Harsh V Pant who teaches at King’s College, London describes Obama’s foreign policy as ‘courting America’s adversaries while ignoring friends and potential allies.’ India, which has tried to establish a strategic partnership with the US, now finds itself adrift in a hostile environment. Ours is arguably the most dangerous neighbourhood on the planet.
Two-thirds of our land borders in the north and west are abutted by two inimical, collusive and nuclear-armed neighbours. Encouraged by perceived American disinclination to protect US strategic interests, China has flexed its military muscles and laid expansive claims to oil-rich South China Sea.
China has also reopened the Sikkim question and escalated tensions in Ladakh. PLA intrusions have gone up by about 52 percent”¦
ASEAN nations are justifiably nervous about the Dragon’s designs. In the Indian Ocean, she is pursuing a string-of-pearls strategy – ostensibly to safeguard her energy-vital sea-links, but equally designed to bottle-up the Indian Navy.
Following the Indo-US civilian nuclear accord, China upped the ante in confronting India. The latest Pentagon report unveils her rapid accretion of nuclear weapon systems and staging some of them forward into Tibet. In close collaboration with Pakistan, PRC is attempting to strategically invest India through her northern and western frontiers. It has now expanded its claim over the Tawang Tract to include all of Arunachal, even protesting Asian Development Bank loans for the State. China has also reopened the Sikkim question and escalated tensions in Ladakh. PLA intrusions have gone up by about 52 percent over last year and its soldiers are more aggressively staking out territory across the LAC.
Meanwhile diplomats continue to parrot ‘peace and tranquillity’ platitudes. PRC is raising its profile in Maoist-afflicted Nepal and extending the railway from Lhasa to Khasa on the Nepalese border. She has already built a strategic road through eastern Nepal close to our sensitive Siliguri corridor. To the west, China is provocatively constructing surface communication links and hydroelectric projects in POK. Another provocation is issue of stapled visas to Indian Kashmiris for visiting China; encouraging them to defy our travel laws. She has consistently ignored our protestations on both issues.
In a further boost for Pakistan, she is committed to build two civilian, unsafeguarded nuclear reactors for its ally, which will help to augment its N-stockpile.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has spurned our US-mandated initiatives to repair the post 26/11 rupture in dialogue. Qureshi precipitated a new low in relations by his offensive remarks at the press conference following the recent Foreign Ministers meet. This surpassed even Salman Bashir’s media coup in Delhi after Foreign Secretary level talks. General Kayani, disturbed by India’s disclosure of Headly’s damming confession, is believed to have ordered the sudden freeze. Then, following the global outcry over Wikileaks, Pakistan has changed tack in Kashmir. Apparently putting terror-sponsorship on a temporary leash, ISI has instead started instigating an Intifada-style stir, which mainly targets the ‘soft’ civil administration.
As regards China, for a nation nurtured on “˜power grows out of the barrel of a gun we can gain respect only if we possess and wield credible military and strategic power.
Benazir Bhutto’s revised biography, ‘Daughter of the East’ has a remarkably forthright additional chapter which details the Pak military and ISI’s fixation with hoisting Pakistani flags in Srinagar and Kabul. Kayani, ISI chief during the Wikileaks episode, is revealed as an implacable foe of India. Commissioned in 1971, he is presumably obsessed with avenging Pak Army’s Bangladesh debacle by conquering Kashmir. As ISI Chief, he was instrumental in attacking Indian targets in Afghanistan, where he covets ‘strategic space’, so dear to the Pak military.
Obama probably failed to comprehend the damage he would do to US Afpak strategy by indicating a date for commencing withdrawals from Afghanistan. This was music to the ears for both the Taliban and Pakistan. Later clarifications that America was not abandoning the region; only confirm the Taliban and Pak in their core conviction that ‘soft’ western democracies lack the stomach to stay the course till the job is done. After all, had not the Taliban defeated another super-power, one belonging to the region. The question now in their minds is how soon will the west abandon the great game, cut its losses and run? Faced with an economic recession and electoral pressures, their will appears to be already crumbling.
So the contours of external security challenges facing us are clear: investment of our land frontiers by the Sino-Pak axis; a fresh and more potent challenge in Kashmir — this time aimed at an inept civil administration; re-invigorated string of pearls to challenge our Indian Ocean presence and India’s complete exclusion from a post-NATO Afghanistan — all this in a heightened N-threat scenario. Meanwhile, one Chinese think tank has famously advocated fragmenting India by stoking internal dissensions. Is China actually pursuing such a strategy? When we recall that Sun Tzu advocated ‘supreme excellence lies in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting’, we may conclude that she is. A recent disclosure that ISI is reaching out to the naxals through Dawood Ibrahim’s underworld network, confirms this belief. Pakistan is actively doing Beijing’s dirty work in dismembering India and colluding with Chinese strategy.
