By Samson Simon Sharif, Brigadier General
The Ladakh stand-off between India and China has once again highlighted the political and strategic muddle that India has deliberately framed for itself.
This was bound to happen when Indian policy makers willingly fell into the trap of grandiose designs without factoring in their capabilities and vulnerabilities. It wanted to impress it was a super power and Western chum against China and Islamic fundamentalism, so it evolved a non-functional war fighting strategy below a nuclear threshold, annexed occupied territories, and challenged China and Pakistan.
Now, abrogation of Article 370 opens legitimate options for China and Pakistan.
Intransigence is an oft repeated lesson about the rise and fall of empires.
This policy and strategic disconnect became pronounced when India went nuclear with demonstration of unclear nuclear capabilities.
Within two terms of Prime Minister Modi, India has dug its heels deeper into the quagmire. Even though there were many critics within India among strategists and political parties, they proved too feeble against a fascist Saffron Wave.
The geopolitical tremors India created were not only felt by its neighbours mainly China, Nepal, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but also within India and territories controlled by it, like Indian Occupied Kashmir, which has the religious minorities, mainly Muslims, targeted by three challenges – of citizenship, cow vigilantes and reconversions.
From water to transit rights of landlocked areas, India has used every intimidating stick against its neighbours and people.
The ideology that promotes such an exclusive confusion is a lethal mixture of Indian Nationalism rebranded as Hindutva (religious class superiority), Bharat Versha (Greater India), a bulwark against China and a policeman on Muslim states in the region to appease the West and USA.
The overarching notion is backed by its nuclear and military force structure, helped by western military technologies. The system is scattered all over in bits and pieces; the ad hoc military arsenal; the impractical force structure and muddled thinking.
Logically, the aggregate of India’s nuclear and military warfighting capability combined with its vulnerabilities enforces a policy of ‘war avoidance’. That would mean there are limits for using conventional military superiority in surgical and pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan and China.
Conversely, for many decades, India has been toying with the idea of a decisive military victory under a nuclear shadow, with an added assumption that USA would be its ally.
How a limited military operation against nuclear rivals would be decisive is a question that has baffled Indian strategists for years. Now, with India strategists stuck knee deep in Ladakh and Kashmir, it also baffles Indian power corridors.
Exasperation and frustration were visible when India’s National Security Secretariat stated in the Journal of Defence Studies that, “If the nuclear shadow demanded war avoidance as a political outcome, the operational sphere attempted to keep alive the notion of victory despite the risk of mutual annihilation”.
This meant that, “Indian operational doctrines are not nested in a realistic political context”. Pakistan validated this disconnect between Indian nuclear and military capabilities and discredited India’s doctrine of ‘deterrence by punishment’ in post Balakot strikes.
Not only the present Indian standoff with China, but also the botched Balakot strikes and subsequent humiliation at hands of Pakistan, with loss of three aircraft and precision off-target strikes in IOK exposed this strategic fallacy.
When trying to convert Modi’s strategic muddle into a tangible victory, Indian military planners encountered severe impediments to even a face-saving whimper. The impetus for a higher direction of war is premised on emotive factors rather than objective analysis.
What has India done after two military failures within a year? It has fallen back to create an illusion of victory through its vitriolic media and propaganda.
This propaganda has many shapes and sizes. Against Pakistan it is terrorism.
Against China, it is accusations. India, rather than defend its territorial claims, is accusing China of deflecting international attention from its destructive Covid-19 crisis by creating a Ladakh diversion. But this is neither face saving nor a retort.
Most critical in Pakistan’s shattering of the Indian strategic myth was their domination of full electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) that blinded the Indian surveillance and surprised in broad daylight, where Pakistan used aging Mirage fighter bombers under cover of JF 17 Thunder interceptors against an air force and air defence that was considered far superior. At the time of test, it tore at the seams.
In contrast, Chinese capabilities in ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’, ‘domination of geographical and cyber space’ and ‘merging levels of kinetic and non-kinetic warfare’ are far superior.
What if both China and Pakistan decide to mutually exploit Modi’s blunders?
Siachin, Kargil and Dras are part of the same theatre. Will India risk nuking China or Pakistan, or as in 1965, open a front of its choice against Pakistan? In a full spectrum seven dimensional conflict, India stands no chance unless the conflict spills into a world war that will only have losers.
If India decides to invoke its oft repeated mantra of a two front war against China and Pakistan, something it has used effectively to get western military and technological support, it will have again fallen into its own trap.
How India intends fighting a limited conflict against two nuclear armed neighbours is a question no sensible warfighting strategist can answer. This is the ultimate disaster caused by Modi’s strategic confusion. Will it go nuclear against Pakistan, or China or both?
The mess that India has created and the extension of the battlefield into non kinetic dimensions has plucked the nuclear option from the equation.
Modi and Sang Parivar thinking is delusional. He is no Giuseppe Maria Garibaldi who unified Italy, or Otto von Bismarck who unified Germany. Retrospectively, the nationalism that swept those countries ultimately resulted in two world wars.
Modi’s notion of Bharat Versha with him riding the Rukma Vimana spewing nuclear fire is a danger to international stability and peace.
His belief that such an Indian kingdom existed and that he is the reincarnation of Arjuna in Baghavad Gita flying a massive Vimana with thousands of airborne chariots is mythical. He believes that these flying objects rained hell on Mohenjo Daro and Harappa in Pakistan.
He is convinced that he is the chosen one by gods to lead the charge. The land he must hail with fire is Pakistan. As proved in Balakot and Ladakh, his ‘chariots of fire’ are incapable, unless someone is willing to convert this muddle into a creeping Armageddon.
There is a method to madness. Modi’s unification-expansionist policies by abrogation of Article 370 and 35A are a trap he laid for his country. Now it will haunt India.
If Kashmir has been divided into three territories with Ladakh declared a Union Territory, what happens to many agreements and confidence building measures India signed with China and Pakistan?
India has unilaterally abrogated every agreement Nehru and Rajiv Ghandi made with China. It also makes Shimla Accord with Pakistan and Line of Control irrelevant.
Now that India constitutionally considers Kashmir integral, the international law permits foreign support to an independence movement.
Do Indians realise that both Line of Actual Control with China and Line of Control with Pakistan according to India’s own interpretation are ‘done and dusted’? It opens kinetic and non-kinetic options for China and Pakistan.
What it means for the region is what China has demonstrated in Ladakh. Pakistan has the option to transgress into Indian held territories that were once controlled by Pakistan.
India has bitten more than it can chew and must face the consequences.