Asif Haroon Raja for VT
Overall analysis of Indo-China-Pakistan flare-up
After illegally occupying two-thirds Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in 1947, India once again undertook an illegal step on August 5, 2019 to integrate disputed IOK without any provocation by Pakistan and bifurcated it into two Indian Union Territories namely J&K and Ladakh. It provoked both Pakistan and China.
The stand-off between China and India in the Himalaya region and confrontation between India and Pakistan in J&K have the potential to escalate into a bigger conflict between three nuclear armed neighbors, particularly when a clash suits USA and Israel.
Notwithstanding the seriousness of the ongoing crisis between the two nuclear powers, chances of the situation catapulting into a bigger conflict are minimal. The overall socio-politico-economic conditions of both the competing rivals are far from ideal and both are beset with host of external and internal challenges and cannot afford to go to mutually destructive war.
Galvanized by USA and Israel, India desires permanent membership in UNSC, membership of nuclear suppliers group, become policeman of Indo-Pacific region, convert Indian Ocean into India’s lake, establish Akhand Bharat and become a global power.
India is faced with internal security challenges such as dozens of insurgencies in all parts including seven states in northeast, agitations by suppressed minorities, simmering lavas of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), Khalistan and Naxalites movements, corona virus, declining economy and popularity of Modi, and tensions with China, Pakistan and Nepal.
India has border disputes with all South Asian neighbors.
Besides China and Pakistan, the possible future enemies of India could be Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Given the favorable turn of events, China may like to fulfil the dream of Mao Tse Tung of connecting the five fingers: Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Arunachal Pradesh with the palm of Tibet.
OBOR will help China in becoming the leading economic power of the world. Under Xi Jinping, China is fast developing its military muscles with a view to emerge as the dominant power in Indo-Pacific region and to counter Indo-US plans to dominate Indian Ocean.
China is faced with Uyghur movement in Xingjian, threats from USA and its allies around South China Sea, Indo-US-Israel nexus, Hong Kong crisis, Taiwan issue, Covid-19 and declining GDP.
Although Covid-19 virus has been controlled by China, it has still not invented a vaccine or eliminated the virus.
China launched three pronged attacks into Galwan River Valley and Pangong Tso on 5 May in Ladakh and Naka Lu in Northern Sikkim on 9 May after being provoked by India and getting convinced it was being outmaneuvered.
The scale and magnitude of China’s May incursions are much higher in intensity and intent than any other previous intrusions or standoffs from 1967 onwards.
China has by and large achieved its military objectives and not only secured its vulnerabilities as well as CPEC which is the flagship of OBOR, but has also forestalled ground threat to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) by threatening the sole supply route of India through Indus/ Shyok Valley as well as posed caution to Indian airfield at Leh.
PLA has achieved a strategic edge over Indian military in the northern mountainous region and gained superiority of strategic orientation.
Other than India, China has no dispute with any South Asian country or its neighbors and as such stands on a higher moral ground and has enlarged its influence the world over due to its policy of peace and friendship.
What China should do now?
What it must be doing at present is to consolidate its gains in the newly acquired areas, and protect its vulnerable spots elsewhere.
Having done its job perfectly, China can now afford to sleep over the problem and let India to react.
In collusion with the West, Israel, India, Japan and Australia, maintain hegemony over the world for 100 years by hook or crook.
Due to its unjust and interventionist policies, USA has made too many enemies and is getting isolated.
China combined with Russia pose a credible threat to the US unilateralism and hegemonic designs.
China, which is an ascending power, will remain number one enemy of USA, which is a declining power.
Trump instead of coming to the rescue of India in its testing times offered to mediate, which was promptly declined by Jinping. In other words, the US has lived up to its tradition of leaving an ally in a lurch at a time when it was needed the most.
Trump is more concerned about coming elections than poking his nose in someone else’s war.
Trump is too preoccupied in tackling the external challenges of which he has made a mess of, and in dealing with wobbly home front. Whatever respect and authority he had has been soiled by the latest crisis in USA in the wake of murder of George Floyd, which has triggered violent protests and there is mini civil warlike situation. White and Black divide has deepened and has become dangerous.
Implications of China’s offensive
China’s ingress in Ladakh has imbalanced India, and India’s plans to grab GB have gone for a six.
India can neither hit back to push out PLA troops from occupied territories, since it knows it lacks the will and capacity and for sure it will again cut a sorry figure. Nor it can afford to fiddle its thumbs, since politically inaction will be suicidal.
