No Time to Lose

This is an excerpt from the book Dragon On Our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power, written by FORCE editors Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

Let alone China, India cannot even win a war against Pakistan. And this has nothing to do with the possession of nuclear weapons — the roles of nuclear and conventional weapons are separate in the war planning of India, China and Pakistan.

Dragon On Our Doorstep

The reason India would be at a disadvantage in a war with Pakistan is because while Pakistan has built military power, India focused on building military force. In this difference lies the capability to win wars. Military force involves the mere collection of ‘war-withal’, that is building up of troops and war-waging materiel; military power is about optimal utilization of military force. It entails an understanding of the adversaries and the quantum of threat from each, the nature of warfare, domains of war, how it would be fought, and structural military reforms at various levels to meet these challenges. All this comes under the rubric of defence policy (also called political directive) and higher defence management, which in India’s case is either absent or anachronistic and in urgent need of transformation.

A measure of this can be gauged from the then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s comment on Pakistan in October 2014. He said, ‘Our [India’s] conventional strength is far more than theirs [Pakistan’s]. If they persist with this [cross-border terrorism], they’ll feel the pain of this adventurism.’ Given that the Pakistan Army unabashedly continues its proxy war against India, Jaitley and his successors should wonder why the mere 6 lakh strong Pakistan Army is not deterred by the 13 lakh strong Indian Army. Even after twenty-six years of proxy war, the Indian leadership continues to confuse military force with military power and, consequently, dismisses Pakistan as an irritant, based on number-crunching. If India were to undertake military reforms, the army alone could reduce 300,000 troops over three to five years, and the defence services would be able to provide optimal value without an increase in annual defence allocations.

Military power has geopolitical implications. Pakistan today is sought after by the United States, China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics and the littoral countries of South Asia. It has emerged as a critical geopolitical pivot on the Eurasian chessboard. India, on the other hand, remains an important but certainly not geostrategic player. While geostrategic players have the capacity, capability and national will to exercise influence beyond their borders to impact geopolitical affairs, geopolitical pivots are nations whose importance is directly proportional to the number of geostrategic players that seek them out.

US strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in his book The Grand Chessboard, ‘It should also be noted at the outset that although all geostrategic players tend to be important and powerful countries, not all important and powerful countries are automatically geostrategic players.’

India’s northern frontiers, both on the east and the west, are not what Indian policymakers imagine them to be. Since 1963, China has supported Pakistan with war-withal — conventional and nuclear — to keep India boxed in on the subcontinent. This has ensured that India’s foreign policy remains shackled by the two military lines with Pakistan and China. Understanding the dynamics of these military lines in peace and wartime is not a mere defence matter. It is critical to India’s relations with major powers and will help India think strategically through a top-down approach — something it has never done because of lack of understanding.

Today the partnership between China and Pakistan—where both need the other equally — has two serious implications for India. First, since the military power of both has achieved interoperability, which far exceeds that of the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces at the height of the Cold War, India’s military strategy of a two-front war is no longer relevant. Interoperability is the ability of two armed forces to operate with ease as one whole in a combat environment. This helps strengthen deterrence, manage crises, shape battlefields and win wars. The invigorated Pakistan military — which would be supported by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in all conventional war domains (land, sea, air, space, electromagnetic and cyber) without showing its hand — is the new military threat facing India.

The other implication is geopolitical. From the time China supplied Pakistan with war-waging equipment (nuclear and conventional) to keep its strategic rival India imbalanced in South Asia, Beijing’s strategy, since 2013, has evolved in keeping with its global ambitions. China, set on replacing the US as the foremost geostrategic player in this century, has forged a deep, all-encompassing relationship with Pakistan. As a result, from being a lackey, Pakistan has emerged as China’s most trusted and crucial partner for its geostrategic designs, which are unfolding through the wide-sweeping One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. The OBOR project seeks economic connectivity both on the Eurasian continent and in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. China has deduced that the viability and success of its OBOR project hinges on the flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which will link Kashgar in China to the Gwadar Port in Pakistan. China believes, and with reason, that the triumph of the CPEC will convince the world that its OBOR is not an amorphous concept but a result-oriented venture which will change the balance of power in the world.

