China has cast its covetous designs on India’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands evidenced by recent Chinese statements both in New Delhi and in China. Imperatives exist of fast-track securing of these strategic Islands.
Media reports indicate that on April 19 2016 the Officiating Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi on conclusion of a presentation for Indian strategic and policy analysts on South China Sea at the Chinese Embassy made two significant remarks. Firstly, he asserted that if India were to support China on the South China Sea issue, then China may consider accommodating India on the McMahon Line issue. Secondly, and more significantly, the Officiating Chinese Ambassador remarked that “Someone in future may dispute the ownership of Andaman & Nicobar Islands”.
In no mean coincidence, the same media report states that in May 2016 during a visit to China by some Indian think-tanks delegation, a similar assertion was made by the Chinese host that “In future, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands could be disputed by someone”.
The above leads to the question as to who is this “someone” that China is referring to on two different occasions within the space of one month. Is China playing mind-games or should India take these assertions more seriously. Going by historical examples of past Chinese patterns of coveting Indian Territory in the pre-1962 period, India should not be dismissive of the present Chinese assertions. Also, it needs to be recorded that in the past some Chinese maps had shown these Islands as Chinese possessions, as per some media reports. Reports also exist of Chinese submarines and naval ships prowling around these Islands just outside the territorial limits.
In 2016, India’s sovereignty over the Andaman & Nicobar Islands poses strong challenges to China’s plans of affecting a strong Indian Ocean presence. India by virtue of these Islands sits squarely covering the routes of ingress and egress from the Straits of Milaca, through which China’s vital lifeline sea routes traverse. As reflected in my various strategic papers, India sits in a commanding position at the junction of the South China Sea with the Indian Ocean.
Further reflected in my recent book “China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives” India as a result of the above strategic advantages enjoys a potent leverage against China in relation to the Himalayan border disputes with China.
Imperatives therefore exist that India secures the Andaman &Nicobar Islands in iron-clad armour to pre-empt any Chinese covetous designs. While the main islands are secure it is the small scattered islands especially in the South that India needs to pay more attention to.
India has in recent years, and more so in the last two years has gone-in for sizeable enhancements of the defence of these Islands, looked after by India’s only Tri-Service Command, the Andaman & Nicobar Command.
But India’s present military posture in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands isms to be only minimally defensive and is ‘Not Strongly Deterrent’ against those coveting these Indian Islands so strategically placed and imparting India with the capability of dominating the Malacca Straits.
To improve India’s deterrent capabilities in an environment so dominated by maritime expanses, India needs to set-up a dedicated Andaman & Nicobar Islands Naval Fleet for full-spectrum maritime surveillance, domination and deterrence. The Indian Navy would know best how to operationalise these critical requirements including sizeable Coast Guard assets for intra-islands surveillance and security.
Indian Air Force is reported to have stationed only one fighter squadron, which is not adequate. At least three dedicated fighter squadrons are required along with heavy attack helicopters.
The Indian Army is reported to have just about a brigade to cover these vast island possessions. Besides an infantry brigade group, the Army must also station an amphibious warfare brigade and a Special Forces Battalion. This is a nucleus strength on which enhanced levels of forces can be built upon in an emergency.
India should consider deployment of the Border Security Force for picqueting of the more important Southern Islands under command of the Tri-Service Command.
The military infrastructure needs sizeable investments to sustain the enhanced levels of force deployments. Infrastructure development in terms of jetties, airfields and air-strips, for speedy implementation should be entrusted to Army Engineer Groups and to Border Roads Organisation.
For consideration is also the requirement of resettlements of all major islands with Army Veterans and they should be given attractive benefits and subsidies to resettle themselves.
Coming back to China’s covetous designs, what needs to be discounted is an overt military operation by China as there will be enough early warning indicators as give away. But surreptiously and creeping occupation of out-flung islands should not be ruled out, It is also unlikely that China would be able to gain spring-boards for its military operations making use of some South East Asian countries.
The contingency that is being visualised is that in coordination with a Chinese sizeable military offensive on the Himalayan borders, China also launches an airborne or seaborne invasion of Indian island territories. Once China gets a foothold on any of the Islands of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands Group, India would have a Herculean task to throw out the Chinese occupation.
While on this subject, it needs to be pointed out that India would need the cooperation of nations like Myanmar, Indonesia and Singapore for security and logistics sustenance of these Islands and our diplomacy should take this into account.
In conclusion, what needs to be stressed ad nauseum is that India cannot afford a repeat of Aksai Chin in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Distance should not be grounds for complacency or slow implementation. At the very least, in terms of Prime Minister Modi’s stress on development, let there be an overdrive for upgradation of infrastructure in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, serving the dual needs of civilians and more importantly the military requirements to secure India’s prized strategic possessions imparting India with sizeable strategic leverages.