Army Commanders’ Conference from today: Top 3 issues on agenda

  • India is improving infrastructure connectivity along its borders with China
  • Instances of cross-border firing by Pakistan have increased in intensity and frequency since India struck the terrorist camp in Pakistan's Balakot

New Delhi: Senior officers of the Indian Army will deliberate on a slew of issues, including defence preparedness in the face of tensions with Pakistan and improvement in infrastructure facilities along the border with China, during a two-day meet starting today. The biannual Army Commanders’ Conference, as the meet is known as, will begin with a customary opening address by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Mint takes a look at why these issues are on the agenda:

1

Review of defence preparedness against the backdrop of tensions with Pakistan: The 14 February suicide car bomb attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy in Kashmir in which 40 personnel were killed, sparked tensions between India and Pakistan. The bombing was claimed by a Pakistan based terrorist group – the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). On 26 February, New Delhi said it had bombed a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhwa province in a non-military strike in the wake of credible intelligence reports that the JeM was planning another such attack in India. A day later Pakistan conducted an aerial raid against India, targeting military installations in Kashmir resulting in New Delhi scrambling its fighter jets. In the dogfight that followed, India and Pakistan said they had shot down a fighter jet each of the other side. An Indian fighter pilot from the downed aircraft was captured by Pakistan and later released. People familiar with the developments say instances of cross-border firing by Pakistan have increased in intensity and frequency since India struck the terrorist camp in Pakistan's Balakot. The firing is in violation of a 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two countries and civil and military casualties have been reported by both sides. India says the firing by Pakistan is aimed at mainly pushing in terrorists into Kashmir to foment terrorism in Kashmir – a charge Pakistan denies. With a change in weather and melting of snow, Pakistan could try and double its efforts at infiltrating terrorists into Kashmir to foment unrest. Indian officials also point to a second reason for the firing which is Pakistan’s attempt to refocus attention on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan that has largely disappeared international news headlines. Officials in New Delhi say recent intelligence inputs suggest Pakistan had plans to launch surprise ambushes involving small groups of its army commandos and terrorists, targeting Indian soldiers on patrol along the Line of Control.

2

Infrastructure development along the India-China border:

A second subject to come up for deliberation is the improvement of infrastructure -- roads and railways -- along India’s northern borders with China. India and China were engaged in a tense 73-day-long standoff along their common border in 2017. The faceoff was seen as a result of the differing interpretations of the two countries of where they perceive their border to be. Both countries have held many rounds of talks to settle their border – a legacy of their brief but bitter border dispute in 1962 that ended badly for India – but haven’t been able to resolve the problem. Last April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to the Chinese city of Wuhan for a summit meeting President Xi Jinping aimed at stabilising ties after the military standoff, seen as the most tense in recent years. Relations between the two countries have improved since then with three ministerial visits from China following Modi’s visit. The stabilising of ties notwithstanding, India has moved to improve infrastructure connectivity along its borders with China. In February, Modi laid the foundation stone for the Sela Pass tunnel that aims to cut down travel time to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, from Tezpur in Assam, by at least two hours. Tezpur is where the Indian Army's IV Corps is based. China claims most of Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory.

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