Muted response of India to China’s aggression in Ladakh and Sikkim regions is starkly different to its jingoist and belligerent stance against Pakistan in the aftermath of Pulwama incident last year.
2019 and 2020 are bad years for India. It has suffered series of humiliations at the hands of Pakistan and now China.
India was taken by surprise both at tactical and strategic levels in 1962, August 1965, May 1999 and now in May 2020.
With prestige of Indian military rolled in the dust, future of Modi, Ajit Doval, Rajnath Singh, Gen Bipen and Gen Naravane have become dark since there are loud calls in India for their ouster on account of intelligence failure and diffident approach.
Indian military lacks requisite capacity and capability to go to war with China, let alone with China and Pakistan combined.
Much that India would like to avenge the humiliation by giving a befitting response, however, given the weak state of preparedness of Northern Command and low morale of its troops, and above all constricted nature of Galwan River Valley dominated by PLA troops, possibility of counter offensive to evict PLA forces and regain lost space is ruled out.
India has inducted two additional brigades in Ladakh region. If more troops are pulled out from the eastern theatre and from the Kashmir Valley, it will be at the cost of losing balance in the two areas and might tempt Pakistan and Kashmiri Mujahideen to reactivate armed resistance in the Valley and carryout hit and run attacks on the 950,000 Indian forces bottled up in saturated space.
India has been trying to strategically encircle Pakistan since 2002. History has gone full circle and today India finds itself encircled and trapped by China, Pakistan and Kashmiri Mujahideen from within IOK.
Indian military’s concept of limited war in a limited area against Pakistan is wonky since Pakistan lacking strategic depth will take any ingress by India howsoever limited as total war and will keep all options open to teach the aggressor a lesson of its life. In this regard, DG ISPR has cautioned India not to play with fire and made it clear that any aggression will be responded with full might.
India’s possible responses
What India can do?
What India can possibly do to restore its tarnished image is to plan a riposte to grab some Chinese territory across the LAC elsewhere which is lightly held. Indian media is quite capable of sensationalizing a small gain and blowing it up as a big daring venture. Such an adventure is possible but will make no impact on China if the lost tactical space is devoid of strategic value and cannot be used as a bargaining chip. Therefore, this option is less likely since failure of attack (s) would rub more salt in the injured pride of India.
What India will be doing at the moment is to prevent further losses and to guard against possible two-front war with China and Pakistan.
India must also be exploring avenues other than military option to retrieve its territories and restore status quo through political and diplomatic means.
Most feasible course of action for India is the diplomatic route. But success of this option is dependent upon give and take. Modi will have to climb down from the high horse he has been riding since June 2014 and bring a change in his radicalism and fascism.
Racist Modi’s record breaking human rights against Kashmiris and minorities in India, his despotism and craze for Hindutva have exposed the ugly face of India and its high image has been smeared. No tears were shed when India was thrashed by Pakistan last year and now by China since it is being seen as a cunning and hungry wolf. This change of perceptions has left India with no moral ground to approach the UN since it has troubles with all its neighbors, and is the biggest violator of UN resolutions on Kashmir.
While juvenile offer of Trump was rejected by China, India’s request for mediation to Russia has been regretted by Putin.
However, what is possible in immediate timeframe to dilute the anger of people of India and balm its wounds is to step up pressure on soft Pakistan and the besieged Kashmiris. As starters, two Pakistani diplomats in Delhi were lifted and tortured. In IOK, 13 Kashmiris were gunned down in a single day on 1 June. Indian media is playing up a story that Bhasha dam will inundate archeological sites of Buddhists in GB. Eight quadcopters trespassed the LoC in quick succession for espionage and all were shot down by Pak troops.
Next India may launch a false flag operation to justify its multiple incursions into AJK.
Making an assessment that soon the base of operation in Afghanistan will become redundant, India might be trying to strengthen the presence of RAW in Iran to make it the next base for launching covert operations in Baluchistan, Makran seacoast and Karachi.
India may also take the extreme step of abrogating Indus Water Treaty and blocking water.
Indian Navy in collusion with US Navy might carryout naval buildup in Arabian Sea to make Indian Ocean turbulent with a view to block Pakistan sea-trade as well as to threaten CPEC from that end. In this hypothesis, US, Israel, India military bases at Dokum in Gulf of Oman will be activated. Iran’s role, which has defence and strategic treaties with India and has given technical control of Chahbahar Port to India, will be crucial.