This is the reason China now desires that India and Pakistan have peace. After Pakistan, China wants India to become part of the OBOR project, which President Xi Jinping has been marketing as a win-win mechanism for China and the region. As more Asian countries, and Russia, jump on China’s OBOR bandwagon, they recognize that the unsettled India-Pakistan relationship — with Kashmir as the millstone — is preventing the region from realizing its economic and political potential. Speaking at the first session of the Indian External Affairs Ministry-supported Raisina Dialogue in March 2016, former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga said as much: ‘The conflict between India and Pakistan has prevented South Asian integration for a long time. There have been disastrous consequences because of Indo-Pak mistrust. The need is for cooperating more than making security concerns an excuse for not cooperating.’

Kumaratunga was clearly speaking for other Asian countries, too, which have no issues with Pakistan and hence cannot empathize with repeated Indian attempts to turn Pakistan into an international pariah. Even Afghanistan, which has suffered Pakistani machinations as much as India, if not more, understands the importance of Islamabad for regional stability and economic prosperity as China unleashes its ambitious connectivity plans with Pakistan’s help.

India cannot look forward if its neck is arched backward. Instead of viewing China and Pakistan as two separate adversaries bound by an unholy nexus, India needs to understand that the road to managing an assertive China runs through Pakistan — both strategically and militarily. Only this will ensure space for India in Eurasia. For this reason, an Indian study about managing China should begin with an understanding of Pakistan’s security policy and military power. Whether we like it or not, the path to India becoming a leading power is through Pakistan. Without optimal regional integration through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which has not happened since its inception, India cannot claim its rightful place in Asia and the world — a void which China has been stepping into boldly for several years now.

If India can grasp this reality, it will be able to understand China’s grand strategy for global domination. While it encapsulates a fierce contest for supremacy with the US, a war between the two is ruled out. Since the US and China are both nuclear weapon powers with capabilities to hit each other’s homeland, there are few political objectives that would be achieved by war. Moreover, as former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously said, ‘you don’t go to war with your bankers’; going to war with China will carry a huge domestic cost for the US. Besides, the US’s closest allies in Europe and Asia, which have colossal trade and commerce with China, are unlikely to support the war option.

Furthermore, the US-led Asian security architecture which China hopes to replace with its own is predicated on different principles with little possibility of a clash of trajectories. The US-led system, set up after World War II, is based on military alliances, strategic partnerships and close defence ties with Asian nations to ensure that time-tested rules of law in all domains, especially on the sea and in the air, are followed by all. Pivoted upon military power, which is the US’s strength, this architecture assesses victories and setbacks through direct confrontations.

China seeks a new regional security architecture based on its economic strength—the OBOR connectivity being its manifestation. It hopes to bring economic prosperity to nations who would join hands with it. In return, China seeks deference to its views from nations who benefit from the OBOR initiative. Avoiding direct confrontations, China places a premium on psychological victories. With this approach, Beijing has succeeded in drawing into its orbit nations that traditionally have strong military ties with the US.

The two approaches to global power are condensed in the US’s Group of Two special relationship offer to China, and Beijing’s call for a ‘new model of major country relations’ with the US. The US wants China to become a part of the existing security architecture as a leader in partnership with Washington. It is another matter that the US is not known to partner with other nations—it believes in its leadership role and would not forsake it willingly. China, on the other hand, wants the US to accept the new global leadership model where two divergent security architectures led by major geostrategic players could coexist. Consequently, tensions between the two will remain, heightening the suspense about which system will eventually prevail.

Make no mistake: China is both a revisionist and irredentist state, which for decades kept a low profile in order to build national power under the US’s Asian security benediction. Making use of globalization and the interconnected world, China, in 2008, decided to become assertive since it was by then a recognized economic power.

