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Our legacy challenges of unsettled borders will continue to engage us: Army Chief Gen. Pande

NEW DELHI (PTI): India's Armed Forces need to be alive to the maxim of "expect the unexpected", Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande has said, underlining the need for the military to remain cognisant of the contours of the evolving geopolitical landscape and security challenges.

In an address at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Nagpur on Saturday, the Army Chief also talked about India's "legacy challenges" of unsettled borders and that those will "continue to engage us", in comments that came amid a lingering border row with China in eastern Ladakh.

Delving into various regional and global security challenges, General Pande said there has been an increasing contestation in traditional and non-traditional domains in the Indo-Pacific and the "key markers" include the assertion of sharp and aggressive power with a shift in the centre of gravity of economic heft.

"Expect the unexpected is a maxim that we need to be alive to," he said.

"Black Swan events can add turbulence in the dynamic global security canvas. The outcome of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts will itself redefine relations, linkages and hierarchy amongst nations, giving a new shade to world politics in the coming decades," he added.

In an oblique reference to China and Pakistan, General Pande said the region is witnessing "cartographic manipulation", leveraging of politico-economic heft and increasing military footprints as well as religious radicalisation as part of proxy-war pursuits.

"Grey Zone pursuits by our adversaries also mandate our attention and response. We already are witness to manifestations of disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, selective historical referencing, cartographic manipulation, leveraging politico-economic heft and increasing military footprints in our neighbourhood, and fanning religious radicalisation as part of proxy-war pursuits," he said.

The Army Chief also observed that security and economic progress share a symbiotic relationship. "A secure environment provides the stability necessary for domestic and foreign investments, fostering economic growth," he said.

General Pande argued that technology has become the new strategic arena of competition and it is being leveraged for the "weaponisation" of a multitude of domains, ranging from information to supply chains.

"Technology, economy and security, in fact, form the strategic triad in the contemporary context," he said.

The Chief of Army Staff also highlighted major challenges facing South Asia.

"South Asia is marked by unresolved border disputes, both territorial and maritime, illegal cross-border migration, transnational crimes, terrorism and non-traditional threats, such as illegal and unregulated fishing, piracy and increasing religious fundamentalism," he said.

"These manifestations, coupled with regional vulnerabilities to climate change-induced disasters, have kept the region in a flux," he added.

General Pande said all these developments are profoundly impacting the security domain and transforming the way nations interact, compete and pursue their interests.

"The Indian Army remains seized with the military implications of these dynamics. Proactive measures, capability enhancement, adaptability and a holistic approach to all aspects that impact or augment security stand mandated," he said.

The Army Chief said India's rise in a "non-threatening" manner and as a responsible power stands acknowledged by the global community.

"India's growth in stature brings with it recognition, additional responsibilities, opportunities as well as challenges. As the nation's influence expands, some will question our rise, some will contest it while some will attempt to compete," he said.

"As a nation, we need to ensure that our national interests remain paramount. That mandates us to be a strong nation, to be able to defend our interests in the expanding strategic horizons," General Pande said.

"Our progression towards being a strong nation militarily needs to be achieved by enhancing our defence capability through self-reliance," he noted.

General Pande also asserted that the ability to correctly assess future threats remains pivotal to the country's strategic planning and preparedness.

"As guardians of the nation's security, we are constantly seized with contemporary threats," he said.

The Army Chief also flagged concerns over the increasing weaponisation of space as well as challenges in the cyber domain.

"The cyber domain has its own myriad manifestations. The CERT-In annual report of 2022 records almost 14 lakh cases of website intrusion, malware propagation, malicious code, phishing, distributed denial of service attacks, ransomware attacks and data-breach attempts in one year," he said.

The CERT-In is the national nodal agency for responding to cyber security.

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