The Line of Control (LC) that marks the de-facto Indo-Pak border in the disputed state of J&K is witnessing the familiar sequence of infiltration, reverberating gunfire and mindless violence which is ratcheting up temperatures on both sides of the Radcliff Line. At the same time, China seems intent to push India on the back foot by making repeated incursions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) while concurrently re-invoking claims on Arunanchal Pradeshto divide Indian reactions. Holistically speaking, these acts of belligerence and vitriolicneed to be interpreted as part of a larger Sino-Pak game plan: clues of which can be inferred from the timing and location – the timing linked to the drawdown of US coalition forces from Afghanistan in 2014, and the locale selected along disputed frontiers of the three countries which juxtapose and overlap, generating the ideal conditions for raising the desired friction thresholds along the un-delineated lines of control and the like.
Raising the Kashmir / Ladakh bogey need to be seen by India as diversionary moves of a well synergised Sino-Pak game planned for larger strategic gains, beneficial for both under the prevailing environment.
The importance of Afghanistan in this geo-strategic setting by virtue of its geographic location needs to be highlighted. Though landlocked and inaccessible from India due to Pakistan’s illegal occupation of POK, Afghanistan opens up to the energy resources (oil, gas and hydro-power)of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Afghanistan herself has extensive mineral wealth, estimated between one to three trillion dollars’ worth. In a matter of speaking, it also opens up the northern oilfields of Iran in which China is investing heavily. Kashmir’s location, especially of Gilgit-Baltistan is pivotal in realising the Chinese dream while it panders to the (only) emotional bonding to keep the fissiparous state of Pakistan from hurtling over the precipice – the timing and the locale for the activation of frontiers by both of India’s protagonists therefore should come as no surprise to the mandarins in New Delhi.
Raising the Kashmir/Ladakh bogey need to be seen by India as diversionary moves of a well synergised Sino-Pak game planned for larger strategic gains, beneficial for both under the prevailing environment. For China, this would stamp her primacy over Asia, nipping the Indian challenge in the bud, while on the military plane, activation of the land frontiers would detracts India from enhancing her maritime, aero-space and strategic forces, which in the ultimate analysis are the real challenges for China to overcome to realise her dream to emerge as a ‘Great Power’ in Asia. It needs to be highlighted that despite her grandiose plans of developing pipelines and land routes, China would continue to be heavily dependent on the sea for trade and this is where her real vulnerability vis-a-vis India lies. India with her geographic location dominating the Indian Ocean would be well advised to concentrate on creating credible maritime and aerospace forces, as these would be invaluable to counter China’s attempts to dominate Asia, especially the sea lanes and the air-space.
On the other hand, by creating a Strike Corp(s), for application in the mountainous eastern theatre is neither a credible threat nor an cost effective counter as not only is the physical reach of such a force limited; more importantly, its application would be impacted by the deployment time differential in a ‘reactive’ frontier war. By comparison, aero-power is both flexible in deployment and speedier in employment and could cause sufficient damage to deter the adversary within her own territory, making it easier for Indian defensive forces to blunt enemy attacks, thereby gaining both moral and strategic ascendency. At the same time, a multi-faceted and potent Indian maritime force would be the ultimate arbitrator in the competition for the domination of the Indian Ocean.
By playing the game as per the rules made by Beijing and enacted by Rawalpindi (not Islamabad), New Delhi need not be myopic or short sighted.
At the same time, Pakistani actions taken against India at this delicate moment of history, not only reaffirms her strategic focus on ‘Saffron’ India, but by concentrating on Kashmir, it also mitigates the fundamentalist challenge from within while providing Rawalpindi the space and time to tighten her grip on Afghanistan’s politico-strategic destiny. By so doing, Pakistan would emerge as an invaluable ally by facilitating China’s strategic inroads into what has been described the ‘rich but weak’ underbelly of Eurasia- the ultimate strategic chess board for global power-play(s). In the process, both China and Pakistan gain exponentially – China gains recognition as the pre-dominant power in Asia which she coverts, while Pakistan not only attains the elusive depth against India; a strategic advantage she has always aspired for, but she also re-establishes her leadership in the Islamic world.
On the other hand, if India falters/fails to take a firm stance to safeguard Kashmir’s frontiers, New Delhi not only loses global credibility but also imbalances the political stability, since Kashmir is a sensitive subject for every Indian. At the same time, leaving Afghanistan to its fate (as it appears that the Americans may be doing) will cost India dearly in long term strategic terms as it forecloses an option to make inroads into the Central Asian region. While it may appear that the Americans, preoccupied with the problems at home have decided on the game plan, the decisive dice is yet to be played. It would be in the interests of both the USA to evolve a common and over-lapping Afghan strategy as the strategic consequences of deep Chinese inroads into the region would far reaching with reverberations of this move would resonate beyond the region.
