General Bipin Rawat on Sunday said the Indian Army’s role was to ensure peace along the borders but it would not hesitate to use force if needed.
Rawat took over as the army’s 27th chief a day earlier. The government overlooked claims of his two seniors to handpick him for the job. His vast operational experience in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast tilted the scaled in his favour.
“We want peace and tranquility, but that doesn’t mean we are weak. The army will not step back or hesitate to use force if necessary,” Rawat said after inspecting a customary guard of honour at South Block.
He will serve as the army chief for the maximum three-year term, giving him enough time to implement his vision for the 1.3-million strong force.
Son of a lieutenant general, Rawat has a reputation for being a no-nonsense commander who brings considerable military acumen to the table.
He was closely involved in planning surgical strikes on militant launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in September and in Myanmar in June 2015.
As the commander of Indian peacekeeping troops in Congo in 2008-09, he reworked the UN contingent’s velvet-glove strategy to an iron fist within a month of his arrival.
Rawat allowed the use of helicopters to attack positions held by rebel groups responsible for civilian deaths, recruiting child soldiers and displacing millions of people. His tenure also saw infantry combat vehicles rigged with machine guns and cannons being used against rebels.
The government abandoned the seniority principle and ignored lieutenant generals Praveen Bakshi and PM Hariz to appoint Rawat as the army chief, triggering a controversy.
He had worked with both officers, had respect for them and everyone would cooperate to strengthen the army, Rawat said.
Bakshi pledged support to the new army chief on Saturday, ending speculation that he might opt to resign rather than serve under a junior officer.
In an interview to HT on Friday, Rawat, who has had three stints in Kashmir, said the situation in the Valley was dynamic and a status quo mentality wouldn’t work.
“You have to seek status change…A renewed thrust will be given to all issues in Kashmir,” he said.