Having lived through different emergencies, we ought to have understood by now that they tend to erupt when least expected. They choose the time and place of their emergence, and they have a tendency to disappear for years. As a result, complacency sets in, preparations take a backseat, and funding dries up, since other things are considered more pressing or important.
What could be more important to a nation than national security? National security isn’t merely the security of borders; it requires the safety and wellbeing of its citizens. This, in turn, is inclusive of factors like health, industry, food, protection against natural and manmade calamities, internal and external aggression, and the security of national interests which may lie outside our geographic area.
In the Indian context, policy changes with the change in government. A document laying out the roadmap of India’s goals and objectives, both economic and military, is often conspicuous by its absence. In the absence of such a roadmap for national security, it’s natural for the country to vacillate with every change in government. This is a weakness that needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency.
In contrast, our neighbours to the west and northeast appear to have a more consistent agenda, if not policy, and this seems to stem from the age-old concept of international relations.
Take Pakistan, a “proxy” of China, which is fixated on Kashmir. Or China, which is single-mindedly focused on being a global power as its primary national interest while pursuing the secondary objective of preventing India from becoming a regional or global power. The latter objective stems from the fact that India has conflicting interests in the region, posing a challenge to the Chinese regime.
In contrast, the dynamics of relations between China and Pakistan is such that both countries’ national goals appear to merge into one when it comes to India.
Seventy years of confrontation with Pakistan has translated into a “low-cost option” as a policy, in the wake of economic fragility on the one hand and the use of Pakistan’s nuclear bluff to negate an all-out war on the other — both being expediently and successfully exploited.
The Chinese rely on the facts that they are a far strong economy, have military power, are geographically vast, and have the highest population in the world. The psychology of the 1962 war gives China a false sense of confidence. It lays claim to large tracts of Indian territory, and constructs dams in contested territory.
One example is the Diamer-Basha Dam, for which a contract was recently signed with Pakistan, showing scant regard to India’s objections. It’s also being built in an earthquake-prone area and its construction is likely to starve Ladakh of water.
China enjoys a higher altitude in most areas specially in Tibet. Its troops are, therefore, acclimatised. The flat hard terrain allows the easy movement of vehicles; in fact, exercises were recently carried out in the Tibet Autonomous Region to test responses.
Each action by China is aimed at psychological ascendancy, to exploit India’s perceived “weakness” and keep us unbalanced: from Doklam in east Sikkim to Naku La in north Sikkim, from east Ladakh on the northern side of the Pangong Tso to the recent border violations in Himachal and the building of dams. Using the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity, China dominates and violates the border, developing the required infrastructure on their side while engaging India through Pakistan on the other.
The military base in the Indian Ocean is just the latest in a litany of Chinese actions. China had leased the Maldivian island of Feydhoo Finolhu till 2066 at a cost of $4 million. Its facelift has been similar to that on the Spratly Islands. A military base that can dock nuclear submarines, located only 900 km away, it poses a direct threat to India’s maritime interests.
China’s efforts to oppose India’s interest in world forums, while supporting Pakistan, were seen when it blocked India’s efforts at a permanent seat in the United Nations while raising the Kashmir issue. China’s well-crafted strategy is reflected in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project; its domination in the South China Sea; its latest defence equipment, including stealth bombers and an air transportable armoured vehicle; and its inroads in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Quick to emerge as a world leader in communications and cyber warfare, coupled with of stealing data on coronavirus research — China’s footprint is seen everywhere.
The aftermath of Covid-19 is yet to unfold when it comes to China. Reports indicate that 85 percent of China’s production facilities are up and running, though it’s still unknown as to what capacity and for what market. It does appear, however, that China is over the hill as far as the first wave of Covid is concerned. Much remains concealed behind the bamboo curtain.
Given the nature of interdependence, one might expect even the United States to review its present “anti-China” stance once the impending election in the US is over. But will the desire for cheap products continue to be the driver of China’s economy?
The global consciousness to boycott China is gaining momentum. It must be leveraged by India to our advantage. The options open to us include the growing clamour by many countries to boycott Chinese products, a demand for compensation of the loss caused by Covid, and an enquiry by the World Health Organisation on the virus leak while admitting Taiwan to the WHO under India’s leadership. However, given the fact that the WHO stands accused of supporting China, the outcome of India’s effort to bring in Taiwan remains questionable. It presents India with an opportunity to hit back at China where it really hurts; in this case, China’s economy.
Amidst this consistently hostile attitude, there are no doubts that both our neighbours will persist in hurting India’s interests and, at this moment, exploit what they perceive as India’s economic and military weaknesses.
India’s leadership has often made comments on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan being part of India. Our military leadership has, in clear terms, said plans are in place to take back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The time does not appear to be right for such a move though; the cry to break free of Pakistani oppression needs to reverberate from within these areas, including Balochistan, before anything else. Perhaps the UN Human Rights Commission needs to be moved on this issue.
While the US troops are on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Taliban is flexing its muscles and Pakistan is gearing up for a resurgent influx of terrorists. It’s not the time to tamper with our military preparedness, or experiment with organisational structures. But it certainly warrants alertness, stability, and high morale.
I am reminded of what we were taught in service: “Infiltrate during bad weather. Attack when his guard is down, defences are weak, or morale is low.”
The Indian subcontinent is set to see a heating up of terrorism and military action in the foreseeable future. The hotbed is Jammu and Kashmir, the Line of Control, disputed territories, the islands, and the South China Sea. India’s concerns and interests will lie in the likely negotiations between India and the Taliban and Afghanistan, and the unfolding of events in Pakistan-occupied areas, especially Gilgit, Baltistan and Balochistan.
They say that victors write history while the vanquished read the lessons learned. Yet history is a tough teacher. It repeats itself for those who fail to learn, over and over again, either to their doom or until they learn their lessons. We don’t want to see a repeat of 1962.
Battles are won by the minds of higher commanders and the grit of ground soldiers. Let our generals ensure a high state of readiness and a high morale. We must rebuild the image and pride of the armed forces.