Indian Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Tuesday said that Pakistan and China continued to pose threats to the northern and eastern borders of India and suggested that there was a possibility of a collusion between the two countries, ANI reported.

“Pakistan and China together form a potent threat and the threat of collusivity cannot be wished away (sic),” Naravane said, while addressing a press conference on the occasion of Army Day. He said there was increased co-operation between the two countries in both military and non-military sectors and that a two-front threat was a possibility. He, however, assured that the Indian forces were maintaining a very high level of combat readiness and were prepared to take on any eventuality, PTI reported.

Speaking categorically on China, the Army chief said that there had been no decrease in strength of troops from either side at the “friction points”. Without making a direct reference, he clarified on reports of Chinese troops moving back in the eastern Ladakh region.

“Every year PLA [People’s Liberation Army] troops come to traditional training areas,” he said, according to ANI. “With winter and completion of training period, training areas have been vacated. It is fair to assume those troops who were in depth areas in Tibetan Plateau have gone back.”

Naravane asserted that the Army will hold on to its positions in eastern Ladakh based on its national interest and goals. “There was indeed a requirement of re-balancing towards northern borders and that is what we have put in place now,” he said. “We are prepared to hold our ground as long it takes to achieve our national goals and objectives.” However, he expressed confidence that the standoff between India and China would be resolved through talks based on “mutual and equal security”, ANI reported.

Tensions between Indian and China have run high since June when initial scuffles between both sides led to a pitched battle – without firearms – and saw 20 Indian soldiers killed. China is also believed to have suffered casualties, but has not given any details. Both India and China have accused each other of crossing into rival territory and of firing shots for the first time in 45 years.

With eight rounds of Corps Commander-level talks failing to resolve the standoff, both countries have deployed troops and tanks in sub-zero conditions.

As for Pakistan, the Army chief said that it continued to embrace terrorism and that India was maintaining its policy of zero-tolerance for it. “We reserve our right to respond at a time and place of our own choosing and with precision,” he said. “This is a clear message we have sent across.”