Learning lessons from its debacles in 1962 in NEFA, in Doklam in 2017, and the recent one, Indian higher military command might revisit the deployment plan of its strike formations, 80% of which are poised against Pakistan. There is a possibility of shifting more forces from east to north.
Pakistan fought India in 1948 war in J&K, Rann of Katch conflict in April 1965, the 1965 War and 1971 War, 1986-87 Brass-tacks faceoff, 1990/91 standoff in Kashmir, 1999 Drass-Kargil conflict, 2002 confrontation, and faced 18 year RAW sponsored covert war. Except for the 1971, which was an international conspiracy, Pakistan had an edge over six times bigger India. After the peace deal with India in 2004, Pakistan adopted a defensive posture and a policy of appeasement which has proven detrimental for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s lost opportunities
In 1948, Pakistan agreed to India’s proposal of ceasefire at a time when the pendulum had started to swing in Pakistan’s favor. The single supply route through Samba-Kathua was susceptible to interdiction and Maj Gen Akbar had made plans for the same. Had Indian forces in IOK not become outstretched and vulnerable, Nehru wouldn’t have begged UN for ceasefire.
China had nudged Pakistan to settle its Kashmir dispute with India by taking advantage of Indian military’s precarious situation in the Himalayas in 1962. However, Ayub Khan was duped by US President and UK PM, convincing him that a neutral stance by Pakistan would help in resolution of the dispute through dialogue.
Operation Gibraltar in August 1965 didn’t succeed since Kashmiris had not been prepared and motivated to start an armed uprising. They disclosed the hideouts of infiltrators.
Mid-stream change of command during Operation Grand Slam on 2nd Sept resulting in loss of vital 36 hours and change of objectives handicapped attacking troops to reach Akhnur despite being within grasping reach.
Drass-Kargil maneuver in Ladakh in 1999 was tactically brilliant which was in a position to sever Srinagar-Leh Highway and had floored the Indian military might, but it failed to deliver since strategic implications had not been taken into consideration. Failing to evict the intruders, India had to beseech US and G-8 to force Pakistan to vacate the captured territories.
Armed uprising in Kashmir Valley had peaked in 2001/03 and demoralization had set-in among the Indian soldiers. The situation was not cashed in by Pakistan under the fear of losing the goodwill of USA and getting declared a terrorist state. Steps taken by Pakistan to mollify India gave a free hand to India to not only take the steam out of freedom movement but also launch covert operations from Afghanistan at a massive scale.
Post 5 August 2019 situation
In spite of the fact that India is threatening to seize AJK-GB in 10 hours, and break Pakistan into four parts, and make Pakistan dependent upon India for every drop of water, Pakistan has been behaving cautiously except for making some noise on the diplomatic front. It has so far not initiated any covert or overt step to provide relief to the marooned Kashmiris or to force India to restore old status quo in IOK. Its inaction emboldened India to introduce new domicile laws in IOK aimed at converting Muslim majority into minority and to threaten to invade AJK-GB.
Pakistan’s policy of dithering and restraint is out of sync with aggressive policy of India.
Banking on diplomacy and dialogue for the settlement of 72 years old dispute is naïve and unwise. Diplomacy has seldom resolved disputes.
Weak economy, huge disparity in conventional strength and divided home front are the biggest handicaps coming in the way of taking bold action against India. History has proved that victories have been scored by smaller nations/resistance forces in spite of the handicaps.
Intending to fight India in AJK-GB rather than in IOK is a self-defeating policy.
China’s bold and imaginative military action against India in Ladakh-Sikkim regions has not only unnerved India and forestalled its offensive designs against Pakistan, but has also once again provided a striking opportunity to Pakistan to exploit India’s vulnerability to its advantage.
Options for Pakistan
This time with China in the game, Kashmiris fully charged up, thoroughly battle inoculated army, and full spectrum nuclear deterrence, it is an altogether different scenario and has opened several options which are enumerated below:
Combination of covert operations and diplomacy
- Reinvigorate armed freedom movement in IOK and disrupt lines of communications.
- Ask China to supply arms to freedom fighters for a common cause.
- Activate the youth in AJK, impart military training to them and establish J&K govt-in-exile at Muzaffarabad.
- Ask the UN to conduct partial plebiscite in AJK-GB, and make GB 5th province of Pakistan.
