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Pivoting against China?

By Bharat Karnad

The Indian government and its agencies, including the armed services, have been so infected by myopia and the supposed Pakistan threat that, as I have argued for some 40 years now, no one in an official post in Delhi has even a semblance of military, leave alone strategic, common sense about him.

Thousands of crores of rupees are wasted every year in modernizing and maintaining an antique order-of-battle replete with 2nd World War genus of armaments ranging from tanks to combat aircraft that are short-legged to boot and useless for sustained war fighting outside of an operating radius beyond Pakistan. And yet no effort has ever been mounted to adjust to reality of China  the menace it poses growing literally by the day even as India’s actual fighting capability to take on the PLA diminishes.

This is because the bureaucratic interests of the various combat arms super cedes the national interest, and the armoured / mech Generals in the Indian Army simply won’t allow a more rational redistribution of resources from the three strike Corps for the plains/desert to raise a total of three new offensive mountain corps (or six new mountain Divisions), even though this is the only way the country can obtain a sizable force capable of fighting on the high-altitude desert of the Tibetan plateau, and prevent the PLA from its one-point plan of rolling downhill and around built-up areas to as far into Indian territory as their integral logistics can carry them.

The critical thing here is the redeployment of resources  the offensive mountain corps cannot be an additionally to the present orbat, (orbat of battle) which is what turf-extending, empire-building, generals would like to see happen, but replacement for the three strike corps reconfigured into a single composite armoured / mechanized corps with a number of independent armoured brigades as the switchable element will be more than adequate for any Pakistani contingency, assuming there’ll ever be another running war on the western front.

That provocations such as the 2001 attack on Parliament and the 2008 Mumbai strike went unanswered suggests that once nuclear weapons swing into view the option for a measured and deliberate response goes out the window. [On each of these two occasions, the Indian Air Force had the wherewithal for sharp, instantaneous, surgical retaliation in the punitive would  which would have been the correct response but professed its inability to launch one.  It encouraged GHQ Rawalpindi to believe, it can get away with such pinpricks. Has this situation changed in the era of “surgical strikes”?

Not really. It is one thing to react to some terrorist action with a Special Forces op 1-2 kms inside PoK. Quite another thing for a large formation to venture across to register a telling level of destruction and damage. So instant aerial retaliation is still the only counter and one to be prosecuted with urgency and dispatch literally moments after a major terrorist provocation accompanied by Delhi announcing to the world the fact of the underway/ongoing air strikes and the incident/event that triggered it to make clear India’s punitive intent.

But for this there has to be ready continually updated strike plans and target coordinates and a designated unit practising such attack sorties and ready to scramble and be airborne within moments of the incidence of the terrorist act. There’s no such preparation afoot, as far as I’m aware.

This means that there’s no automatically of response, and the wheels start churning only after the terrorists have had their say, and by the time the retaliation sortie is ready enough time will have elapsed for the usual sections in Government to have second thoughts, and for Washington to insert itself to save Pakistan by advising India to be the “responsible state” that it is!!]

This is generally what my classified report to the 10th Finance Commission, India, recommended, and which along with other recommendations were accepted in toto by the PV Narasimha Rao’s Congress Party government in 1995. When General VK Singh was COAS he had called the GOCs of Indian Mountain Divisions deployed on the LAC for a symposium in Nainital where again I made the above case in extenso  something I have been doing over the last 30 years at every army-military forum that has afforded me the opportunity.

Finally, the Army under General Bipin Rawat has decided to concentrate on the China front by investing in the building of the logistics infrastructure along the LAC complete with shunts, etc. to enable massive mobilization of the necessary forces quickly on any point along the front. This has been long overdue. Can he possibly get the cavalry generals to agree to pruning their beloved fleets of tanks and APCs during his remaining years in office?

That will be absolutely great. It would be a truly stupendous achievement if he were to get the Modi government to stamp his 13th Capital Acquisition Plan as the sole and unalterable template for the short and medium-term future at a minimum. The prompt for this re-focussing is reportedly the Doklam crisis, which proved a few of us who have long maintained that China is the proverbial paper dragon right, even as the MEA (Ministry of external affairs) has long been convinced the Indian army is a paper tiger.

But this would only be a partial solution. The real farsighted action would be for Rawat to begin reordering the force structure in line with the focus on the China threat; free up the requisite resources by demobilizing 2 strike corps and reassigning the resources to raising two additional mountain corps.

That’s the sort of realignment that should have been done soon after the 1971 War when what miniscule threat there was from Pakistan had evaporated. But better late than never. It is unlikely though the Modi regime will be happy with such orientation away from Pakistan which, for domestic electoral reasons, is a politically expedient foe because it segues in nicely with the Hinduist agenda of the Indian Muslim as the other and internal security suspect of choice.

The fly in the ointment may be the new Foreign Secretary-designate, the Mandarin-speaking Vijay K Gokhale  another of the China Study Group-wallahs, always ready to back down ere China sneezes. Hopefully, his new more assertive avatar will take over as FS come end-January.



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