India in Amrit-Kaal is gearing up to claim her rightful place on the global stage. This journey is marked by multitude of challenges in security domain. It is indeed appropriate to briefly map our conflicts to draw appropriate lessons.The 1947-48 war by Pakistan Army, masquerading as Kabayali raiders, initially surprised the new nation. Analysts opine that British were complicit in promoting the Pakistani plot to annex Jammu and Kashmir. It was also an attempt by the Pakistan to gain salience, to emerge as a compliant buffer State for colonial masters. India gained the upper hand due to resilience and innovative responses. Fielding of Stuart tanks across Zozila Pass by first stripping tanks and re-assembling them across the pass, surprised the enemy and stemmed raiders. Similarly, daring air support missions by basic aircrafts defined our operational jugaad. The 1962 war caught us completely unprepared but we can draw some solace from the bravery of our soldiers at Rezang La. Five years later in 1967, Indian troops imposed heavy casualties on PLA in localised conflicts at Nathu La and Cho La.
The 1965 War was orchestrated by Pakistan, reportedly on advice of the US Think tanks to take advantage of their technical asymmetry, based on modern American equipment. Latest Patton tanks and Sabre jets were pitted against our obsolescent Centurion tanks and Gnats. Yet, our tank crews devised ‘three round’ technique and air-warriors and warded off superior Sabre jets. The 1971 war remains highpoint of our operational history, characterised by sequencing of campaign to preclude Chinese intervention, prioritisation of Eastern front coupled with bold application of air and naval forces. The Kargil war tested our capability to redeploy and marshal resources like the Bofors guns and retain control on escalation matrix. The recent Balakote surgical strike and post-Uri coordinated surgical raids, called off Pak’s nuclear bluff and crafted space for conventional force application, below the much touted nuclear threshold. The most notable trend was nuanced selection of target and strategic messaging of Indian resolve to strike terror hubs, beyond LAC, even beyond PoK.
Proxy War and Two Front Conundrum
The first seeds of proxy war were sown by Pakistan in the form of misplaced use of Kabayalis and instigation of revolt along religious lines in J&K State Forces, in 1947 war. The same diabolic plan was repeated in December 1963 with Moe-e-Muquaddas (holy hair relic of Prophet) to promote uprising in J&K, as a precursor to 1965 war. It bears reiteration that Task Forces named after Islamic fighters like Salauddin were deployed in the same war. The Mujahideen narrative in Kargil in 1999 was another attempt to leverage same malfeasance. The list continues with ISI aided Khalistan separatist movement and ongoing proxy war in Kashmir.
Unknown to most, East Pakistan became a sanctuary for Naga rebels as early as 1950s. Naga leader, Phizo escaped to London via East Pakistan in 1956. Mowu Angami and other rebels had concurrently trekked to China for weapons and assistance. In same period Naga rebels were ferried from Eastern to Western wing for commando training. Pakistan gifted strategic Shaksgam Valley to China, without de-jure justification. Both countries agreed strategic alliance and China issued an ultimatum to India during 1965 war, when tide turned against Pakistan. Notwithstanding these and other signals, there was belief among strategic community that China will stay out of Indo-Pak conflicts despite late Railway Minister, George Fernandes, flagging China as the main enemy in 1990. There was a feeling that we need to focus on hybrid war and deal with Pakistan in short term.
Current Geo-Strategic Realities
India has recently been jolted by Chinese coercive salami-slicing deployments and fisticuff face-offs on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), even while coping with COVID-19. Few defining trends have emerged. Firstly, two front threat is real secondly, Chinese threat is primary one and Northern Front is the main one. Thirdly, India has resilience and if forced, it can successfully exercise Quid-Pro-Quo (QPQ) options like pre-emptive occupation of Kailash Heights. Fourthly, coercive tactics have limits and China simply cannot push its way through. Most importantly, we have to remain focused on infrastructure development and force modernisation.
