General Naravane is expected to visit the Siachen glacier next week on his first outstation tour after becoming the army chief on December 31

Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Friday asserted that peace was returning to the Kashmir Valley after the Centre’s move in August revoking special status to the region, but Pakistan-backed terrorists were making infiltration attempts every day.

“Terror activity and stone-pelting have reduced drastically. The law-and-order situation is improving and we expect it to improve further…There are 200-250 terrorists waiting to cross over into J&K. Infiltration attempts are being made every day, but we are thwarting them,” Naravane told reporters.

The army chief said that the September 2016 surgical strikes against terror pads in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, followed by the February 2019 bombing of a terror facility in Pakistan’s Balakot, sent out a strong message to the neighbour that India can take down terror infrastructure and launch pads and “you cannot operate with impunity.”

Asked to comment on what India’s surgical strikes achieved given that the Balakot terror facility has been reactivated, the army chief said even when a target is destroyed during war, it is later reconstructed. “We destroyed it. They have reactivated it. A lot of destruction happened there…They will show restraint before taking escalatory action,” Naravane said.

He said 20 to 25 terror camps were active across the LoC but their numbers and location kept fluctuating. “We are keeping a constant watch,” he said.

Asked how far India had pushed the nuclear threshold after Balakot, Naravane said, “Nuclear weapons have been a good deterrence. That’s where their role ends. On two or three occasions, we have carried out operations without letting the nuclear portion come into play.”

Asked to weigh in on a debate over the politicisation of the army, Naravane said the force had been apolitical since Independence and would continue to remain so. “I don’t know where these apprehensions are coming from, but I totally disagree,” he said.

The outgoing chief and India’s first chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat on Wednesday said that the job of the military was to stay away from politics - just days after he triggered a controversy by condemning those leading public protests in comments widely seen as aimed at the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, protests raging across India. “We (army) keep ourselves away from politics. We work on the directives of government,” Rawat said.

General Naravane has taken over as army chief at a time the armed forces are facing a fund crunch that could hit weapons procurement. He said only a finite amount of resources were available for allocation to different government departments.

“Within allocated resources, we need to be efficient and synergise the requirements of the armed forces. We have to pool our resources and make our money work better for us,” he said, adding that India’s military expenditure seemed small at 2% of the gross domestic product but if the country became a $ 5 trillion economy, that percentage would be a lot.

Breaching the $5 trillion economy mark by 2024 is one of the key targets of the Modi government.

On the situation along the Line of Actual Control with China, he said the army needed to be firm without being aggressive.

“Without being aggressive, you can assert your legitimate claims. It doesn’t mean upping the ante or creating friction points…In that sense, we have to be firm about what is it that we want as far as resolution of the boundary question is concerned.”

He said the creation of integrated battle groups (IBGs) that can be mission deployed swiftly -- a crucial component of the army’s ongoing restructuring drive -- will make theaterisation easier. He said the conversion of corps-sized formations into the IBG format would take some time but good progress was being made. Once the government sanction comes, the transition could take 12 to 18 months, he said.

The army chief said there was scope for cutting down military pageantry and the three services need to be more professional in their approach and not get carried away by ceremonies where they were not required. “An investiture ceremony has to have flags flying but red carpets are not needed during field firing,” Naravane said. He said pageantry was fine on occasions like Republic Day and Army Day but it didn’t have to be there during routine activities.

His comments come a day after General Rawat said steps would be taken to do away with “infructuous ceremonial activities” that are manpower intensive.

Naravane said the plan to set up an air defence command to enhance military synergy and optimally utilise the resources of the armed forces was a good idea. General Rawat, in his first official directive as CDS, on Thursday asked top officials of Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff to prepare a proposal to create an air defence command.