Fight­ing a two-front War

Bri­gadier Gurmeet Kan­wal on

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Vayu - Gurmeet Kan­wal

Bri­gadier Gurmeet Kan­wal urges that given the ever deep­en­ing nexus be­tween China and Pak­istan and the prob­a­bil­ity of a two-front threat, In­dia must up­grade its present mil­i­tary strat­egy of dis­sua­sion against China to one of de­ter­rence with the ca­pac­ity to take the war into the ad­ver­sary’s ter­ri­tory.

Sev­eral times in re­cent years, the chiefs of staff have pub­licly em­pha­sised the need for the In­dian armed forces to pre­pare to fight a two-front war. Given the ever-deep­en­ing nu­clear war­head-bal­lis­tic mis­sile-mil­i­tary hard­ware nexus be­tween China and Pak­istan, now sup­ple­mented by close eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion, the prob­a­bil­ity of a two-front threat is con­stantly in­creas­ing.

The his­tory of mil­i­tary col­lu­sion be­tween China and Pak­istan goes back over 50 years. Dur­ing the 1965 In­dia- Pak­istan war, though Pak­istani pres­i­dent Gen­eral Ayub Khan had asked China for mil­i­tary aid, China lim­ited its sup­port to mak­ing some threat­en­ing mil­i­tary ma­noeu­vres in Ti­bet. The aim was to keep In­dian mil­i­tary re­serves tied down so that ad­di­tional di­vi­sions could not be moved from the east­ern theatre to the western front.

Sim­i­larly in the 1971 In­dia-Pak­istan war, de­spite Henry Kissinger’s en­treaties to China to in­ter­vene, China chose to re­strict its sup­port once again to threat­en­ing noises. It is note­wor­thy that dur­ing the Kargil con­flict in 1999, Chi­nese mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers were re­ported to have been present in Skardu in Pak­istan-Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (POK).

Since the early 1990s, China has been us­ing Pak­istan as a proxy to em­broil In­dia in per­pet­ual con­flict. It pro­vided nu­clear war­head de­signs to Pak­istan and re­port­edly some fis­sile ma­te­rial as well. China helped Pak­istan to test its pro­to­type war­head at its Lop Nur range and gave it M-9 and M-11 nu­clear-ca­pa­ble short-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles (SRBMs).

China also fa­cil­i­tated the trans­fer of Nodong and Taepo Dong bal­lis­tic mis­siles from North Korea to Pak­istan. Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Selig Har­ri­son wrote in The New York Times that close to 10,000 Chi­nese engi­neers and per­son­nel of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) have been en­gaged in road and hy­del projects in Gil­git-Baltistan (GB) for over a decade.

It is be­lieved that Pak­istan has out­sourced counter-ter­ror­ism op­er­a­tions in GB against ex­trem­ists of the East Turk­istan Is­lamic Move­ment ( ETIM), ac­tive in China’s restive Xin­jiang, to the PLA. Also, Pak­istan has handed over its Gwadar port on the Makran Coast to China. It is pos­si­ble that as part of China’s ‘string of pearls’ strat­egy, the port will be turned into a Chi­nese naval base.

It was in the light of these developments that for­mer army chief Gen­eral Deepak Kapoor had said dur­ing the Army Train­ing Com­mand doc­trine sem­i­nar in De­cem­ber 2009 that the In­dian Army must pre­pare for a two-front war. Sev­eral armed forces chiefs have re­peated this for­mu­la­tion since and it has be­come the sine qua non for In­dia’s de­fence pre­pared­ness.

In fact, some for­mer chiefs have spo­ken on the need to pre­pare for a two and a half- front war. The im­pli­ca­tion is that the army is al­ready en­gaged in a ‘ half­front war’ by way of counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions that drain re­sources in Jammu and Kash­mir (J&K) and some of the northeastern states. Also, dur­ing a fu­ture war with ei­ther China or Pak­istan, given the un­sta­ble in­ter­nal se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment, there will be a re­quire­ment to keep the in­ter­nal lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion safe from in­ter­dic­tion and sab­o­tage. The term ‘half­front war’ was coined by Gen­eral Shankar Roy­chowd­hury, for­mer COAS.