History of Proxy War
- The first seeds of proxy war were sown by Pakistan in the form of misplaced use of Kabayalis and instigation of revolt along religious lines in J&K State Forces in 1947 war
- The same diabolic plan was repeated in December 1963 with Moe-e-Muquaddas (holy hair relic of Prophet) to promote uprising in J&K
- Mujahideen narrative in Kargil in 1999 was another attempt to leverage same malfeasance
- East Pakistan became a sanctuary for Naga rebels as early as 1950s
- Naga rebels had concurrently trekked to China for weapons and assistance
Current Situation along LAC
- After Galwan incident, India has undertaken force rebalancing to match Chinese posture on Northern border
- India has created dedicated Corps sized reserves dedicated to Ladakh and Arunachal sub-theatres
- Connectivity to forward areas has substantially improved
- Rafaels, Drones and surveillance systems have been inducted along LAC
- Long missile systems like Brahmos and Pralay are being positioned to match Chinese Rocket Force
Pandemic in form of COVID-19 reinforced the need for nation’s resolve and resilience, which was displayed in abundance. It also brought home the need to reduce dependence and adopt smart AatmaNirbhar approach. Consequently, considerable headway has been made in this direction. There is also renewed thrust to develop infrastructure and eco-system in border areas.
India has undertaken force rebalancing to match Chinese posture on Northern border. One Strike Corps and additional formations, along with weapon systems, have been re-deployed on Northern borders. With this, India has created dedicated Corps sized reserves dedicated to Ladakh and Arunachal sub-theatres. While retaining defensive posture, capability of QPQ as also timely and effective offensive-defense response, as witnessed in Yangtze and Doklam, is also in place.
Infrastructure development is on course and connectivity to forward areas has substantially improved. Air Force has also upgraded and developed new airfields in forward areas coupled with deployment of latest platforms like Rafaels. Drones and surveillance systems are being inducted. Long missile systems like Brahmos and Pralay are being positioned to match Chinese Rocket Force. Navy is also modernising to tackle increased Chinese forays in Indian Ocean, consequent to PLA acquiring Djibouti naval base and development of Gwadar as part of China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC).
India has joined alliances like QUAD and is trying to leverage others like SCO, BRICS and BIMSTEC to build deterrence and dissuasive influences. India has also established enviable reputation in peace-building, disaster relief and multi national exercises. However, alliances have limited utility, as partners are unlikely to get directly involved or intervene in our conflicts.
Bolstering Naval Power
India continues to enhance its Naval power amid growing Chinese hegemony in the region. The Indian Navy currently operates 2 aircraft carriers. In 2022, in a historical milestone, India commissioned its first ever Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)- Vikrant. The country already operates INS Vikramaditya. The Navy operates 2 Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and reportedly, it has launched the third Arihant-Class Nuclear-Powered Submarine. In June 2021, India cleared a project worth Rs 43,000 crore to build 6 high-tech submarines. India Navy also operates 11 destroyers, 12 frigates, 16 conventionally powered attack submarines, 19 corvettes, 8 Landing Craft Utilities and 10 large offshore patrol vessels. As the Government has prepared a mega plan to spend $130 billion to bolster combat capability of the Armed Forces in the next five to seven years, the Navy has already finalised a plan to have 200 ships, 500 aircraft and 24 attack submarines in the next few years. –Organiser Bureau
China is looking at developing Multi Domain Warfare (MTDW) and has set up Strategic Support Force. It is also embarking on comprehensive civil-military fusion mission. In sum, we can match China in conventional sphere and are on course to reduce asymmetry. Yet, we need to remain alive to tackle future threats in Cyber and Space domains. The three key recommendations are- firstly, expediting formation of theatre commands; secondly, upgradation of cyber and space agencies and thirdly, instituting non-lapsable capital fund with enhanced budget allocation. It will be apt to remember that preparation is the best deterrence and preparation is never complete.