Bumpy Ride Ahead

The challenges before the Indian Army have got more complex

Maj. Gen. Rambir Mann (retd)Maj Gen. Rambir Mann (retd)

The year 2021 has seen new challenges emerge before the India and as the year comes to an end and the new year dawns, it is time to take stock. Not only have there been increased conventional threats on the borders but also new internal security challenges, both in J&K and the NE are emerging. These especially impact the Army being the first responder on land borders and in counter insurgency (CI) operations, at a time when the armed forces are undergoing major transformation. It would be befitting to examine these challenges through the prism of our major protagonists: China and Pakistan.


Chinese Checkers

The contours of the Chinese vision for South Asia have begun to manifest as it seeks to create new flashpoints along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) while attempting to encircle India with its initiatives in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Gwadar.

It would be relevant to quote from an article in a popular Chinese portal ‘Zhihu’ of the Beijing Municipality Communist party in October 2020, which talks about preventing India from competing with China for good, in the future, by cutting off the North Eastern States at the Siliguri Corridor and taking over Gilgit, Aksai Chin, POK, Baltistan and Ladakh, while assisting Pakistan in the taking over of Kashmir.

Hu Shisheng heads the South Asia division of China’s influential Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies, which is directly under China’s external intelligence establishment. He has stated that India and China are doomed to continue to have clashes. Thus, the biggest challenge that the Indian Army faces in its different manifestations, is China combined with its protégé state Pakistan.

Teamwork is the backbone of all military operations

China has a massive edge in infrastructure along the LAC as well as in modernisation of its army. Already re-organised into Theatre Commands, the build-up of troops in Tibet and the increased conduct of training exercises close to the LAC have been noted. Mechanisation and informatisation of the PLA include the expanding use of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, cyber, electronic warfare, cloud computing and augmented data management, leading to the establishment of ‘system of systems’ formations.

The biggest challenge facing the Indian Army is therefore to evolve an anti-access strategy to be able to stymie such PLA formations from ingression into disputed territory if the PLA goes beyond the present ‘pushing and shoving’ tactics, that the IA is well capable of handling. Further, with close to 50,000 additional troops and an accretion of tanks, Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs), artillery guns, missiles and other sensitive equipment deployed in a permanent Line of Control (LC) type of environment, the Indian Army (IA) today has to face the challenge of diverting funds from existing meagre resources to creating matching infrastructure and habitat. Unless additional budgetary support is provided to the IA by the Central government, overall modernisation is going to be adversely impacted.


The Two and Half Front Challenge

With the aggressive demeanour displayed by China on the LAC, the possibility of combined activation of the northern and western fronts along with heightened terrorism/insurgency activities in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-east are increasingly likely. The IA therefore has to evolve doctrinal and war-fighting strategies and contingencies to cater for this scenario, which should all ideally evolve from the National Security Strategy, which India presently lacks.

Internal Security Challenges

The abrogation of Article 370 in J&K transformed the dynamics vis a vis Pakistan and China, in J&K. With the latter deeply invested in the BRI corridor to Gwadar which transits through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, any change in J&K was likely to invite Chinese ire. It can thus be expected that China will encourage Pakistan to up the ante in J&K and provide it resources and support towards that end. The emergence of a Pakistan sponsored Taliban in Afghanistan and China’s active role therein, further queers the pitch for India. The IA should be prepared to meet the challenges emerging from this evolution. Some manifestations are already visible as terrorist activity in J&K has shown an increasing trend. Further the targeting of non-Muslims in the Valley has led to an exodus which is yet another challenge that the IA has to face.

The regrettably botched up army ambush and retaliatory violence at Oting village in the Mon district of Nagaland on 4 December 2021 where 15 civilians were killed, unless handled sagaciously, is likely to have strategic impact in the North-east. With its stranglehold over the military junta of Myanmar, China is likely to fish in troubled waters. Already demands for repeal of AFPSA are stringent. In case toned down or repealed, the IA will be greatly challenged in the conduct of counter insurgency operations in the North-east. The IA also needs to keep note of the increasing fundamentalism in neighbouring Bangladesh and the consequent fallouts, going forward.

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