Indian Army 2010
Despite being over-stretched and operating round the clock, the Indian Army remains on the fringes of the nation’s national security policy-making
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
The government has sanctioned raisings of four mountain divisions (nearly 60,000 troops) for the Indian Army against China on the 4,056km disputed Line of Actual Control. To be accomplished in two phases, two divisions, 71 and 56 mountain divisions are to be raised by end-2010; the remaining will be done within the 11th defence plan (2007-2012). These raisings will be accretions, the first since 1983. Just as this ends the two-decade long debate about the army to reduce or retain its numbers, the credit for this increase goes to the army chief, General Deepak Kapoor. Within months of taking over the command, he initiated the case for accretion, which got the nod by end-2008, around the time 26/11 attacks happened. The irony of the timings was not lost on the army’s leadership; just when the government had, without saying so, decisively ruled out war with Pakistan, the army was adding to its numbers. For the army, the accretion of forces marks a cataclysmic re-orientation in its thinking: it is preparing to fight a two-and-half front war, with Pakistan and China. The half-war refers to combating terrorism.

The army has focussed on the Chinese front after two decades hiatus. Since the humiliating defeat in the 1962 war, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi remains the only head of government who understood that for any meaningful interaction with China or Pakistan, credible military muscle should back diplomacy. Talks from a position of relative military weakness can only be a series of tactical gains at best; at worst, they lead to hardening of positions. For this reason, she, in 1980 cleared Operation Falcon plan presented by the then army chief, General K.V. Krishna Rao. The plan envisaged a 15 years step-by-step approach on the Chinese front in which forward build-up would keep pace with infrastructure development along with viable lines of communication. The military build-up plan was temporarily stalled when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988, and it was finally abandoned by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao; the unsaid directive was that China would be engaged by diplomacy alone. Twenty years later, ground realities have forced the Manmohan Singh government to give a Narasimha Rao-like nod to the military; another unsaid directive that diplomacy alone may not be sufficient for calm on the LAC.

The army is now to thwart the military threat from China. The new raisings are meant to match Chinese Rapid Reaction Forces, better known as ‘Resolving Emergency Mobile Combat Forces’ (REMCF). The intelligence assessment is that China today can deploy three to four divisions (12,000 troops in each division) of REMCF within 24 to 48 hours, which the Indian Army calls the small level threat. This implies that the PLA, with two-division worth of REMCF each, can launch a limited offensive at two places, in Sikkim, Arunachal or Ladakh, to deny launch-pads to the Indian Army especially when given the abysmal border infrastructure these are extremely limited. On the escalatory ladder, the small level threat appears doable especially after the Chinese troops have enhanced border intrusions, done helicopter incursions into Indian airspace, have upped diplomatic ante, and have signalled a change in its Kashmir policy. Two ground realities are responsible for Chinese transgressions: the 4,056km LAC, which is neither agreed on maps nor on the ground; and the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement which has re-named the entire disputed border as the LAC, a military-held line that can be altered by force. Given the undecided and defensive posture adopted by New Delhi regarding Chinese diplomatic and military transgressions, the line dividing what the PLA regularly does at the LAC (and gets away with it) and the small level threat it poses is extremely thin. Therefore, when analysts say that a war with China is unlikely in the foreseeable future, they are referring to the big level threat, which would involve 18 to 20 divisions of the PLA. Why would the PLA initiate a war when its politico-military objectives are met by the ongoing intimidations with the small level threat lurking in the background? For India, there is an immediacy to make Chinese small level threat appear insufficient.
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