In a stern warning to Pakistan, new Army Chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane on Tuesday said India reserves the right to "preemptively strike" at sources of terror, asserting that a "new normal" in the country's response mechanism to acts of cross-border terrorism has already been "emphatically" displayed.
In an exclusive interview to PTI barely hours after taking charge of the 1.3-million strong force, Gen Naravane also said the Army will enhance combat capabilities along the border with China so that it is fully prepared to deal with any security challenge.
"The threat remains from both northern and western sides. Over the last many years, we have been concentrating on our western borders while our northern border was at a little lower in priority. There was a need to rebalance and reprioritise," he said.
Giving a detailed brief on India's security challenges, including combating cross-border terrorism, Gen Naravane said a strategy of "resolute punitive response" was put in place to deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, noting that the policy of "zero tolerance" will continue to drive counter-terror measures.
"If Pakistan does not stop its policy of state-sponsored terrorism, we reserve the right to preemptively strike at the sources of terror threat and this intent has adequately been demonstrated in our response during surgical strikes and Balakot operation," the Army Chief said.
"A new normal in our response mechanism has been emphatically underlined," he added.
Talking about the situation in Kashmir, Gen Naravane said it has improved significantly after abrogation of Article 370.
"Incidents of violence are coming down.The terrorists-initiated actions have come down. There is no doubt that there is a lot of improvement," the 28th Chief of Army Staff said.
"However, the problem remains. It has not gone away. So, we will always be ready whatever measures are required to deal with the challenges there," he said.
Gen Naravane said the Pakistan Army's "all out efforts" to deflect attention from state-sponsored terrorism has been a total failure and that its proxy war design has received a major setback due to elimination of terrorists and decimation of terror networks by Indian forces.
Asked how he will deal with Pakistan-backed terrorism, he said, "Multiple options across the spectrum of conflict are on the table to respond to any act of terror sponsored or abetted by Pakistan."
Gen Naravane said Pakistan tried to draw global attention following India's decision to reorganise Jammu and Kashmir, but its efforts did not get any traction.
Referring to the rising number of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC), he said it is being done to keep alive the Kashmir issue.
On security challenges along the 3,500-km border with China, Gen Naravane said: "We will continue to improve capability building along the northern border so we are prepared when the need arises."
"After the Wuhan summit, both nations have issued strategic guidance to their respective forces with an aim to maintain peace and tranquillity along the borders, locally resolve differences and not allow them to turn into disputes," he said.
"The guidance has manifested on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and conduct of troops from both sides has been cordial despite some prevailing differences, differing perceptions of the LAC and some friction in sensitive areas," he said.
Referring to the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), he said it will greatly change the way the defence establishment operates, and will bring about significant reforms in the entire military system.
His main focus as Army chief will be to make the force ready to face any threat at any time, the General said.
According to him, the bottomline for reforms in the Army will be to increase efficiency and operational readiness.
"Modernisation is a continuous process. Whatever we are doing, the start point is to increase efficiency and operational readiness," he said.
Gen Naravane, who was serving as vice chief of the Army, succeeds Gen Bipin Rawat, appointed the country's first CDS, a post created to bring in operational convergence among the three services.
Before being appointed vice chief, the alumnus of the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy headed the Army's Eastern Command that takes care of India's border with China.