25 August 2017

Time of the greatest danger is now!

Bharat Karnad

Acting defence minister Arun Jaitley said yesterday in Parliament that the country had learned the 1962 lessons well and the Indian armed services were well prepared for a border war. That may be so, but the capability to fight is also dictated by when China will take the initiative to open the first round, and where.

Not sure if the Modi Government is primed to the fact that the 1962 hostilities were started by China just as the October missile crisis got underway and the US was preoccupied by the Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba in that near end-of-the-world crisis. It was evidence of “strategic boldness and tactical caution” that Shivshankar Menon claims, ironically, as the leitmotif of Indian foreign policy! In any case, a ’62 type of international situation is again in the offing — a nuclear crisis now involving the US and North Korea. With an unrestrained Trump warning of “fire and fury of a kind the world has never seen” should Pyongyang again issue a threat to the US — very Chinese Global Times-speak! — to which Kim Jon-Un replied almost instantly with tripling down on another graver threat, this time directly against the US island of Guam, major military station mid-Pacific — boy, this guy is ballsy!! — Northeast Asia is set for a strategic humdinger. It will be interesting to watch how this pans out, but I am happy to predict and prophecy that it will be Washington that blinks first. The in your face attitude and policy carried out with panache always wins in international affairs, something the Indian government and MEA in particular have been too timid to even contemplate.

Xi Jinping is desperate to save face in whatever small way he can, and considering how far out on the rhetorical limb his regime has gone in incessantly beating the war drum, there WILL be action. Beijing has mentioned armed intrusion into “Kashmir”, which has enough Indian forces in situ, but it may be a way to divert the Indian military’s attention from the LAC. In any case, a North Korea-US fracas will provide Beijing with just the cover to precipitate an incident, use it to escalate to big unit action and then blame the forward Indian units and India for starting the war, forcing the PLA to react. This is what China did in 1962. And then, after some level of hostilities is attained, announce a ceasefire, claim due punishment has been meted out and that a sobered up India has been “taught a lesson”. Except, this time whatever territory the PLA captures they will keep. This is standard Chinese modus operandi, which MEA and the govt’s main China policy advisory arm — the China Study Circle, I am sure, has not warned Modi about.

If the above scenario holds and Chinese initiatory action is imminent, it is “all hands on deck”-moment, but this time the Indian armed forces have to ensure that should PLA start an affray anywhere, the Indian Army will not just fight back at that geographical location but retaliate by opening up fronts in other sectors for operations where PLA is disadvantageously placed with the idea of keeping the captured territory on the LAC for good. Once the army goes into action, the IAF should join right away, and plan on taking out forward Chinese assets as preliminary action, leaving it to PLAAF to escalate if it chooses to. It’d be fun to see the IAF Su-30s slaughter the high-altitude constrained PLAAF fighters taking off from Tibetan bases. The Navy should likewise get right into it and, may be, sink a smaller warship — there are some dozen-odd Chinese navy ships in the Indian Ocean right now. That will draw PLAN subs affording the Indian Akula the opportunity to tail them for a shoot. It is only such disproportionate response that will prove to Beijing that it is not 1962, not all the speechifying by Jaitley, et al.

So far, Modi has done well to talk little, hold firm on the ground. But I sense complacency creeping in with things having gone well, so far. Hope he pulls the govt out of any such stupor and musters the confidence and the guts to expressly task the Indian armed forces for rapid and intense counteraction across the LAC, in the air, and the Indian Ocean. Passive defensive-mindedness has been the bane of the Indian govt and military to-date. Time to correct this impression, hence also time that Gen Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, and Admiral Sunil Lanba put their respective forces on high alert, because something is going to happen. If Beijing behaves the way it has always done, hostilities are round the corner, and they better be absolutely ready to respond aggressively. The Prime Minister will be well advised to, perhaps, hint at another Himalayan rumble in the offing in his Independence Day speech if not earlier , and thus prepare the people and the apparatus of state for the “war” coming down the pike.

Simply put, China should NOT be permitted under any circumstances to save face and get away with claiming it has taught India a lesson. Because that will mean Modi having egg on his face. The Indian government and military should ensure that it is Beijing that takes home the lesson that this is, in fact, the “New India” they are now dealing with, not the same old, same old.

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