Strate­gic Part­ner­ships

The con­ven­tional wis­dom in the pol­icy com­mu­nity in New Delhi is that if there is a war be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, China may not come to Pak­istan’s aid mil­i­tar­ily un­less Chi­nese troops are di­rectly un­der at­tack, for ex­am­ple in Gil­git-Baltistan. China will raise the is­sue in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, pro­vide weapons and de­fence equip­ment as well as lo­gis­tics sup­port and prob­a­bly de­mon­strate some mil­i­tary ma­noeu­vres in Ti­bet to pre­vent In­dia’s dual- tasked di­vi­sions from be­ing moved to the western sec­tor, as it has done in the past.

How­ever, if there is a war be­tween In­dia and China, Pak­istan is un­likely to hold back. It is cer­tain to take ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion in var­i­ous ways. Pak­istan will step up the in­fil­tra­tion of trained ter­ror­ists to play havoc with the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the In­dian armed forces and may, un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances, open an­other front against In­dia. If Pak­istan does launch of­fen­sive op­er­a­tions in sup­port of China, these will prob­a­bly be­gin in J&K, but may not nec­es­sar­ily re­main lim­ited to J&K.

Can In­dia fight both China and Pak­istan si­mul­ta­ne­ously? The armed forces will be stretched to the limit but, given ad­e­quate re­sources, they could fight a hold­ing ac­tion suc­cess­fully, though with large-scale ca­su­al­ties. How­ever, with the present force lev­els and com­bat ca­pa­bil­i­ties, they can­not fight and win. That im­plies that they can­not hope to ter­mi­nate the con­flict on In­dia’s terms and im­pose the na­tion’s will upon the ad­ver­saries. As such, the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary aims and objectives will have to be kept low.

Should In­dia en­ter into a mil­i­tary al­liance with friendly pow­ers? Mil­i­tary al­liances are passe as these are gen­er­ally too re­stric­tive and it is nec­es­sary for In­dia to pre­serve its strate­gic au­ton­omy. Ideally, In­dia’s key strate­gic part­ner­ships should be of suf­fi­cient sig­nif­i­cance to en­sure that In­dia is never re­quired to fight a two-front war. Though it was not a mil­i­tary al­liance, the Treaty of Peace, Friend­ship and Co­op­er­a­tion, which In­dia had signed with the erst­while Soviet Union be­fore the 1971 war, had en­sured that China re­frained from aid­ing Pak­istan mil­i­tar­ily dur­ing the war.

The Indo-US strate­gic part­ner­ship has been de­scribed as In­dia’s ‘prin­ci­pal’ strate­gic part­ner­ship. Its de­fence co­op­er­a­tion el­e­ment must be taken to the next higher tra­jec­tory - joint threat as­sess­ment, joint con­tin­gency planning and the con­duct of joint op­er­a­tions when the vi­tal na­tional in­ter­ests of both coun­tries are threat­ened si­mul­ta­ne­ously. This will en­sure that a sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to 1971 ob­tains in fu­ture and In­dia’s mil­i­tary ad­ver­saries are de­terred from gang­ing up against In­dia.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, In­dia should up­grade its present mil­i­tary strat­egy of dis­sua­sion against China to de­ter­rence, which will come from the ca­pac­ity to take the war into the ad­ver­sary’s ter­ri­tory, the abil­ity to cause un­ac­cept­able dam­age and the where­withal to dom­i­nate the sea-lanes of the In­dian Ocean.

The IAF Su-30MKI forms back­bone of the force (photo: An­gad Singh)

Das­sault’s Rafale will be a strate­gic as­set (photo: An­gad Singh)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.