Between 1978 (with Deng Xiaoping’s accession) and 2008, when China sought peace and stability for building national power, it worked simultaneously through a multipronged strategy to trounce its rival, India, for leadership in Asia. Through a series of bilateral agreements crafted to place India at a disadvantage on the contentious border dispute between the two countries, China has made India extremely vulnerable in the north and east. Beijing was aided in this effort by India’s appeasement policy, which began after the death of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and continues to date. India’s political and military leaders, in cahoots with its diplomats, have sold falsehoods to their own people on the border issue. The cases in point are the various border intrusions and transgressions by China, which are strictly one-sided, with the Indian Army being a mute spectator.

Today the disputed border holds back India’s rise and impacts India’s ties with Pakistan, and consequently the entire Asian neighbourhood, which views the border dispute as a consequence of Indian timidity. Understanding how India reached this stage where Chinese troops are able to saunter at will across the border with little protest from India is critical to managing China.

Similarly, there is a need to reassess Pakistan, where the army controls the foreign and security policies. Unlike the Indian military, which was sidelined by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Pakistan Army took centre stage after the 1947–48 war over Kashmir and hence it learnt early on to think strategically. Just as Pakistan President General Ayub Khan offered a joint defence pact to India in September 1959 against rising communism, which was rejected by Nehru, it is time now for India to take a bold step forward. For this, India must review Kashmir politically, militarily and strategically. The interests of India, Pakistan, China and the people of Kashmir converge here. Sure, no party will give up its stakes, though give and take are both possible and doable under the overall rubric of the Kashmir resolution. Removing this one bottleneck will open the floodgates of opportunities not only for India but the entire region.

Resolution of the Kashmir issue will bring India many benefits. One, it will render the military line irrelevant, thereby freeing up a large number of troops from their perennial tours of duty in the region. It will also give India the moral space to address the Tibetan issue with greater self-confidence.

Despite India being home to the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile and the largest Tibetan diaspora, the Government of India has had an unsure and inconsistent approach to the Tibetan issue. It has been unable to convert the humanitarian crisis into a strategic advantage vis-à-vis China, primarily because of its sensitivity on the Kashmir issue. India has believed that if it keeps off the Tibetan issue, China will reciprocate by not openly supporting Pakistan on Kashmir. However, this has not worked. The China-Pakistan combine has changed the narrative of Kashmir and it will continue to change to India’s disadvantage as the CPEC progresses through the northern parts of Kashmir.

Once India addresses the aspirations of the Kashmiri people, it can then urge China to do the same with Tibet. After all, China’s dream of connectivity and prosperity cannot be fulfilled if a large section of its population remains restive and disconnected. This display of decisiveness and confidence will enhance India’s stature. It will also give India its rightful space in Asia, which it has craved historically.

At the moment, the suspicious bilateral relationships between India-Pakistan and India-China have not only stymied India’s stature in the neighbourhood but have also reduced India’s ties with other countries to a zero-sum equation, whereby smaller nations try to play India against China or Pakistan for their narrow and immediate gains. This is also the reason why the multiple insurgencies in the Indian Northeast continue to find safe havens abroad.

While China no longer directly abets dissent within India—it is too big to do that—its tacit support encourages countries like Myanmar to keep the insurgencies alive. What’s more, a network of arms smugglers based in Yunnan province of China ensures that small arms are never in short supply amongst the insurgents. As a result, insurgency in the northeastern states of India has turned into an industry of sorts. Proliferation of arms from Yunnan to the Northeast via Myanmar has resulted in the proliferation of insurgent groups as well, with several of them not even making demands for resolution on the government, content as they are with extortion or siphoning off a portion of the Government of India’s funds. Clearly, in this situation, peacemaking is akin to shadow-boxing. It doesn’t require genius to see how these multiple insurgencies are sapping India’s national resources, including manpower. Even more dangerous is the growing nexus of weapons and training between left-wing extremists (who have been extending their tentacles into the Northeast) and local insurgent groups.

