Army chief Gen S Padmanabhan on Friday went public with the most aggressive statement by any high-ranking Indian official on the ongoing standoff with Pakistan.
In his most calm and confident demeanour, he said the situation along the border was 'war-like' and that the army has completed its deployment, which was not an exercise but a move to defend the nation, if the need arose.
Discarding the ambiguity generally associated with such issues, he made it clear that India is ready with its second strike capability.
What it means is that India is ready to retaliate if it is faced with a nuclear attack.
But the most chilling statement was the one on the likely Indian reaction to any attack.
"As long as I am alive, if nuclear weapons are used against India, or Indian forces, or the forces in the seas, or our economic interests, the perpetrator of the particular outrage will be punished, punished so severely that his continuation in any fray will be in doubt," the General told reporters in the War Room in South Block.
However, he pointed out that nuclear weapons are 'not meant for war fighting' and that India has a clear nuclear policy.
He said a national leader, 'if he is mad enough', would use the nuclear weapons at his own peril.
However, the Indian Army was fully 'ready for a second strike'.
He reassured the nation that India has 'enough' nuclear weapons to take care of itself.
The army chief's remarks were quite unexpected as it came just a day before Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharaf's address to the nation and in the context of heightened diplomatic attempts around the globe to defuse tension in South Asia.
In recent history, no leader or military official has put up such an aggressive show of strength.
Gen Padmanabhan said the army has got down 'to our posts' and it was looking forward to the events as it would unfold.
When asked of the effect on the army's morale if it were to pull back without fighting a war after so much of mobilization, the General said, "If we go to war, jolly good. If we do not got, then I will manage."
"The morale of the army is my business, I shall sustain it," he asserted.
He said that the mobilization exercise was code-named Operation Parakram and that its military objective 'was to defend India'. Other objectives, if any, he refused to discuss in public.
He denied that his statements were aggravating the situation.
"I am a man of peace. However, if somebody comes to war, he shall find that I can fight," he said.
"We know what there is to be known" about the troop mobilization on the other side, he asserted.
On Sino-Pakistan relations - described by China in the past as 'deeper than seas, higher than mountains' - and the danger of China getting belligerent, General Padmanabhan said, "I am confident that peace and tranquility will prevail on the Indo-China border."
He said that China sending fighters to Pakistan was not a matter of concern, as 'they have a very close collaboration in matters of military'.
The said that the presence of US troops in Pakistan would definitely have an impact on the possibility of an Indo-Pak conflict. However, "when two wild bulls want to fight in a jungle, they would carry on regardless," he said.
He said that the only change following the recent pressure on terrorists was that the banners announcing the names of the organizations sponsoring the camps, which were hung outside these camps, have now been removed.
He said the level of terrorism in Kashmir valley has not come down despite the arrest of terrorist leaders in Pakistan.
"Sometime one wonders if these are just cosmetic steps. I think a lot more need to be done by the host country," he said.
He pointed out that there were still some terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that can be attacked without the soldiers actually crossing the Line of Control. However, big training camps are deeper inside, he said.
If the government decides, he said, the army can carry out effective strikes against known terrorist camps, which are still active.
He said the army had tried all possible strategies, including non-initiation of combat operations (cease-fire) against militants, but failed to get the desired results.
On an average, about 200 terrorists are killed in J&K every month and '70 per cent' of them are Pakistanis, he said. "That is why we have stopped calling it counter-insurgency, but a proxy war," he added.
"The people of J&K have to stand up and say, we have had enough of this nonsense," he said.
He clarified that the purpose of cutting off of STD/ISD phone facilities in the state was not to deliberately inconvenience people.
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