“¦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.