What is India’s geopolitical future post its silent war with China?
India will no longer be Pakistan-centric in a post 2020 scenario. It took us over two decades to acknowledge openly that China is our primary threat.
The definition was never so emphatic earlier, as it was when the four met on 6 October 2020 in Tokyo. They sounded more like an alliance than any informal grouping. Sending a strong message to China they pledged to make the Indo-Pacific region free and open, creating resilient supply chains. This was their second Quad meeting since 2019, held in the backdrop of the ongoing border tensions between China and India.
The Quad is an informal strategic forum between the United States, Japan, Australia and India. But not anymore! The Quad is inching forward into an alliance in the power dynamics evolving from the Himalayas to the Pacific.
Amidst the global coronavirus pandemic, China has gambled in threatening the existence of Taiwan, usurping the autonomy of Hong Kong and nibbling away Indian territory in Ladakh. The ripples of this would be felt over for decades to come.
On 5 May, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) crossed over into Indian claimed territories in Ladakh and got engaged in aggressive melees, face-offs and skirmishes—brick-batting with Indian soldiers at different locations.
The second India China war had just begun.
The first casualty was of a PLA soldier on 5 May at Galwan. These two nuclear giants were fighting it out the prehistoric way. On the fateful night of 14-15 June, 21 Indian soldiers and 35 Chinese soldiers clubbed and stoned each other to death. The guns, however, remained silent all along.
On 30 August, Indian Army surprised the PLA by outflanking them and occupying the strategic heights. It was a classic offensive manoeuvre in a high altitude terrain, executed with military precision. The guns still remained silent.
The 2020 India-China silent war was being fought over 14,000 feet above sea level.
THE THREE T’S
Will this war continue to be a silent one or will this standoff snowball into a full blown war? This is something that only time will tell. As the situation exists, millions of soldiers have been mobilised by both sides, operation logistics are in full swing and millions are being spent daily to sustain the build-up. For India, all this is taking place when her economy is degrowing at 23% in the time of Covid. The time is not only testing but also redefining.
The ground situation and challenges thereon are being met with high resolve and professionalism beyond any doubt. This involves all spheres involving the three “Ts”—they are Totality of Battlefield, Totality of Technology and Totality of Society. We need to crystal gaze into India’s status in the decades that lie ahead post the 2020 India-China silent war. And to do so we may have to take a cue from history.
We must seek answers to two questions: First, what would have been the course of our history had the Chinese not attacked us in 1962? Second, what will be the geopolitical status of India post this 2020 silent war?
On the first question, in order to get a sense of the thinking prevailing amongst the top political leadership of Independent India in 1947 it will be worthwhile to recall an incident with General Sir Rob Lockhart, C-in-C Army (India). He had convened a high-powered meeting to discuss defence strategy and prepare a policy paper for the government. The draft policy paper was duly prepared, the C-in-C went to see Pandit Nehru with his draft policy. Nehru looked at the paper and called it totally rubbish! He told Lockhart that India did not need a defence plan. Indian policy was of ahimsa (non-violence) and they foresaw no military threats. The police are good enough to meet India’s security needs.
Unfortunately, within the prevailing environment of that period, the internal health of the Indian Army had suffered immensely. With professionalism taking a backseat, senior Army officers were seen enjoying political patronage for their career advancements.
If the Chinese hadn’t attacked India and given her a solid drubbing, India would have continued to be in a state of oblivion, totally ignorant of the vagaries of geopolitical environment, and thus slipping into an irreversible decay. This Ashokan blunder would have opened the gates to the foreign powers once again.
After the debacle of 1962, India set itself upon a serious course correction. Nehru set the reforms in motion. Defence production for self-reliance and expansion of the armed forces capable enough of defending India were put in action. Political and bureaucratic meddling into the affairs of the military, promoting patronage, was seen as one of the major reasons of the defeat. Nehru instituted major reforms directed at institutional strengthening of the armed forces. And this reform was the most important of all in my opinion.
Within a short span of two and a half years, everything had transformed. Come 1965, the same Indian Army defeated a far more technologically superior Pakistani Army, to everyone’s astonishment. General Ayub Khan at the onset had famously said, “We will have breakfast in Lahore, lunch in Jallandhar and dinner at Delhi.” This probably would have been the case had the Chinese not shaken us out of our misplaced ideals and deep slumber.
