Rolls and Mission-January 2009
The spectre of a ‘two and a half front’ war is real
By Pravin Sawhney
As the Indian Army celebrates Army Day 2009, it is the opportune moment to appreciate its expanded tasks that cover the entire spectrum of war from Low Intensity Conflict Operations (LICO) to combating a high intensity conventional war against the nuclear weapons backdrop. This is not all. With India’s rising stature, the army will need to develop force projection capabilities for out-of-area joint and amphibious operations with the other two defence services, the air force and the navy, to protect India’s interests, and also with friendly foreign armies for peace and stability in the region. Moreover, the army’s traditional peacekeeping operations under the United Nations would increase rather than diminish into the future. All this implies two things: there will be little operational justification for downsizing the 1.3 million (13 lakh) strong army, and that the funding for the army will continue to see dramatic and sustained increases over the next Five Year Plans till 2023 (2007-2012, 2013-2017, and 2018- 2023). Irrespective of India’s growing air force and maritime capabilities over the next two decades, the fundamental security situation dictates that land-centric warfare will continue to dominate India’s security calculus as long as border disputes with Pakistan and China remain unresolved. The big challenge for India and the army will be to balance the requirements for the two disputed land borders, especially when supported by excellent border management — the People’s Liberation Army since the 1999 Kargil war continues to resort to regular incursions and transgressions on the 4.056km Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The spectre of a ‘two and a half front’ war is real. Regarding the army’s primary tasks on the two disputed borders, China is clearly emerging as a formidable military threat that can no longer be wished away. Unlike India, it has substantially improved its border management that helps the PLA undertake offensive patrolling into Indian territory, has the capability to bring more than 30 divisions (3,50,000 troops) in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in one season, and has sizeably improved its operational logistics to support rapid reaction forces trained for ‘localised warfare under conditions of informationalisation’. Backed by this military muscle, Beijing regularly claims 90,000sqkm of land that is the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh; no self-respecting nation can barter so much land for peace. Indian apologists say that Beijing’s claim is mere posturing and it will not start a border war over Arunachal Pradesh. While this may be correct, there are three unpleasant truths that are being overlooked by India. One, considering that the LAC is neither mutually agreed on the ground nor on the maps, the PLA is consistently pushing the LAC to its tactical advantage. Two, loss of territory, however small, has a demoralising effect on the Indian Army and the Indo Tibetan Border Police guarding the LAC especially when the political leadership underplays Chinese aggression with instructions to the security forces to back down in the face of PLA wrongdoings.

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