Military & Aerospace

Military and the Diplomatic Muscle
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 12 Mar , 2021

The Legislative Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan in a bipartisan resolution has urged the  Fedral Govt  to designate the area,  legally part of PoK,  as the fifth province of Pakistan, thereby conferring constitutional status. The resolution was moved by  CM Khalid Khurshid Khan of PTI, with full support of  PPP and PML(N) and JUI-F members. This comes in the backdrop of the recent  joint statement of the DGMOs of India and Pakistan, which said that two countries will abide by all agreements with regard to the LoC and prevent escalation. It is difficult to predict the life span of this joint statement, but it is certain that it is a manifestation of intense back channel diplomacy spurred by larger imperatives of three protagonists i.e. India, Pakistan and China. Hence, it also comes in the backdrop of disengagement of Chinese and Indian troops  in the Pangangtso  area. The overwhelming factor of CPEC seems to be intrinsic. Diplomacy is never without strategic, economic and military purpose.

War by Jihadi Machinery

It is intriguing that this development comes in the wake of two humiliating blows to Pakistan, Surgical Strike in 2016 and Balakot Strike in 2019. If the Surgical Strike heralded a new paradigm in operations across the LoC,in terms of depth and frontage, with the Balakot Strike India introduced use of strategic air power against Jihadis, proxies of Pakistan military. It may be mentioned that it was Pakistan which introduced the maritime medium in Jihadi proxy war by of 26/11. It was a war on India, but the Indian establishment downplayed it. It was actually another war by instrumentality of  the terrorism machine. The same machine that caused 9\11 and engendered Operation Enduring Freedom.

A Constituanally Subverted India

Pakistan had probably war gamed the reaction, both in terms of physical response and diplomatic response. Diplomatically, India was neither on the offensive nor the defensive, at best it was perfunctory. Probably, because Pak sponsored jihadi terror was being manipulated as political dividend by the then dispensation. Just as the Pakistan military castsa deep shadow over the country’s diplomacy, India during that period suffered from its democratic version. The constitution was subverted, not in law, but in spirit, by adopting a dysfunctional  governance model of a constitutional prime minister but not primeminister in reality. Under such governance models diplomacy suffers and so does military purpose and resolve. Diplomatic and military resoluteness are conjoined twins, or one is predicated on the other. Hence, Pak sponsored jihadi proxy war did not just get a fresh lease of life but a huge impetus. Consequently, Pakistan suffered from such diplomatic and military disdain for India that it staged another attack in Pathankot airbase (2016)  and then in Pulwama (2019).

The Cycle of Jihadi Attacks and Diplomacy

Actually, India had sunk into the narrow cyclical groove of Pak sponsored jihadi terror and diplomacy cycle i.e. jihadi terror attack by Pakistan followed by some frenzied international diplomacy, followed by brief bilateral diplomatic hiatus , then resumption of bilateral relations and then another jihadi attack….. Actually our diplomatic response was too predictable which engendered spread of jihadi proxy war from Kashmir to the rest of the country. The cycle had to be stopped before entire India was consumed.

The Welcome Unpredictability

The present dispensation then decided to be unpredictable so that it could siege the initiative to calibrate the counter proxy war against Pakistan. In that, it delivered two blows, i.e. Surgical Strike followed by Balakot strike. Indian diplomacy quickly readjusted to the new military response culture and posturing. Wing Commander Abhinandan’s release from the clutches of Jihadi Pakistan was a stupendous diplomatic achievement, given the beastly proclivities of the people of Jihadi Pakistan in treatment of POWs. India could retrieve Abhinandan not without some flexing of military muscle which included ready-to-strike missile deployments. Concomitantly, Indian diplomacy also assumed tough and uncompromising posture.

Arms Imports a Diplomatic Constraint

The adage that diplomacy and military capability are two sides of the coin was manifestly seen in aftermath of Balakot strike. Nevertheless, an element of caution needs to be pondered, that the degree of dependence on arms imports to a great extent decides diplomatic parameters. So indigenization of military arsenal is not just an economic imperative. A compromise therefore has to be struck between imperatives of diplomacy and imperatives of war machine. Imported weapons come with political constraints, and may not be available in the worst of times. No country knows this better than Pakistan.

