Army chief Bipin Rawat said military ties with China had improved after the Wuhan talks. “Humne Bhangra Bhi Karwa Diya,” he said referring to Sikh and Chinese troops dancing together during a recent joint exercise in China

General Bipin Rawat on Thursday said that if a group of countries is engaging with the Taliban and India has an interest in Afghanistan, New Delhi can’t be “out of the bandwagon”, but the army chief was quick to add that the same analogy doesn’t apply to Jammu and Kashmir.

“Do we have interest in Afghanistan is the first issue? If the answer is yes, then you can’t be out of the bandwagon. If you have interest, you step in,” Rawat said at his customary press conference ahead of the Army Day on January 15.

“Our thinking is yes we have an interest. And if other countries are saying there should be talks, we should in some way also become a part, maybe directly or indirectly. But we should not be left out,”

Rawat had on Wednesday endorsed the option of dialogue with the Taliban provided there are no preconditions and the talks were aimed at bringing lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan. His remarks came against the backdrop of efforts by Pakistan, the US, Russia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

On holding talks with separatists in Jammu and Kashmir, Rawat said there can’t be one-size-fits-all approach.

“Don’t look at one size fits all. There’s a group of nations that decided to talk to the Taliban and see if they can come to negotiating table. There is also a feeling in Afghanistan that things have improved…So some nations have decided that let’s start talking to the Taliban to see if they can also be brought in the system of governance and there can be lasting peace,” he said.

He said the same analogy can’t be applied in Kashmir as it was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, and there was no room for third party intervention. “Come to the negotiating table and start talking. Shun the gun, give up violence and stop taking support from the western neighbour… If all that happens who says talks cannot happen….We are saying talks and terror cannot go on together… You have to see your national interest and take a line,” Rawat said.

“You cannot keep killing security forces, abducting cops and say we are ready for talks. It is high time they have to take a call…not take a call at the behest of somebody who is forcing you into violence. Talks can only happen if they give up violence,” he said.

Rawat’s comments came a day after former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti wondered why the Centre was not initiating a dialogue with separatists in the state if the army chief could advocate holding talks with the Taliban.

Rawat said the army was willing to slow down its operations in the Valley if there was a guarantee that convoys would not be attacked, security men will not be abducted and people going on leave would not be killed.

The army chief said hostilities against India had not come down after a regime change in Pakistan and more than 300 terrorists were waiting along the border to infiltrate into the state.

Rawat also said that the biggest exercise in independent India’s history to restructure the army would gain momentum in the coming months.

The mammoth drill, based on four comprehensive studies led by the army’s topmost generals, seeks to change the complexion and direction of the 1.2 million- strong force and transform it into a deadlier fighting machine prepared for future wars.

Rawat said all the four studies had been completed and would be sent to the government by January-end.

“The concept of Integrated Battle Groups (IBG) will be tested in war games in February before we conduct actual exercises involving these new fighting units in May. We will then go to government for sanction,” he said.

Rawat said recommendations made by the government-appointed Lieutenant General DS Hooda panel on optimisation of the force were aligned to the army’s four studies.

He said the army was in talks with the Indian Air Force to figure out who should finally control attack helicopters that are to be inducted into the armed forces. “Apache attack helicopter is a tank killer. So it needs to be with the army’s strike formations,” he said.

Rawat said military ties with China had improved after the Wuhan talks. “Humne Bhangra Bhi Karwa Diya,” he said referring to Sikh and Chinese troops dancing together during a recent joint exercise in China.

He said the army was also in discussions with the defence ministry to get better monetary benefits for genuinely disabled soldiers, as opposed to those suffering from lifestyle diseases.

Rawat also said that soldiers in Kashmir would get new sniper rifles. The new rifles will come by January 20, he said. The rifles are being bought from funds under the Northern Army commanders special financial powers.