By the turn of the decade of the 1960s, India had established herself as a major military power to reckon with. Indian Army had defeated Pakistani aggression despite her antiquated equipment in the 1965 war, followed by giving a bloody nose to the Chinese in the Nathu La skirmish of 1967. And finally in 1971 this self-realised strength culminated into the creation of a new country, Bangladesh, dismembering Pakistan. All these victories could not be possible without the three “Ts”—Totality of Battlefield, Technology and Society.
Over these decades post the 1971 war, the nuclearisation of our subcontinent brought with it a widely accepted perception that there would never be a war again between India and Pakistan or India and China. This could probably be the reason behind the neglect of our armed forces’ modernisation yet again. However, Kargil and later the surgical strikes across the LoC and lately the use of Indian Air Force in the bombing of Balakot suggested that the availability of vast spaces for conventional conflicts did exist. And now the standoff in the Himalayas brings to fore the fact that there exists a huge space for conventional war under the nuclear threshold over a wide spectrum on land, air and sea combined.
So, what will be India’s geopolitical status post this 2020 silent war? Before we get into that realm, it would be prudent to briefly touch upon India’s strategic culture and military ethos before the start of this ongoing silent conflict.
India had proactively countered the Chinese at Doklam in 2017, successfully carried out surgical strikes across the LoC and bombed the Balakot terrorist training camp in Pakistan, calling the Pakistani nuclear bluff. After decades of neglect, India’s military modernisation was underway. However, there was a big mismatch between the military’s aspirations and the allocated defence budget, which unfortunately fell to the lowest ebb on the index of GDP percentage, bringing India’s budgetary allocations at par with that of 1962 level.
Simultaneously, the ethos of our armed forces has also witnessed some decay over the past ten years. In this decade gone by, India Army witnessed shameless politicisation in the senior ranks. Senior generals were openly seen displaying their loyalties towards various political ideologies. In the bargain the moral fibre of being above politics in selfless service to the nation came under serious stress.
While there appears to be a Totality of Battlefield and Totality of Technology, the Totality of Society is something that should be a cause for worry. There exists a big communal divide in the country that manifested itself during the protests against the Citizen Amendment Act. On the political front, India’s largest opposition party does not appear to be on the same page with the government of the day on the looming Chinese threat. To top it, India’s most prominent opposition leader claimed that he would have routed the Chinese in 15 minutes flat had he been in power. This sums up our country’s strategic culture and understanding of defence matters.
There is no denying the fact that India has again been shaken off its slumber. Fast track procurements of arms and ammunition, amending the Defence Procurement Policy, laying high focus on self-reliance, work on border infra projects on a war footing, enhancing diplomatic efforts garnering international support and at a fast pace carrying out testing and deployment of strategic missiles are all part of the new vigour.
It has taken almost over two decades for us to openly acknowledge what the then Defence Minister of India, George Fernandes on 3 May 1998 had said—that China was India’s potential “threat number one”.
Notwithstanding the fact that India is actively seeking assurances and alliances through groupings like Quad, but there is also a lesson of alliance failure which was witnessed in WWII with the fall of Singapore. Alliances can and do fail. Any strategic policy that does not give reality its due weight is likely to fail. Not that I am suggesting that the Quad will fail, but India has to remain prepared to fight this war on her own without over reliance on any alliances.
Hereon in the decades ahead, China will be at the centre of all strategic considerations and planning by India. The world will see resurgence of India on the geopolitical stage stretching from the Himalayas to the Pacific in a big way. India will play a major role countering China in this region aggressively and actively. India will no longer be Pakistan-centric in a post 2020 scenario.
As India emerges from these crossroads at the Himalayas, she could well be a superpower in the making. Provided a concurrent progress is made on the economic front and the country tides over the frictions that deny her a Totality of Society.
Col Danvir Singh (R) is an Associate Editor with Indian Defence Review. He commanded 9 Sikh LI and served as a Company Commander in Chushul Garrison in 2004-2005
Source:- Sunday Guardian Live