By playing the game as per the rules made by Beijing and enacted by Rawalpindi (not Islamabad), New Delhi need not be myopic or short sighted. The end game for all three nations remains Afghanistan and while the direct route available to China via Pakistan is denied to India, there are alternative routes leading to Kabul other than through the Khyber Pass: these must be explored with vigour and a renewed sense of urgency. Post 2014 Afghanistan remaining as a functional geo-political entity is in Indian’s strategic interests and this aim is beyond compromise. In view of this fundamental geo-strategic reality, India must seek out de-novo ways and ensure the requisite means to empower the Afghan Security Forces (ASF), as well as her governing machinery to meet the challenges that are likely to manifest in the near future. The way the game pans out in and around Afghanistan, is not only crucial but critical for India’s strategic future – India cannot afford a ‘reactive’ counter strategy, even when the nation is on the election mode.
While India needs to brace herself for a volatile future, she needs to capitalise on the intelligence coup in the form of the arrest of the Pakistani terrorist ‘Abdul KarimTunda.’
India herself needs to shed its image of being a ‘soft target’ and nothing gives credence to this global perception than the televised spectacle of uncaring politicians mouthing meaningless platitudes and displaying callous indifference on the loss of life of soldiers in the service of the nation. It is this (despicable) public display from the political class that encourages both Pakistan and China to disdainfully violate out Indian Territory, physically as well as psychologically. In fact, taking a cue from the indifference of the Indian political establishment, even smaller neighbours have often crooked their nose to New Delhi’s utter chagrin. India may be projected to have the potential to emerge as a balancing regional power, but this is not reflected by her pacifist political behaviour – the recent debate on the Indian Prime Minister meeting his counterpart from Pakistan when bullets are flying fast and thick from across the LC is only a recent example.
While foiling infiltration attempts on the LC and preventing the situation from flaring up internally especially in the state must be the immediate aim, the actual solution lies in raising the cost for Pakistan, both along the LC but more importantly in POK, which in UN terms remains ‘disputed’ territory. If Pakistan can up the ante, so should India, it only requires the will and strategic vision. It needs no reiteration that Pakistan as a functional entity is deeply fractured and this reality is not only reflected by the unprecedented scale of violence, but also in the manner the provinces are politically aligned. India also needs to take a pragmatic view of the oft aired (western) view that that having a ‘united’ Pakistan contributes to the stability of the region: for India which has been the target of her venom over six decades, this does not hold true, especially in the prevailing circumstances. A nudge in the right direction from either Afghanistan or India or both, would be just retribution in view of the decades of Pakistani virulent activities in the affairs and territory of both her neighbours.
It is time that India sheds her reticence and considers the option(s) for meting out retribution in the same coin that Pakistan has brought on herself by her misguided policy of hunting with the hounds while running with the hares. At the same time, India needs to ensure that the ASF is sufficiently empowered; especially with the heavy weapons that are not being left behind by the US led Coalition Forces, especially in terms of guns, tanks, combat aircraft and helicopters.
Actions taken against Pakistan will send the right signals to Beijing, Rawalpindi and the world at large…
While India needs to brace herself for a volatile future, she needs to capitalise on the intelligence coup in the form of the arrest of the Pakistani terrorist ‘Abdul KarimTunda.’ India needs to publically try him along with other known terrorists like Hafiz Sayeed, MaulanaAzar Mahmood and the nefarious gang-lord Dawood Ibrahim, even if these trialsare held ‘in absentia.’ Though considered a violation of the principle of natural justice, there are innumerable instances of meting out such judicial justice. The case of Jordan sentencing the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zawqawi of the al-Tawidwal-Jihad who was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court and who was subsequently killed in Iraq is only one of many such cases. Concurrently, India needs to build up a convincing and transparent media case justifying her right for carrying out the sentence, irrespective where these terrorists/criminals are ensconced and whosoever is shielding them. It is only by taking such actions and display ingresolute national will, can the impending geo-political storm be weathered by India: remaining reactive is the sure recipe of submission. In view of the foregoing, the following measures are recommended for enhancing India’s overall security and mitigating the looming Sino-Pak threats.
- Raise the scale and scope of Indian retaliation on the LC.
- Demonstrate ‘intrusive’ deterrent capability.
- Kick start a world-wide media blitz unmasking Pakistan’s terror machinery.
- Unmask the potential of Pakistan terror activities against USA, Russia and even China.
- Surgically target ‘high profile’ terrorists/criminals after a fair but well publicised judicial trial.
- Empower the ASF to give the Afghan nation a realistic chance of preserving their integrity as a coherent nation-state.
- Demonstrate the potency of India’s aero-space and strategic deterrence.
- Execute high power maritime manoeuvers in the Arabian Sea-Anti Piracy operations could be used as a convenient cover.
- Enhance India’s strategic and defence cooperation with her neighbours, especially with Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka focusing on enhancing military to military linkages and undertaking of joint manoeuvres.
- Re-invest in India’s traditional strategic partnership with Russia.
- Engage in high visibility strategic linkages with USA, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia.
- Enhance strategic relations with Iran’s new political leadership.
Even in the dying moments of the UPA led Indian government, the nation can be sufficiently galvanised by the firm actions taken by it in the face of the growing and visible belligerence shown by both Pakistan and China. Actions taken against Pakistan will send the right signals to Beijing, Rawalpindi and the world at large that in the words of the BJP Prime Minister hopeful, Mr Narendra Modi that ‘India can’ and ‘India shall’ protect her strategic interests. Perhaps by taking such a stance, even at this belated stage, the sinking political ship of the UPA may still stabilise.