Tibet and our Diplomatic Timidity

The Pakistan frontier was created by the British, but the Tibetan frontier was created by Independent India. Months before, when China invaded Tibet in Sep 1950, in our diplomatic timidity we had begun to treat Indo–Tibet border as Indo–China border. We also, along with USSR and Burma, were the first to accord recognition to Communist China. This diplomatic hurry and timidity continues to cost us dearly,the latest being the clashes and prevailing war like situation between India and China in Eastern Ladakh, with Pakistan being the complementing factor. This author is of the opinion that Communist China, during those fledgling months was militarily unstable;hence, diplomatic offensive from India would have paid disportionate dividends. The onus was on India because the western world was licking its wounds in aftermath of World War-2. In his book, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Dr Li Zhisui, personal physician of Mao, writes that Mao had downright contempt for those who supplicated to him and he held India and Nehru in contempt for their submissive and docile attitude.

This was an example of fleeting opportunities, wherein diplomacy is not necessarily predicated on military strength.

Diplomacy as Weapon of Strategy and Security

No country can ever have the desired level of military strength especially a country like India, which has 14,000 km of land borders and 7,500 km coastline. Half of the land boundary is shared with Tibet and Pakistan. Both these frontiers are hostile. Hostility and animosity was injected in Tibet once Communist China took over Buddhist Tibet. We were greatly responsible for suppression of Buddhism by Communism in Tibet. Had we stood for Tibet in the international and diplomatic arena, it could have bolstered our military posturing.

The Chinese have correctly assessed India’s strategic journey. A 2013 Chinese official document analyzed by the US based China Aerospace Studies describes four stages of India’s strategic thought evolution, i.e.

Limited Offensive Strategy (1947-60). The main focus in this stage was economy. Limited offensive capability was acquired to cater for Pak threat. Importantly, this was the consolidation phase of post-Independent India. Assertion of control of Tibet frontier was tentative.

Expansion on Two Fronts (1960-70). This was engendered by the 1962 war. India embarked on defence modernization to address both the fronts.

Maintenance of Land and Control of Sea (1970-80). Focus shifted from land to control of seas, particularly the northern part of the Indian Ocean.

Regional Offense to Regional Deterrence (1990s). Characterized by India’s effort to build influence in the entire region, i.e. from Himalayas to the Indian Ocean – from Myanmar in the East to Iran in the West. Also characterized by defence deterrence against China and punitive deterrence against other neighbours.

China Continues to Test India

In each of these stages, China has challenged and tested India. It is for this reason that India-China strategic competition has moved from the land frontiers to the Indian Ocean. It is for neutralizing India’s influence that Pakistan seeks entry of China into SAARC. It is for this reason that the US restructured its commands and created the Indo-Pacific Command. It is for this reason that China made aggressive maneuvers in Eastern Ladakh, but was shocked at the India’s diplomatic and military response.

In his book , “Tibet: The Lost Frontier”, Claude Arpi says: “Nehru probably did not know what the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had told Charles Bell about the Chinese in early twenties…. The Chinese way is to do something rather mild at first, then to wait a bit and if it passes without objection, to say or do something stronger. But if we take objection to the first statement or action, they urge that it has been a misunderstanding, and cease, for a time at any rate, from troubling us further.”

The Chinese dispensation realized that India is no longer saddled with the mindset that it confronted in 1962. Diplomatically, strategically and militarily, India demonstrated its strength and checkmated every Chinese maneuver. India sent a clear message that it was more than willing to go into war for the sake of its territorial integrity.

Tibet: Massive Diplomatic Blow by Trump

Diplomatically, India, managed to circumscribe Pakistan on the international stage. The last diplomatic blow was delivered by outgoing Trump, when he signed the Tibet Policy and Support Act. The bill had overwhelming bipartisan support in the US Congress. Besides other provisions, the Bill clearly states that the Dalai Lama and not the Chinese government will be deemed to have the authority to choose the successor. The Act also seeks establishment of US Consulate in Lhasa, pending which no new Chinese Consulate will be allowed in the US.

The present Indian regime has ushered a revolutionary change in practice of diplomacy. Earlier it were the diplomats, who led border negotiations with China. This time all negotiations have been led by the Commander XIV Corps. Also the increased emphasis of infrastructure development on the Indo-Tibet frontier has provided massive impetus to the troop and logistics buildup capability of India, which reflects in the exercise of diplomacy. India is maintaining nearly 50,000 troops in the Ladakh region, but has imposed higher cost on China in terms of logistics and troops buildup.

