian Army is capable of using weaponized drones in Jammu and Kashmir and can deploy them if the country accepts the consequences of such actions, General Bipin Rawat has said, The Wire reported on Thursday.

The Army chief made the comments during a question and answer session at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses after delivering the ninth YB Chavan Memorial Lecture in Delhi on Wednesday.

“In our country, the way things are moving, it is very nice to say we need these drones,” he said when asked if India would adopt the American strategy of using unmanned aerial vehicles. “But will you accept mistakes being committed by such weapons systems? You have to accept it. If the nation will spare us, for the kind of mistakes that may get committed using such kind of weapons, then I think we can take a call.”

The Army chief said the flak the security forces receive for taking action against stone-throwers in Kashmir is a deterrent to the use of drones, India Today reported.

When the questioner clarified that he was asking about targeted assassination operations by drones across the Line of Control, Rawat said mistakes can occur during such campaigns. “Either way, whether in your territory or the territory across, there will be mistakes,” The Wire quoted him as saying. “So if we are willing to accept these mistakes, and we feel that there will be no repercussions, there will be no backlash, there is a way forward.”

India has not used air power in domestic counterinsurgency operations since the 1960s when the Air Force was used to bomb Mizoram’s capital Aizawl to quell an uprising.

In his lecture, Rawat spoke of “hybrid warfare” and how Pakistan has used it against India since Independence. He cited the Pakistan Army’s use of irregulars in wars in 1947-’48, 1965 and 1999. “As an example, the whole world is aware that the terrorist training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are being run by their government agencies that also plan disruptions in India in other forms,” the Army chief said. “Undeniably, almost all trouble in Jammu and Kashmir is state sponsored. This synergy between centrally controlled agencies is important to understand because only then can we ‘address the challenges of Hybrid conflict in the 21st century’.”

Asked if India should go for offensive hybrid war, Rawat said he favors a calibrated offensive and defensive hybrid warfare strategy. “We have two options with us,” he added. “One is to engage in offensive hybrid warfare as a nation and the second is to defend against this threat proactively. In weighing these options, our standing in the global strategic framework, our reputation, our nation’s sensibilities and training and organization of our agencies need to be looked at comprehensively.”

The Army chief had courted controversy in September by saying there was a need for another surgical strike against Pakistan. In 2017, he had said the use of “human shields” by the Indian Army was not the norm, but individual officers could take a call depending on the circumstances. He was referring to an incident from April 2017, when an Army officer in Kashmir tied a civilian to the bonnet of an Army vehicle as a human shield against stone-pelters.