Coordinating an Effective Response
India’s patronising attitude towards its neighbours is being exploited by China. It is a moot point to figure out why Nepal and Myanmar which have common boundaries with India and China feel more comfortable with dealing with China than with India. Why do all of India’s neighbours prefer to purchase arms, munitions and equipment from China and not India? In fact, we make such a ceremonial fuss even over handing over a few artillery pieces or bulldozers that it does not go down too well with our few foreign customers.
There is an ill-advised reluctance on the part of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to place the ITBP under the Army.
Robert Kaplan in his book “The Revenge of Geography” suggests that, “India’s rivalry with China is not like the one with Pakistan: it is more abstract, less emotional, and (far more significantly) less volatile. It is a rivalry with no history behind it.” Therefore, at the highest levels we need to assess more accurately what China’s National Interests are and how and why it regards India as an impediment in its development process. Just as China expects other nations to respect its core interests and sensitivities, so should India make clear its concerns whether it pertains to refuge accorded to the Tibetan Government in exile, or India’s relations with US and Japan. India should convey its position emphatically on issues regarding its sensitivity to China’s military and naval presence in the countries around India, China’s relations with Pakistan pivoting on collusive military support aimed to constrain India or India’s concern with regard to the easy availability of “Made in China” weapons and munitions to insurgents in the North-East and at the same time, India should assertively pursue its own National Interests.
As a country we should not succumb to curtailing or modifying our own pursuit of peaceful agendas towards fulfilling the aspirations of the people of India to suit some other country. That would be a classic play out of the Machiavellian hypothesis related to being a neighbour of a powerful country.
War is a national effort with all elements of national power synergized to protect National Interests. Therefore, as a rudimentary measure at the cutting edge, it would translate to ensuring that all forces deployed against a particular country are operating under a single agency so as to synchronise and synergise the collective effort. Ironically, this is not the established norm on ground. While Border Security Forces (BSF) troops deployed along the Line of Control (LC) opposite Pakistan are under the operational control of the Army, it is not so with regard to forces deployed along the LAC. The Army and Indo Tibet Border Police (ITBP) deployed along the LAC operate independent of each other. Except for six joint patrols conducted in Eastern Ladakh under directions of the China Study Group (CSG) in the early 1990s. Consequently, there is gross duplication of effort by the Army and ITBP. In addition, the ITBP unilaterally continues to raise and induct more forces along the LAC. As a result, this time, the Chinese have raised the issue of India’s heightened activities along the LAC.
Our intelligence inputs regarding deployment along the LAC is inadequate to say the least.
Apparently, there is an ill-advised reluctance on the part of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to place the ITBP under the Army. At a macro level, it also indicates a tacit acknowledgment by the Government that the LAC only requires peacetime policing security deployment and is not a “live” border. Since 1986, the Army has been raising the matter for “single point control” of all forces deployed along the LAC for all operations related activities, but the plea is dismissed summarily by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the MHA. It would be in National Interest to know the command and control arrangement with regard to the Army and ITBP that is in place in Eastern Ladakh to deal with the current situation. The nature of the coordinated response to the situation presented by the PLA in this recent incursion would also be a matter of interest. The malady does not end there; even the equipment, particularly the radio communication equipment with the two agencies, is not compatible. There should be a central government policy to ensure that equipment purchased by ITBP, BSF and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is mandatorily cleared by the Army for technical and logistics compatibility. National security must be viewed holistically and not parochially to protect or suit certain group interests.
China’s military is only one element of that country’s comprehensive national power. There is an emerging need to have a “China Watch” Cell supported by government agencies to create a comprehensive data-bank on all military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic and boundary aspects related to China. Periodic net-assessment of China’s comprehensive capability should be presented to the country’s highest decision-making body. A major weakness with India lies in the lack of knowledge in communication skills in Chinese language. At most of the Flag and Border Personnel Meetings, the Army has to rely on the Chinese Interpreters. While of late, the Army has streamlined the process to overcome this deficiency, it will take a while to be fully effective. The intelligence gathering apparatus needs to realign its centricity to focus on China with all resources namely, electronics, satellites, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and HUMINT. Our intelligence inputs regarding deployment along the LAC is inadequate to say the least.
India’s future role in the region is seen by Kaplan as one of being a “regional power due to the reality of its geography that has entrapped it. It can be a potential great power to the degree that it can move beyond it.”
There is also a need to know the identity of Chinese troops who have camped here in general area DBO on our side of the LAC. Whether they are from the local Border Defence unit or from a regular PLA formation, their identity is necessary to formulate further action. Intelligence as to whether this unit moved here for its annual operational area familiarisation or has been inducted for a specific purpose would be essential too. Equally important, intelligence on any complementary build up in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to support the incursion if matters flare up, will make the situation clearer. Any build-up of PLA Air Force to the airfields in TAR becomes essential to assess the larger picture. Answers to these questions will dictate our stance and further action. The weakness lies herein – the inability to get worthwhile intelligence inputs for taking major strategic decisions when it comes to China.
Over the last two decades, infrastructure development along the border belts has been comprehensively addressed by the Chinese. During a visit of then Chief of General Staff General Fu Quan U in April 1998, he was queried on the increased construction activity in the border region by the PLA to which he replied that the PLA was building three lines namely – road, telephone and electric lines. Those long-term measures are bearing fruit now and are evident from the easy access afforded to the PLA to all the areas claimed by them, particularly in the Western and Middle Sectors. As infrastructure developed, China evolved its strategy of “Trading Space for Time” to the current one wherein pro-active and pre-emptive military operations (to include cyber war and non-contact conventional missile attrition) are built in. China thus visualizes fighting a future war beyond its borders taking it into the adversary’s territory. On the contrary, our political security strategy of restraint will leave us fighting to recover our lost territories. This will also imply that a war, when it comes, may have an unfavourable end for us and at the end of it, will leave us weak at the negotiating table.
India’s future role in the region is seen by Kaplan as one of being a “regional power due to the reality of its geography that has entrapped it. It can be a potential great power to the degree that it can move beyond it.” A “great power” status is not symbolic. It is the result of the synergized deployment of all elements of national power. Internal quibbling for petty local political gains and internecine rivalries will effectively quash all gains made by the dint and dynamism of the vast majority of the people of this country. There is clearly a need to seriously introspect on the path being tread.