India’s two fronts

ARE they really serious when successive Indian army chiefs say they are preparing for a two-front war? Or is a two-front war merely a bogey to attract sympathy from the right quarters? The more important question is: does India really consider China an enemy and does it really have the stomach or the desire to fight China? The June 15 clash clearly shows India will do anything to appease China.

Yet, astonishing as it sounds, while flaunting their ambitious plans for a two-front war, the current army chief and his predecessor give themselves away when they declare that the focus of their war preparations is basically Pakistan and that on the Chinese front the Indian army will adopt a policy of deterrence.

In his first press conference after taking over as army chief last December, Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane spoke of “collusivity” between Pakistan and China and said this could be “both physical on land borders and in other spheres also” as in technology and “in coming to each other’s help in times of trouble”. This “collusivity” between two of India’s neighbours, he said, was “maximum” around the Siachen glacier and Shaksgam valley. For that reason, he said, it was important to “keep that area in our possession” because Pakistan was waging a “proxy war” on India, while China was “flexing its muscles”.

For those perceived threats, India’s war plans are ambitious and include, besides road and rail infrastructure and tunnelling, a new mountain strike corps — 17th — consisting of 100,000 men. This corps will be so located that it can be deployed on both the western (Pakistan) and northern fronts (China).

India will never commit suicide by taking on China for America’s benefit.

On the army’s strategy for the border with China, Gen Naravane explained: “We have to balance out our requirements and deployments to cater for both west and north. For the northern frontiers, we are going for capacity building, which includes building roads to forward areas, habitats, storage for ammunition and moving some of our advanced weapons system to [the] eastern side. In a way of balancing out we can meet a threat from any direction. As a result of this rebalancing, we are now prepared for this challenge.”

The general then reaffirmed what Gen Bipin Rawat, his predecessor, had said with regard to the truth about the two-front war. In an interview with the Times of India, Gen Rawat, appointed army chief in December 2016, said: “The two-front is a real scenario. Much has changed from before in terms of our capabilities … the army, navy and IAF are now jointly very much prepared for such an eventuality.” Apart from the development of Agni IV and Agni V nuclear capable ballistic missiles, he said, the forces have taken a series of steps to slowly but surely transform the “dissuasion” posture against China into “deterrence”, which in turn is now being upgraded to “credible deterrence”.

Then he revealed what truly reflects the mindset and strategic thinking of India’s civil and military leadership. In case there are simultaneous threats from Pakistan and China, Gen Rawat, who is also India’s first chief of defence staff, said there would be a primary front and a secondary front. “The bulk of our forces and resources will be concentrated on the primary [Pakistan] front. On the other front, we will adopt a more deterrent posture, so that we are not found wanting”.

While the new corps (consisting of two high-altitude divisions) would have “quick reaction, ground offensive capabilities”, he made clear that India wanted cooperation not conflict with China. But, where Pakistan was concerned, he said in a talk at CLAWS, a military think tank, “we do not see any scope for reconciliation”.

The truth is India will never commit suicide by taking on China for America’s benefit, the two-front theory designed basically to get as much economic, diplomatic and military support as American naivety would allow.

Will India concede more territory to China? Yes because India has already written off Aksai Chin, which it once claimed. Today, a strategic highway linking Xinjiang to Tibet runs through Aksai Chin. Aware of Chinese sensitivity, New Delhi doesn’t even raise this issue because it knows Beijing is not going to talk about it. Thus when India talks of a border dispute with China, it only refers to the eastern border.

As the fate of arbitration after the Rann of Kutch clashes shows, India will concede a mile to China but it will not give an inch to Pakistan. In brief, America must know India has no desire to destroy itself for Pentagon’s pleasure. The two-front hoax is meant to squeeze the milch cow that is America. As its 2003 invasion of Iraq shows, Washington spent trillions of dollars for Israel’s benefit. Why wouldn’t America do the same in South Asia?

The writer is Dawn’s Readers’ Editor and an author.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2