The time is not ripe for withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from the Kashmir Valley, Indian Army chief General Bikram Singh said in New Delhi on Friday. He also noted that the proposed mountain strike corps was in an advanced stage of finalisation.
Referring to the AFSPA as an enabler, General Singh said it should stay. "The time is not right at the moment to tamper with the framework," he said at the India Today conclave, two days after five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed in a fidayeen attack in Jammu and Kashmir summer capital Srinagar.
Referring to the attack, he said it was important "to wait and watch" before taking a decision on AFSPA. This decision should not be politicised and the army was only strengthening the hands of the state government.
"The nation has to take a decision which is pragmatic in terms of national security," he said, adding the army did not want to turn the clock back in Jammu and Kashmir, Gen. Singh said at an interactive session on "Role of Army in nation building".
He said the terror attack in Srinagar pointed to emboldened stance of terrorists.
Gen Singh said the decision on AFSPA had to be finally taken by the government.
All political parties in the Kashmir Valley, except the Congrees, have for long been demanding the partial or total withdrawal of the AFSPA.
He rejected suggestions that the army did not want to move out of counter-insurgency role and said it was so engaged because it had been assigned a task.
"Who wants to die? We are not there for fun. We are there because the nation wants us to be there," the general said.
Gen. Singh said India was also going for modernisation and accretions to its armed forces but this was not aimed at any country.
"The mountain strike corps is in advanced stage of finalisation," Gen. Singh said.
Analysts say that the mountain strike corps is aimed at bridging operational gaps along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and to acquire some offensive capabilities against China.
At the same time, he said India and China had mechanisms in place to deal with matters concerning their vexed border issue that saw the two countries fighting a bitter war in 1962.
"There is bonhomie on the LAC as far as we are concerned," he said.
Asked about growing asymmetry in military spending between India and China, the army chief said he did not perceive this impacting on strategy.
He also noted that India and China had set a target of taking bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015 and that geo-economics was also important along with geo-politics.
Anwering queries from a Pakistan journalist on the Siachen glacier, Gen. Singh said agreements could not be reached in the face of trust deficit.
He also opposed the withdrawal of troops from Siachen, describing it as "our" strategic "area" where the continued presence of the army was required.
Referring to the 1999 Kargil war, Gen. Singh said its army had at that time denied its involvement but its then chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf had now admitted he had visited the troops in the area.
"We cannot be talking something else and doing something else," Gen. Singh said, adding that the terror infrastructure was intact across the Line of Control with Pakistan.
Referring to cross-border terrorism, he said "exporting terror" cannot be used as part of strategy.
"We can't have double standards," he said.
He denied that Indian Army had crossed the LOC on Jan 6, saying Pakistan had used this accusation as the justification for the brutal killing of two Indian soldiers Jan 8.
He said the beheading of soldiers was unacceptable and the basic norms of fighting had to be respected.
He said the Army gives full respect to human rights and "there is not a single value in the constitution which we do not champion."
General Singh said the Army was committed to ensure gender balance and will give more opportunities to women. "We are going to increase avenues for women officers," he said.
He said apart from assistance in maintaining law and order, Army also helps in disaster management and running essential services as part of its internal security duties when called upon to do so by the authorities.
At the same time, he said the Army should be used as an instrument of last resort on internal security duties.