“¦instead of perceiving the string-of-pearls as a noose, we must exploit Chinese vulnerabilities inherent in its policy. The Malacca Straits, which lie in easy striking range from Port Blair, can become the Chinese chickens neck;
To counter these threats we need to move energetically and purposefully on several parallel tracks. First and foremost the civil administration absolutely must get its act together. Government should expeditiously announce tailor-made development ‘packages’ for J&K and Naxal-affected districts and create an effective mechanism to verify their delivery on the ground. Obviously, development can only be effected in a conducive law and order climate. In J&K, the police and paramilitary must be trained as soon as possible in modern riot-control techniques and equipped with a variety of effective, non-lethal means. Next, our biggest advantage is rapid growth of our economy. However, we need to ensure inclusive growth and plug corruption leakages. Only then would we be able to alleviate sharp social disparities and discontent.
Regarding Afpak, many nations share our concern that the so-called ‘good’ Taliban will contrive to wrest control of post-US Afghanistan. These nations believe that the Obama administration is desperate to engineer a face-saving exit from Afghanistan. Hence Kayani would create a temporary semblance of ‘peace’ till USA is safely away, then enable Taliban to overrun Afghanistan. India needs to work with such nations to ensure that our strategic concerns are safeguarded.
Former US Ambassador, Robert Blackwill has advocated withdrawal of US forces from Pashtun areas in south Afghanistan. Non-Pashtun minorities, along with ethnic cousins among Afghanistan’s neighbours, harbour a visceral hatred of the Taliban. Shia Iran to the west, supports their co-religionist Hazaras, while the northern nations support the Tajik and Uzbek minorities. Besides rebuilding and strengthening diplomatic ties with these nations, India should actively pursue a contingency plan to revive the Northern Alliance, which could include Iranian support for the Hazaras. Iran is none too enamoured with Pakistan, whom it regards as a Saudi and US poodle, while Sunni-extremist Taliban is perceived as its arch foe. Foreign Minister Krishna’s recent visit to Tehran is therefore, a step in the right direction. Similar links should also be opened with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
As regards China, for a nation nurtured on ‘power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ we can gain respect only if we possess and wield credible military and strategic power. It is heartening that MoD is taking some steps to bolster Army’s defence capability on the watershed with Tibet – except of course for the 155mm Howitzer systems, which has again fallen victim to the CBI, this time implicating a corrupt Ordnance Factories’ official. This has nothing to do with Howitzer acquisition, of course, but nonetheless it is hurting defence preparedness. The Navy and Air Force too seem to be getting some attention. However, these capital intensive systems will take years to materialise before we can again be adequately prepared to defend ourselves. Meanwhile, we can inculcate a bolder strategic mindset, in consonance with our rising international profile and Security Council aspirations.
“¦our Air Force enjoys substantial operating advantages in the theatre, rendering Chinas long and tenuous road and rail communications vulnerable to interdiction.
An example will better illustrate what is implied. After the 1948 J&K war, we have nurtured a Maginot-line mindset –‘not an inch of territory must be lost!’ Accordingly, a narrow salient jutting into our territory was named the Akhnoor Dagger. The term emphasised the need for ‘impregnable’ defences against the extreme threat it posed to the entire sector. It took MVC-decorated General ‘Zoru’ Bakshi to turn the perception on its head. He highlighted instead, how the salient could be made into a death-trap for the enemy once its base was severed like a ‘chicken’s neck’. Historically no purely defensive, Maginot-line strategy has ever succeeded. An element of offensive-defence is vital.
Thus instead of perceiving the string-of-pearls as a noose, we must exploit Chinese vulnerabilities inherent in its policy. The Malacca Straits, which lie in easy striking range from Port Blair, can become the Chinese chicken’s neck; even as Chinese forces must be dispersed into several ports from Aden to the Coco Islands. Further, we must show the flag in the China seas and reach out to beleaguered ASEAN nations.
While the Navy needs to develop capabilities for such interventions, similar Chinese vulnerabilities exist in Tibet. For one, our Air Force enjoys substantial operating advantages in the theatre, rendering China’s long and tenuous road and rail communications vulnerable to interdiction. This also facilitates employment of Para Brigades to outflank the Chinese positions. We need only to develop the will and bold mindset. It must be clarified that initiating hostilities is not being advocated – only creation of an offensive-defence capability to defeat aggressions. Rising of airborne formations will compel the adversary to think twice before embarking on any misadventure. Hence, it would become a potent instrument for maintaining peace and tranquillity on more equitable terms. Once we have the capability, we could as well intervene in Afghanistan’s depth areas, if needed.
We therefore, need to bolster our defence capability by developing an offensive-defence response with an appropriate number of airborne formations on land and suitable naval task forces in the Indian Ocean. Together with effective internal security measures, these will neutralise the Sino-Pak siege of our frontiers.