19 August 2017


Maj Gen Raj Kaushal (Retd)

We must not wish for a two-and-a-half front war. Let us first prepare for this eventuality and only then enter in brinkmanship

It is a matter of serious concern that senior members, representing our national security apparatus, have made some wayward statements in the recent past, which seems rather bizarre to say the least.

We have also seen the professional head of our Army talking about the present Indian stand-off with China in Doklam. He said that the Indian Army is fully prepared for a two-and-a-half front (China, Pakistan and internal security requirements simultaneously) war. What an astounding statement? But whom did the Army chief have in mind when he postulated this as a strategic dogma?

Three weeks after his statement, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) spokesman, Col Wu Qian, called the Army chief’s statement “extremely irresponsible” and asked him to “stop clamouring for war”, and learn from “historical lessons” — an oblique reference to the 1962 war with China.

We got so peeved about the statement made by a comparatively lower rank officer that the Defence Minister entered the ring to take on Col Wu Qian. He did not let the Ministry of Defence spokesman respond.

One was also wonder struck when a very senior and sagacious leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) warned Pakistan against sponsoring terror and if not it should learn from “historical lessons” of 1971. In the prevailing geo-political and geo-strategic scenario, can we do a 1971 to Pakistan? ‘Unimaginable’ will be a short answer.

Comparative quotient of our combat potential vis-à-vis the adversaries is no secret. Before we talk of our capabilities to fight a two-and-a-half front war, could the powers that be tell the nation as to what has changed since the then Army chief, General VK Singh, wrote the famous letter to the then Prime Minister while demitting office nearly three and half years ago? 

The letter stated, “The state of the major (fighting) arms ie mechanised forces, artillery, air defence, infantry and special forces, as well as the engineers and signals, is indeed alarming.”

About the potential of our Air Force, Ashley J Tellis, a top American expert on defence matters, wrote that the Indian Air Force is vital for deterrence and stability in South Asia and for the Indo-Pacific region.

The Indian Air Force’s fighter force is weaker than the numbers suggest. As many as 36.5 squadrons are short of its sanctioned strength and many of its frontline aircraft are obsolete. With this state of the Armed Forces, how can India play a pivotal role in the geo-strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific region? The state of our Navy too is depressing.

I would like to share with my readers the operational concept and potential of the Chinese Army in Tibet. Beijing has raised the rank and status of its western Tibet military command to widen its scope for its missions and combat preparedness to fortify borders with India.

A Beijing-based military expert, Song Shingling, has been quoted as saying that “the Tibet military command bears great responsibility to prepare for possible conflicts between China and India, whose operational role is to initiate and sustain intense shock and awe by initiating blitzkrieg-type short campaigns against India”.

Namrata Goswami, former research scholar of the Institute of Defence Studies, informs about the combat potential of our northern neighbour: “China has been shooting for border dominance via military means and has built the required military infrastructure throughout the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The Middle Kingdom has built road and rail networks in Tibet, which provide ground mobility to 400,000 PLA soldiers in the two military regions opposite India. It has deployed upgraded ballistic missiles; added several new dual use airfields in Tibet; and expanded its military assets transport capability.”

A 2016 Pentagon report also states, “We have noticed an increase in capability and force posture by the Chinese military in areas close to the border with India”, however it also said, “it is difficult to say how much of this is driven by internal considerations to maintain internal stability, and how much of it is an external consideration.”

The Defence department report also warns of China’s increasing military presence, including bases in various parts of the world, in particular Pakistan, with which it has a “long-standing friendly relationship and similar strategic interests”.

What has India’s strategic response been to these developments? We have raised a so-called strike Corps, which is still borne? On the diplomatic front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi supposedly has had a very good summit with US President Donald Trump. But did they talk about the US’s response to the Chinese over land threat to India from Tibet? Unlikely. However, they defiantly would have talked about the South China Sea scenario.

The just concluded India-US-Japan Malabar military naval exercise in the Indian Ocean region has added much to the discomfiture of China and India. Can we look forward to a joint air exercise with participation of the member states of this tri-lateral alliance as ‘whose time has come’? As per a very senior Chinese official, if India does eventually emerge as a US strategic partner, Beijing will exercise its options to neutralise.

Where do we go from here? The game is not about bunkers in Donglang, but developing road communications in the Chumbi valley. Can we stop them? Never! 

So was the case in 1960, when the ‘Chinese clearly under-estimated Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s adamancy in April 1960, when his back had been stiffened by his advisors’.

I recently read a very lucid article on the present scenario but towards the end, the article came down to delivering a veiled threat to China that if the present impasse is not resolved, India has other options too. Pray, what? Are we prepared to go to war with China on Despiang? Despite what some of our senior diplomats have opined, the answer is a big No. Should we push the country into another debacle?

Will China attack India? In 2009, the Indian Army conducted a war game, called the Divine Matrix, in the overall scenario that “misadventure by China is very much within the realm of possibility.”

Military Operations Directorate had visualised a war scenario with the nuclear-armed neighbour before 2017. The assessment outlined that Beijing would employ information warfare (IW) to paralyse the command and control structure, both at the operational as well as at the strategic level. We must not be oblivious to a Divine Matrix scenario as we did to exercise Lal Qila in 1960.

“China is and will be a threat in being. On the north, we have China, which has a large landmass; huge resources; and a large-standing Army. Despite having the Himalayas between us, Beijing is bound to be a threat for us in the years ahead,” said Vice Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Sarath Chand.

Coming to Pakistan, we in our wildest dream cannot do 1971 to them. Terrorism is a part of their strategic triode (trishool), aimed at India, manifested by the Armed Forces, terrorists and nuclear forces. Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief Hafeez Saeed was on record to have said that his aim is to dismember rather than destroy India. Remember the tape released from the hideout of Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Al Qaeda, having long-standing links with Hafiz Saeed?

Let us not wish for a two-and-a-half front war. Let us first prepare for this eventuality and only then enter in brinkmanship. If supposedly the threshhold of tolerance is crossed by us, or by our adversaries, there may be more than two-and-a-half front, which we may have to contend with.

Even in the hay days of 1971, the great chief of Army Staff, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, told the Prime Minister that he will take care of Pakistan and that it will have to take care of China. We and not Pakistan needs to learn from 1971.

At this juncture, the most potent threat is not the conventional conflict, but Kashmir imbroglio. The Army can fight insurgency and not a political uprising. Unfortunately the situation is drifting in that directing despite Jammu & Kashmir Governor NN Vohra and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti being at the helm.

One wonders how the Armed Forces have been entrusted to resolve a complex and multi-dimensional crisis with no other stakeholders assuming responsibility.

Jawans of the Army and paramilitary are performing their duties under most stressful conditions. We send them out into the crowd and also instruct them not to use force! This contradiction gives rise to Pulwama-type incidents.

Being an old Kashmir hand, I fear that we may have a ‘My Lai’ type incident at our hand if India does not resolve its soldiers’ operational and emotional contradictions.

Let us devote our energies to save Kashmir by a responsive politico-military strategy. Let us strike an amenable posture with China and resolve the Despiang issue at priority and heed to what Kautilya had said, Chanakya Nitishastra. 

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