The delusional Indian army chief speaks, not thinks

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The army chief, General Bipin Rawat’s media interaction on January 12 to mark the Army Day on January 15 was unique. He did not duck questions and responded even to policy matters, especially when he, as a military leader, is not in the policy-making loop. It is another matter that he sought to deflect focus on many issues. Five such issues are listed below.

One, he sought to call off Pakistan’s nuclear bluff by saying, “If the country gives us a task, we are not going to say we will not cross the border because they have nuclear weapons.” The reality is different. It is a myth that Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) are preventing the Indian Army to activate its ‘Cold Start’ doctrine and cross the border. Given its elongated geography, high population density and abundant value targets close to the border, Pakistan Army would not use TNWs on its soil to thwart advancing Indian Army columns. It knows TNWs would harm them more than India. TNWs are a ruse to warn the US that war in the subcontinent could easily spiral out of control to nuclear exchange; hence the need for peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue.

What is preventing the Indian Army from crossing over is its blunted war-waging or counter-offensive capability. India did not retaliate after 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai because let alone the army, even the combined capabilities of the army and the air force were assessed as inadequate for decisive results. There are two main reasons why the 13-lakh army is not in the best of form: 28 years of uninterrupted counter-terror operations in Jammu and Kashmir; and little support from an uninspiring defence industry which is unable to produce even ammunition, spares and critical assemblies to keep weapon systems in good fettle.

Two, according to General Rawat, “For far too long, India kept its focus on the western border (Pakistan), and that militarily, the focus has to shift to the northern borders(China) now.” This cannot happen. The Pakistan Army, which will continue with its proxy war, has two war-fighting advantages over the Indian Army. Given its inter-operability (ability to fight together), it would get an uninterrupted supply of ammunition, missiles, armed unmanned vehicles and even weapon platforms (including aircraft) from China to sustain intense war effort, something that India will not be able to do. Moreover, the Pakistan Army which maintains ‘full spectrum nucleardeterrence’ has ready plans for transition from conventional to nuclear war domain, something that India does not have. Given this, the Indian Army is likely to employ its assets conservatively in piece-meal fashion rather than go for blitzkrieg. Thus, without an assured favourable war outcome, the Indian Army would continue with what it is doing: focussed anti-infiltration and CI ops against Pakistan.

Unlike Pakistan, China’s military is more difficult to tame since it is able to dosuccessful military coercion, with little need to fire a shot. This owes itself to the huge disparity in military capabilities which has deterred India. To be sure, all transgression on the 3,488km long disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) are from China; the Indian Army has the unenviable task of policing the border to stop Chinese forces from entering Indian territory. Therefore, what the chief means is that more troops would be moved to the LAC for patrolling, a euphemism for policing duties; troops from the newly-raised offensive 17 mountain strike corps are reportedly doing this task.

Three, the army chief said, “We should prepare for the next kind of warfare, which are cyber and information warfare.” This is not the best approach to modern warfare. Modern warfare requires synchronisation of all war domains (battlefields) — land, air, sea, cyber, space, electronic and information — to ensure optimisation of military capabilities for decisive outcomes. All majornations undertake regular military reforms to create a robust fighting force.

The main requirement for credible military reforms is that all tangible forces, namely, army, air force and navy, focus on their primary task, which is conventional war-fighting, both by itself and collectively. Therefore, unless the Indian Army, which is the largest of the three defence forces, gives up counter-terror operations, it will not be able to concentrate on its primary task.

Only a two-pronged action plan can calm the present situation in the turbulent border state. Militarily, the need is to go back to preparedness for war by progressively handing over counter-terror duties to the paramilitary forces and state police. Politically, the need is to talk with all stake-holders in Jammu and Kashmir. And importantly, to talk with Pakistan, which is the fountainhead of terrorism in Kashmir.

And Four, the chief emphasised the need for the Quadrilateral grouping of India, US, Japan and Australia, and partnerships with neighbouring countries ‘to check China’s growing assertiveness in the region.’ The reality is different. No country will fight India’s wars, or even help India (with its best technologies) to check Chinese diplomatic and military coercion. India alone will need to do all the heavy-lifting. This include military reforms to make the military fitter for modern wars; develop a vibrant defence industry; invest in research and development to acquire best technologies, and stop rhetorical claims.

Moreover, because of the existing hostility between India and China, smaller nations will go the extra-mile to extract maximum benefits from both sides. Given its deep pockets, military prowess and technological capabilities, it is natural for India’s smaller neighbours to gravitate towards China. The only way to end this is by developing cooperative rather than confrontationistrelations with China.

While the quadrilateral talks are welcome, their outcome, given that each major power has its own national interest to safeguard with China, would remain sub-optimal;especially when China has cautioned nations not to gang up against it. Japan and Australia with deep economic ties with China, have got the message. It is time for India to not miss the trees for the woodsand get pragmatic.


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