- Keep the Kashmir focused Jihadi forces in reserve and launch them when the situation gets favorable.
- Carryout troop mobilization along the eastern border as India had done in 2002 and 2008, while taking Afghan Taliban into confidence to take care of our western and southwestern borders with Afghanistan and thus pose two directional threat to India.
- Make a plan to destroy Banihal Pass and interdict alternative route covertly to cut Indian forces in IOK from rest of India.
- Discreetly energize Khalistan movement and Sikhs in Jammu.
- In league with China, elbow Nepal to threaten soft belly of Central India and force it to deploy troops along Indo-Nepal border.
- Step up diplomatic and propaganda campaigns to expose India’s human rights violations and expansionist designs.
- Shake-up the UN and press it to resolve the oldest dispute to avoid a nuclear war.
- Maximize pressure on India through international community and UN to stop brutalities in IOK, end the lockdown, restore old status of IOK and then settle the dispute based on UN resolutions.
- Implications of above.
It will benefit China, bleed Indian forces a bit, but will not change IOK’s status quo.
Pakistan will come under added pressure of the US, West and UN and charged with abetment of terrorism.
It will give an excuse to India to launch offensive in AJK with view to seize important bulge/salient.
Pak-China double pincer
While activating AJK as an operational base and triggering armed insurgency in IOK, maintaining defensive balance on ground, air and sea, and taking advantage of China’s gains against India in the north, launch another Kargil like operation across the LoC in Ladakh which is the only place where armies of China and Pakistan can collude to cut the road leading to Leh, and isolate Siachin Glacier. Or else, launch another Operation Grand Slam directed towards Akhnur-Rajauri.
Both maneuvers have germs of success and each one can put India in a nut cracker situation and force it to settle the dispute in accordance with wishes of Kashmiris.
If the limitations of tangible factors and economic resources impel Pakistan to maintain defensive strategy, in that case while maintaining effective defensive balance along the eastern border, an imaginative offensive defensive response should be worked out to not only push back the enemy attacks in AJK, but also cause maximum attrition to the attackers. Having blunted the attacks, launch multiple counter attacks on pre-selected objectives across the LoC, the capture of which should remove our vulnerabilities and help in improving our defensive posture.
The PAF should strive to maintain local air superiority in areas of conflict, and Pak Navy should guard the seacoast and harbors. Foreign office should play its role to keep southern and northwestern borders neutral, or else the Taliban should be co-opted to help in providing security along Afghan border. Kashmiri Mujahideen to threaten/interdict Northern Command rear areas and lines of communications.
Taking advantage of India’s dilemma, both Pakistan and China should maximize pressure on India to restore status quo in IOK and force Modi to sit on negotiating table to settle disputes with both countries. Using the good offices of Beijing, Moscow and Ankara should be co-opted in this diplomatic effort.
- Remain alert, strengthen defenses along LoC, LAC and Working Boundary, and wait for India to attack AJK-GB to give a befitting response.
- Wait and see policy and give diplomacy a chance.
- Wait for economic improvement and political stabilization before going for an offensive action.
- Look toward Trump and the UNO, hand maiden of USA, for resolution of Kashmir dispute.
- Pray for the divine help or for Modi for a change of heart.
- Pin hopes on China to free IOK from clutches of India.
Note: All these options suit India, since these are defensive, weak-willed and amount to playing the Indian game and letting it consolidate its gains in IOK and implement its next phase of reducing the majority of Kashmiri Muslims into minority through new domicile laws followed by genocide. Hence least desirable. History has labeled Gen Yahya Khan responsible for the truncation of Pakistan in 1971. At that time Pakistan was isolated and devoid of nuclear power and was cut to size under an international conspiracy which even Napoleon Bonaparte or Julius Caesar couldn’t have prevented. This time things are quite different and favorable. Economics, tangible factors and risks should not become handicaps. It is just cause, will to fight, and full faith in Allah which counts. 9 million Kashmiris locked down for ten months are expectantly looking towards Pakistan to free them from the clutches of wolves. History has given a chance to Imran Khan and Gen Qamar Bajwa to get their names recorded in history books in golden words or get denigrated. Pakistan’s jugular vein has already been clutched by India and it is time to respond and free it.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, former Defence Attaché’ and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches’ in Cairo, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Center, Member CWC PESS and of Veterans Think Tank, and Member Council TJP. [email protected]