Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has accused the local people of Kashmir of colluding with militants and halting security operations in the Valley. He also warned that the Army would take stern action against “anti-nationals” who wave the flags of Pakistan and the Islamic State group.

Rawat’s comments came after four Army personnel were killed in encounters in Bandipora and Handwara on Tuesday.

The Army chief alleged that security forces were suffering “higher casualties”. “As we are conducting operations against them, we find that the local population is somehow not supportive of the actions of the security forces... It is these factors which are leading to higher casualties among the security forces,” said Rawat. He went on to add that stone-pelters who halt Army operations will be treated as “overground workers of terrorists” and threatened to fire at them, according to The Times of India.

The Army chief, however, stated that their aim was to bring the local boys who have “somehow, because of propaganda in social media, taken the path of violence” back to “mainstream”. “Our idea is not to kill these young boys. Our idea is to bring them into the mainstream. But if they wish to remain in this manner, we will target them with harsher measures,” he warned.

Defence experts have defended Rawat’s remarks. “What Army General Bipin Rawat has said is absolutely correct. It is a warning to all these overground workers who are on the payroll of Pakistan and ISIS to desist doing such actions otherwise strict actions will be taken against them,” Captain Anil Gaur told ANI. Former Director General of Police in Jammu and Kashmir MM Khajuria also reiterated Gaur.