Army chief General Bipin Rawat has accused Pakistan of stepping up efforts to reopen terror training camps and push infiltrators across the Line of Control, and said India was ready for a war with the neighbouring country.

He made the comments in an interview to Hindustan Times published on Thursday, exactly one month since the government announced its decision to remove Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status. The remarks came a day after Chinar Corps commander Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon claimed Pakistan had stepped up attempts to push as many terrorists as possible into the state. Dhillon said two Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists were caught during a foiled infiltration attempt.

In recent weeks, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and others in his government have talked about how India’s actions in the region can lead to war between the two nuclear-armed nations. On Wednesday, the Pakistan Army said it would go to any length to protect Kashmir, and said it was their “jugular vein”.

“I am ready for whatever Pakistan wants,” Rawat said. “If it wants a BAT [border action team] action, I am ready. If it wants limited action with India, I am ready and if it wants war with India, the Indian army is ready.”

Rawat said Pakistan had exposed itself. “It was telling the world that it was not sending terrorists to India but by speaking up now, it is in effect owning up to its support of terror,” the Army chief said. “You cannot prepare terrorists in 15 days. On the Line of Control, we remain ever prepared and in the Valley, we remain ever deployed.”

The general called on the people of Jammu and Kashmir and militants in the region to give peace a chance, and backed the government’s move to nullify Article 370 of Constitution.

“Another phase of violence was going to start and the timing was right because Pakistan was also under pressure of being placed on the black list by the Financial Action Task Force,” Rawat said. “I told the government the Army would provide the military support it needed to implement the decision.”

The task force is an intergovernmental body that sets standards for fighting illicit finance globally. In June, the watchdog warned Pakistan to complete an action plan on terror financing and urged Islamabad to meet the October 2019 deadline. In June 2018, Pakistan was put on its “grey list” and given a 27-point action plan to implement in order to be taken off the list.

“There has been violence for 30 years and you have been through difficult times,” said Rawat. “Leave the anger behind and give peace a chance.” He said he was offering a “peaceful gesture” to militants. “We are not going after the terrorists because we don’t want a gunfight to vitiate the atmosphere,” he added. “I don’t want to lay cordons and conduct searches but we have to clap with both hands. Think about it and drop your guns. This generation has not seen peace.”

The general blamed “some instigators” for continuing restrictions in the Valley, saying there is trouble the minute curbs are relaxed. “The instigators are not allowing the benefits of the process of integration to come in,” he added.

Asked if the security forces were losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Kashmiris, Rawat said: “Battles are not lost in one month. The government is looking at easing pressure and removing restrictions gradually.”

He denied that the Army had tortured Kashmiris or that Armymen had told Kashmiri women they would now marry them. “Kashmiris are very good at maligning the forces to the media,” Rawat alleged. “Our men do not do this. Give me the name of one of my men and I will punish that man. We are running goodwill schools and the attendance is better there than in other schools. If we are so bad, why do you come to us?”

Asked if more Kashmiris would now join the militancy, Rawat said the Army was concerned about militants’ capacity to strike no matter their numbers. “If they strike, who will it affect?” he asked. “Violence is detrimental to the local Kashmiri and the loss is not of the Indian establishment.”

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