Staring down the dragon

INDIA-CHINA RELATIONS : China's attempts aimed at the strategic encirclement of India make it necessary to evolve appropriate counter strategies.

China’s growing power and influence and its mounting military assertiveness are causing concern not only to India, but also to most other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Referring to India’s relations with China while speaking at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “In the management of our relationship, and for peace and progress in the region, both our countries need to show sensitivity and respect for each other’s core concerns and interests.” 

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar was more direct. Referring to the plans to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) without consulting India, he said, “China is very sensitive on matters concerning its sovereignty… so we would expect that they would have some understanding of other people’s sensitivity about their sovereignty.”

And, speaking in the same conference, Admiral Harry B Harris, Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Command, said the US and Indian navies have been sharing information about the movement of Chinese naval ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean. The Admiral, who is overseeing the US “pivot” or “re-balancing” of forces to the Indo-Pacific said, “We share the same view of China.”

In their very timely book entitled “Dragon on our Doorstep: Managing China through Military Power” (Aleph Book Company, 2017), Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab note that China’s grand strategy is to gain a position of pre-eminence as a Eurasian power. They analyse the causes and effects of China’s doctrine of “combative cooperation”. 

Two examples of China’s growing anti-India belligerence should suffice: China’s stubborn opposition to India’s formal entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and its repeated efforts to prevent JeM chief Masood Azhar being declared an international terrorist, despite itself being a victim of terrorism emanating from Pakistan. 

China has guaranteed Pakistan’s territorial integrity and its leaders routinely describe their all-weather friendship with Pakistan as “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey.” 

Clearly, there is deep resentment in China about India’s emergence as a strategic competitor that might soon challenge Beijing’s hegemony. China’s undisguised attempts aimed at the strategic encirclement of India make it necessary to evolve appropriate strategies to counter the former’s moves.

The authors, who together edit Force — a monthly journal on national security — diligently examine the magnitude and complexity of the military threat from China and Pakistan to India. 

In view of the collusive nuclear warhead-ballistic missile-military hardware nexus between China and Pakistan, the authors correctly conclude that India will be presented with a two-front scenario during a future war with simultaneous operations being launched from Tibet into Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh and from PoK into Jammu and Kashmir.

Sawhney and Wahab highlight the fact that despite several border management agreements and confidence building measures, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has still not been demarcated on the ground and on military maps. They point out that while the Chinese invariably send large-sized patrols across the LAC into the Indian side, the patrolling policy laid down by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) places too many restrictions on Indian forces for fear of upsetting the Chinese.

Other flaws in India’s border management have also been well documented, including the vexed issue of command and control. The management of the entire Tibetan border opposite India comes under a single Chinese commander. On the Indian side three army commands (Eastern, Central and Northern) and two border guarding forces under the Ministry of Home affairs (MHA) – the Assam Rifles and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) – are responsible.

The Pakistan factor in the India-China relationship has been assiduously debated. The continuation of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir is important in the Pakistan Army’s calculations to perpetuate its own salience in Islamabad’s polity. Consequently, its strategy to bleed India through a thousand cuts is unlikely to change in the short-term. 

Sawhney and Wahab comment adversely on India’s defence preparedness. They highlight the growing technological gap with China due to the lack of military modernisation; the persistent shortages of tank and artillery ammunition; and, the inadequacies in critical infrastructure – especially border roads that would enable the rapid deployment of forces and the movement of reserves.

Forces’ inability

The authors lament the inability of the Indian armed forces to prevent war through a strategy of deterrence and coercive diplomacy. They have serious misgivings about the capacity of the armed forces to fight and win if war is thrust upon India. They are of the view that the defence budget is inadequate to meet the growing threats and challenges.

They are critical of the weaknesses in the management of national security, especially the failure to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff even 15 years after the Cabinet Committee on Security had accepted the recommendation of a Group of Ministers of its necessity.

According to the authors, in order to minimise the military threat from China and Pakistan, India should enhance its military power by undertaking defence reforms and acquiring an edge in military technology; resolving the Kashmir dispute; and stabilising the heartland to ensure that internal security issues do not act as a drag.

While all of these are laudable objectives, reduction in the salience of external threats will not happen without forging countervailing strategic partnerships. For peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, India must join hands with the US, Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and other strategic partners to evolve a cooperative security architecture. 

That is the only way to effectively stare down the dragon. Overall, this must-read book makes a significant contribution to the discourse on India’s national security strategy. 

(The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)