Bottomline | Reality Check

Opening multiple fronts exposes India to grave danger

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

In his Sunday column in The Pioneer, political analyst Swapan Dasgupta wrote that, ‘Modi’s expression of solidarity with the people of Baluchistan and Gilgit-Baltistan is highly significant. It constitutes the first tentative step towards reviewing an early doctrine. India may fast be coming to the conclusion that it has no further interest in a stable, unified Pakistan.’

Perhaps he is right. The Prime Minister has announced his objective of getting back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Since the latter is either under China’s occupation or the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through it, the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has asked the government to get back those parts of Kashmir which are with Pakistan and China. But has the Modi government considered the military perspective that the General Headquarters, Rawalpindi would be mulling over?

With Modi’s unequivocal rejection of Kashmir resolution talks with Pakistan, in Pakistan Army’s assessment, the 26 years old proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir has run its course. It had two purposes — political and military. The political purpose was to keep the pressure on India to start bilateral Kashmir resolution talks, and to moderate the infiltration levels; they would increase or decrease depending upon the progress of the talks. Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri confirmed this in his book, Neither A Hawk Nor A Dove. He wrote, ‘We realised fairly early that the peace process with India could not survive, let alone thrive, unless cross Line of Control (LC) movement was controlled. It was in this background that in 2005 and 2006, I started hearing in hushed tones at the Presidency and in some high-level meetings that centres had been set up to wean away militants from their past and impart skills to them which would help them integrate better in society.’ It is another matter that the Indian Army took credit for zero-infiltration during this phase.

The military purpose was to blunt the Indian Army’s conventional war capabilities. Decades of counter-insurgency operations (CI ops), and the fence on the LC, which was erected in July 2004 by the army, have achieved that. While the army leadership asserts that it can reorient itself for conventional war from CI ops in little time, it is a delusional assessment. And the Pakistan Army knows this. For example, in 1990 when the insurgency broke out in the Valley, and the Indian Army was inducted in large numbers in 1990-92, Rawalpindi was worried. Given the disproportionately massive numbers of the Indian Army in Kashmir, it could be used for sudden attack across the military line. Rawalpindi approached Washington for assurances that India would use its army only for internal stability purposes. This led to the June 1990 Gates Mission for confidence building measures (CBM) between India and Pakistan.

Today, this situation has altered. Far from fearing the Indian Army, Rawalpindi does not bother much about its capabilities to fight conventional war. The Indian Army lacks war materials, training, mind-set and operational perspective which include joint operations with the Indian Air Force (IAF) to fight conventional war. This has nothing to do with nuclear weapons since war planning for conventional war and nuclear war are separate in India and Pakistan. The six-lakh Pakistan Army no longer fears the 13-lakh Indian Army since it has lost conventional war deterrence.

According to the ‘Kargil Review Committee Report’ set up after the 1999 Kargil conflict: ‘Successive Indian chiefs of army staff and director generals of military operations told the committee that bringing to bear (on Pakistan) India’s assumed conventional superiority was not a serious option.’ This situation is worse today; on demitting office, army chief, General V.K. Singh had confirmed in his letter to the Prime Minister which got leaked to the media that the army was not fit for war.

Moreover, who would have expected the senior-most Jammu and Kashmir theatre commander to make a political statement on the on-going unrest in the Valley? The GOC Northern Command, Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda recently appealed to all stakeholders including Separatists to come together to restore normalcy in Kashmir. Having spent years in Kashmir and having assessed the deteriorating situation, Hooda does not want war. He had, a few months ago, told the media that the army had ammunition to adopt a proactive stance against Pakistan, but fighting a war would be entirely different — confirming shortage of ammunition and war materials. Overruling Hooda’s appeal, the Union finance minister, Arun Jaitley, while speaking in Jammu, ruled out talks with Separatists calling them agitators in cahoots with Pakistan.

The Pakistan military, on the other hand, has achieved inter-operability — the capability to fight together for common mission — with China’s military forces. Joint training between the two armies and air forces started in 2011, months after China declared in December 2010 that it did not have a border with India in Ladakh. Unlike the Indian military, the Pakistan military today has the capability to fight long duration conventional war without resorting to nuclear weapons.

To be sure, China is not particularly happy with Modi’s India. ModiWhile it will not stop work on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) because India objects to it, it may not be averse to helping Pakistan seeking depth to the economic corridor, with unrestricted war supplies. This is where defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s recent statement seems bizarre. When asked if the CPEC would militarily have negative effect on the Siachen glacier, he said that the glacier provided Indian Army observation to the CPEC. The truth is the opposite. The CPEC and Chinese forces’ holding heights on the Karakoram Pass would make Indian troops on the glacier extremely vulnerable by providing good observation to Pakistani artillery fire and cruise missiles.

Instead of understanding military power which directly influences the two military lines (with Pakistan and China), too much has been made of India’s proactive foreign policy under Modi. For instance, a Padma Shri-awarded academician recently compared Modi’s style to ‘a general who likes to get into the trenches and not sit in a war room a thousand miles away.’ Just as a general would be a dumb soldier if he were not in his war room modifying theatre war plans depending upon the course of various tactical battles, a nation’s foreign policy is as good as the economic strength and military power supporting it.

Against this backdrop, what would Rawalpindi possibly do? Perhaps raise the level of military confrontation beyond proxy war. It has the means and Chinese support to do it. To be sure, no outside power, however friendly, would come to India’s support. India’s political leadership would do well to conduct a reality check of its own military power before raising the confrontationist pitch any further.