Of course, these problems will not disappear with the resolution of the border issues on the east and the west. But it is possible that improved ties with China and Pakistan, and consequently, an Asian cooperative framework will eventually turn off the tap of supplies — financial and equipment — to the dissenters; once the virtues of the common good become evident, nations will not be tempted to resort to reductionist or Machiavellian foreign policies. It is a truism that a secure homeland is imperative for building and projecting national power.

Confounded by the Himalayan conflicts, many Indian analysts now talk of moving away from them without seeking a resolution. Taking recourse in ancient and medieval Indian maritime history, they argue that India has always been a seafaring nation. Indian mariners used the sea to expand the national footprint from the Horn of Africa in the west to Indonesia in the east. Hence, India needs to reclaim its maritime legacy and once again become the master of the oceans, not merely the Indian Ocean, but the Western Pacific as well. To fit this narrative, these analysts attribute mythical capabilities to the Indian Navy.

There are two major flaws in this scenario. First, it resorts to a selective reading of history. In the ancient and medieval period, no single country straddled the Himalayas in the north and the Indian Ocean in the south. There were several independent kingdoms, each following its own trajectory. So even as the Chola kings of present-day Tamil Nadu were making trading, cultural and religious forays into the Indian Ocean, the kingdoms in northern India were grappling, mostly unsuccessfully, with invaders from the west and north.

The second flaw is that it does not take the present reality into account. Just as India finds itself hamstrung in the Himalayas by the China-Pakistan partnership, the situation is no different in the Indian Ocean. China woke up to the importance of the Indian Ocean well before India did. In the last decade, since 2005 to be precise, when the term ‘string of pearls’ was coined, it has strung together a chain of friendly ports all along India and beyond: Myanmar in the east, Sri Lanka in the south, and the Maldives and Tanzania in the west. Of course, the lynchpin of all these is Gwadar in Pakistan, from which the CPEC will run onwards to Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang region.

The options before India in the ocean are just as limited as they are on the land. And both require a cold assessment of present capabilities and an imaginative road map for the future. If India does that, it will realize that it needs to build military power instead of fooling itself through bean counting and bravado. It also needs to make the military a part of foreign policymaking. This will not be easy. Indian political leaders have traditionally been inept at handling military power, especially now that nuclear weapons are in the picture. Moreover, bureaucrats and diplomats, who constitutionally are in the policymaking loop, will be determined to keep the military leadership on the fringes.

A close alignment of India’s national security and foreign policies is essential for India’s rise. For one, as we know, India has disputed borders, and for another, the two main adversaries give prominence to military power. Thus, India needs to reassess its approach to foreign policy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy of ignoring Pakistan and positioning India as China’s rival in Eurasia will yield little. India will not be able to translate its huge potential into real clout without building military power, a strong component of which is an indigenous defence industry to support strategic objectives. An absence of these implies that India’s relations with major powers like the US and Russia will remain suboptimal at best and tentative at worst. This is not what important nations that aspire to become geostrategic players do. India cannot become a leading power in the world unless it becomes a power of consequence in Asia first.

This book argues that a strategy based on an understanding and building of military power provides the road map — never considered by India — for both peace and stability in the region as well as India’s transformation from an important power to a geostrategic player. Both Pakistan and China are central to this strategic vision.

What we intend to do in the book is provide an overview of key aspects of our struggle with China, followed by an in-depth study of the many smaller components of these issues that deserve to be appraised in detail. The book is therefore divided into sections, which look at the macro issues and chapters within these sections go deep into problems that make up the key issues that India has to contend with. As we have made clear, the problem with Pakistan is inextricably linked with the China problem and we have studied that as well.

Dragon On Our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power
Aleph Book Company, Pg 458, Rs 799

The Reviews So Far

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Why India can’t defeat Pakistan or China in a war –

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