At Aero India 2011, focus would be on the Indian Air Force
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
Irrespective of what political leaders, government spokespersons, strategic thinkers and think-tanks say regarding relations between India and China, the need is to do a reality check, which certainly does not instil confidence that mutual sailing will be smooth, and that China will allow India space in South Asia let alone the Asian continent.

Specific to the bilateral relationship, since China announced its arrival on the world stage after the successful 2008 Olympics, China has become extremely strident on claiming the entire 90,000sqkm Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is abundantly clear that China will not resolve the border dispute in the foreseeable future; it has unilaterally abrogated its 2,000km long border with India in the state of Jammu and Kashmir; it does not formally recognise that the state of Sikkim (which has the largest concentration of forces anywhere in the world) is part of India; it has increased the ‘areas of disputes’ along the Line of Actual Control (LAC); it has adopted an aggressive patrolling posture resulting in nibbling of Indian territories which is shifting the LAC to Peoples Liberation Army’s advantage; it is openly backing Pakistan’s position on Azad Kashmir (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) by massive infrastructure development; and it has increased its clandestine strategic relationship with Pakistan.

While following these ominous developments, FORCE has spent considerable time in the last two years talking with senior armed forces officials in New Delhi and especially with operational commanders on the ground. The understanding of China at various levels is not a composite whole, but smacks of expediency. The political leadership abetted by the bureaucracy (the Prime Minister’s Office and the external affairs ministry) pretends that there is little problem. There can only be two explanations for this: India has lagged so much behind the PLA in military preparedness on the LAC that it thinks best to underplay the Chinese threat. If this were so, the government would have given full support to armed forces preparedness, which is not the case. The other reason could be that the government hopes that the threat will dissipate on its own, which it will not. Every time that India will dither over giving another concession to China, the PLA dragon will spew fire. Probably, the biggest political concession given to China is dwarfing the role of the Dalai Lama; the Tibetans run a government in exile in India since 2001, but the Dalai Lama has been restricted to giving religious discourses.

The China-scope looks different to the defence ministry. Despite the fact that India and not China first woke-up to the need for military infrastructure on the disputed border, the realisation that Chinese capabilities on the LAC pose a substantive military threat to India has come late. Not to repeat the 1962 mistake when border posts were set up without accompanying infrastructure, the army chief in 1980 got the political nod to build-up infrastructure backed with communications and military capabilities over a 15-year period. At that time, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) was a neglected expanse. India, in a goodwill gesture, abandoned the task in 1988 following the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China, just when the PLA was bracing itself for a probable showdown in the Himalayas. The defence minister’s Operational Directive (OD) issued once in five years to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) for dissemination to the three services’ headquarters mentioned the military threat from Pakistan; it was assumed that the Chinese front would be tackled by diplomacy. The last such directive was in 2005, after which, learning lessons from the 1999 Kargil War and the 2002 Operation Parakram, the COSC dwelled upon PLA’s partisan role during these crises with Pakistan. While defence minister George Fernandes was in 2003 the first defence minister to verbally exhort the COSC to prepare capabilities to meet the Chinese military threat as well, the formal five-year OD to prepare for a two-front war was issued by defence minister A.K. Antony in February 2010: It would be an Air-Land battle for the twin front, against Pakistan and China. The Indian Navy will have an offensive role against Pakistan, but a defensive one against the Peoples Liberation Navy; the Indian Navy would at best be restricted to the Strait of Malacca against China.
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