Xi Jinping: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

It is for these reasons that Xi Jinping adopted a very mild, reconciliatory and statement like posture during World Economic Forum at Davos. His posturing in fact confounded the world. He stressed on the importance of adherence to international laws, and decried the tendency of stronger nations to bully the weaker ones. He chastised the international community that no country should harbor ill against another country. This image makeover was before the disengagement process in Pangong Tso. He surely realized that any further clashes with India may result in further loss of face.

Clearly, there was all round pressure on the Chinese dispensation. Following the Pangong Tso disengagement, Wang Yi, the foreign minister of China contacted his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar and pleaded for resumption of normal relations. Jaishankar unequivocally spurned the offer, saying that it was not possible before the resolution of military standoff in Hot Spring and Gogra area. He further said that border dispute and normalization of relations cannot run a parallel course. To Wang’s charge that India was going on reverse, Jaishankar said that border disputes do take time to be resolved, but violence increases the period further.

Biden Upgrades Strategic Ties with India

Another reason for the changed in the diplomatic posturing of China is the new Biden administration in the US, which has clearly enunciated that the US-China strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific region will continue and India will have the most important role in curtailing Chinese influence. It was to drive a wedge between India – US strategic partnership that China resorted to aggressive maneuvers in Eastern Ladakh. Later on, it calculated that India will be too willing to sue for peace and seek normalization after disengagement in Pangong Tso. However, this time Xi Jinping has found his match in Modi. India will disengage and normalize relations with China on its own terms.

Military Diplomacy Forays by India

What may have gone unnoticed is the paradigm shift in India’s diplomatic and strategic culture. Increasingly, the Indian military is being factored into the overall practice of diplomacy. At the apex level, it began with the formulization of 2+2 dialogue with the US, wherein the main interlocutors from the Indian side are the foreign minister and the defence minister. The same mechanism has devolved in the hierarchy below. Recently, the Indian Army Chief General MM Naravne visited Myanmar with the foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. India’s interface with Myanmar is not only  economic, but has a huge security and strategic component as well. The economic component is worth $1.7 billion, and the strategic component includes $400 million Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project connecting Kolkatta port to Sittwe port, and $250 million India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway to be later extended to Vietnam.  India is also in the process of supply of a submarine to Myanmar.Gen Naravane visited Nepal in November last year to reset ties which came under strain after India inaugurated a 80 km strategic road connecting Lipulekh with Dharchula in Uttarakhand. He also on a six day visit to UAE, Saudi Arabia in Dec 2020, first ever visit by an army chief — visit came after normalisition of Israel–Arab relations and amidst rapidly growing military and strategic partnership between India and the Arab world.

Pakistan: Hit and Circumscribed

The joint statement by the DGMOs of India and Pakistan have been a result of intense three month backroom diplomacy between the Indian NSA Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Moeed Yusuf. How long will it last cannot be conjectured, but the joint statement is surely a setback, even if temporary, to the Pakistan jihadi proxy war apparatus in India.The more important question is the compulsions behind the hotline talks between the two DGMOs and the joint statement. It is probably because of series of shocks, i.e. Surgical Strikes, Balakot Strike, abrogation of Article-370, loss of face in the OIC, failure to create alternate OIC in Malaysia, the Saudi rebuff, and the failure of China’s Ladakh misadventure. Thus internal politics, diplomacy and military posturing have been in perfect harmony under the current  Indian dispensation.

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Conclusion

What has majorly contributed to India’s pro-active diplomacy is Modi’s unpredictability. In 2015, all of a sudden, on his way back from Afghanistan he landed in Pakistan to attend the marriage of Nawaz Shariff’s daughter. He went with a message of peace, but did not hesitate to strike Balakot when the message of peace was spurned. He followed the message of Ram Charit Manas that without fear there is no Love in diplomacy and statecraft.

During the Indo-Pak 1971 War,  when the Cold War was at its peak. Mrs Gandhi maneuvered India’s interest with extreme diplomatic finesse and dexterity in the bipolar world. During the US-Soviet Cold War period, Pakistan for the US was an indispensable frontline state. Once the Cold War was over, Pakistan, owing to the altered  geostrategic realities became dispensable. The new Cold War is between US and China. In this US-China Cold War, India is the indispensable frontline state. Full credit to the Indian leadership and the diplomatic community for having readjusted to this new reality.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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