Pivoting against China?

Image result for pics of indian troops on LAC


The Indian government and its agencies, including the armed services, have been so infected by myopia and the supposed Pakistan threat that, as I have argued for some 40 years now, no one in an official post in Delhi seems to have even a semblance of military, leave alone strategic, common sense about him. Thousands of crores of rupees are wasted every year in modernizing and maintaining an antique order-of-battle replete with 2nd World War genus of armaments ranging from tanks to combat aircraft that are short-legged to boot and useless for sustained warfighting outside of an operating radius beyond Pakistan. And yet no effort has ever been mounted to adjust to reality of China — the menace it poses growing literally by the day even as India’s actual fighting capability to take on the PLA diminishes. This is because the bureaucratic interests of the various combat arms supercedes the national interest, and the armoured/mech Generals in the Indian Army simply won’t allow a more rational redistribution of resources from the three strike Corps for the plains/desert to raise a total of three new offensive mountain corps (or six new mountain Divisions), even though this is the only way the country can obtain a sizable force capable of fighting on the high-altitude desert of the Tibetan plateau, and prevent the PLA from its one-point plan of rolling downhill and around built-up areas to as far into Indian territory as their integral logistics can carry them.  The critical thing here is the redeployment of resources — the offensive mountain corps cannot be an additionality to the present orbat, which is what turf-extending, empire-building, generals would like to see happen, but replacement for the three strike corps reconfigured into a single composite armoured/mechanized corps with a number of independent armoured brigades as the switchable element will be more than adequate for any Pakistani contingency, assuming there’ll ever be another running war on the western front. That provocations such as the 2001 attack on Parliament and the 2008 Mumbai strike went unanswered suggests that once nuclear weapons swing into view the option for a measured and deliberate response goes out the window.

[On each of these two occasions, the Indian Air Force had the wherewithal for sharp, instantaneous, surgical retaliation in the punitive mould — which would have been the correct response — but professed its inability to launch one.  It encouraged GHQ Rawalpindi to believe, it can get away with such pinpricks. Has this situation changed in the era of “surgical strikes”? Not really. It is one thing to react to some terrorist action with a Special Forces op 1-2 kms inside PoK. Quite another thing for a large formation to venture across to register a telling level of destruction and damage. So instant aerial retaliation is still the only counter and one to be prosecuted with urgency and dispatch literally moments after a major terrorist provocation accompanied by Delhi announcing to the world the fact of the underway/ongoing air strikes and the incident/event that triggered it to make clear India’s punitive intent. But for this there has to be ready continually updated strike plans and target coordinates and a designated unit practising such attack sorties and ready to scramble and be airborne within moments of the incidence of the terrorist act. There’s no such preparation afoot, as far as I’m aware. This means that there’s no automaticity of response, and the wheels start churning only after the terrorists have had their say, and by the time the retaliation sortie is ready enough time will have elapsed for the usual sections in govt to have second thoughts, and for Washington to insert itself to save Pakistan by advising India to be the “responsible state” that it is!!]

This is generally what my classified report to the 10th Finance Commission, India, recommended, and which along with other recommendations were accepted in toto by the PV Narasimha Rao’s Congress Party government in 1995. When General VK Singh was COAS he had called the GOCs of Indian Mountain Divisions deployed on the LAC for a symposium in Nainital where again I made the above case in extenso — something I have been doing over the last 30 years at every army-military forum that has afforded me the opportunity.

Finally, the Army under General Bipin Rawat has decided to concentrate on the China front by investing in the building of the logistics infrastructure along the LAC complete with shunts, etc. to enable massive mobilization of the necessary forces quickly on any point along the front. This has been long overdue. Can he possibly get the cavalry generals to agree to pruning their beloved fleets of tanks and APCs during his remaining years in office? That will be absolutely great. It would be a truly stupendous achievement if he were to get the Modi government to stamp his 13th Capital Acquisition Plan as the sole and unalterable template for the short and medium-term future at a minimum. The prompt for this refocussing is reportedly the Doklam crisis, which proved a few of us who have long maintained that China is the proverbial paper dragon right, even as the MEA has long been convinced the Indian army is a paper tiger.

But this would only be a partial solution. The real farsighted action would be for Rawat to begin reordering the force structure in line with the focus on the China threat; free up the requisite resources by demobilizing 2 strike corps and reassigning the resources to raising two additional mountain corps. That’s the sort of realignment that should have been done soon after the 1971 War when what miniscule threat there was from Pakistan had evaporated. But better late than never. It is unlikely though the Modi regime will be happy with such orientation away from Pakistan which, for domestic political reasons, is a electorally expedient foe because it segues in nicely with the Hinduist agenda of the Indian Muslim as the other and internal security suspect of choice.

The fly in the ointment may be the new Foreign Secretary-designate, the Mandarin-speaking  Vijay K Gokhale — another of the China Study Group-wallahs, always ready to back down ere China sneezes. Hopefully, his new more assertive avatar will take over as FS come end-January.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, Tibet, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Pivoting against China?

  1. AJ says:

    Chinese indvidually and many times even in group are cowards and have zero aggression you only have to shout at them for them to run for cover which is different from Punjabi Pakistanis and Vietnamese who hold their ground even indvidually. I have never been to china and work as bouncer and Chinese i meet come from rich families but my many interactions with them I have never seen a more cowardly people. I don’t say it as insult but as a fact.

    • Chinese are Paper Dragon,which has been proved in the Doklam Standoff very recently.But, if we are speaking of a 2.5 Front War,then we need to smarten up,which is what The current COAS Gen. Bipin Rawat is doing,but his response is reactive, we need to change the mindset & think about in a Pre-Emptive way

    • sanman says:

      Also remember that thanks to the One Child Policy, China is mainly composed of One Child Families, which would face the risk of becoming One Coffin Families in the event of war, thus losing everything. So China is eager to maintain an aggressive intimidating posture to avoid war, due to its high exposure level.

      India is best off competing against China economically, since our labour force can outprice theirs in the long run, once we get our legal reforms done.

    • sanman says:

      I want to ask everyone what they think of the latest tweets from Trump, and the unfolding cutoff of US aid to Pakistan. I know that our policy babus including Mr Karnad will all say that it’s nothing for India to get its hopes up about. But the fact is that this move is significant – even if the American Deep State will eventually reassert itself to mend ties with Pakistan down the road, the undeniable fact is that there is a large faction of Americans who feel that Pakistan and Islamists are a real threat, along with China, and not the Russians. We cannot just ignore the existence of this body of opinion in America, and declare it to be useless and insignificant. The fact is that the twin imperialisms of Islamists and China are a threat to both India and the USA. I’m not saying India should be naive and blindly trust in Trump & Co, but I think we shouldn’t be indifferent to them, and should proactively engage with them to counter these great threats which are of mutual concern to us.

  2. sanman says:

    India should mainly try to respond against Pakistani terror via the Afghan border, where Pakistan is most vulnerable. We should ratchet up operations in Baluchistan as much as possible, to keep them on the back foot. The immature Pakistanis aren’t worthy of conventional military battle, when they can be more effectively be kept tied up through insurgency. They prefer to fight dirty, so let them receive dirty consequences, which are easier to bring to bear.

    Regarding the China threat, stronger air power along with these mountain corps sound like the best bet. But the bigger picture is that we are currently stuck on the back foot and facing off against the Chinese uncomfortably close to our own heartland. I feel we need to shift the focus of competition elsewhere, by stepping up our engagement in Indochina, in a joint cooperation with the United States and Vietnam. For both India and the United States, Indochina may be one of the better places to create a new leverage point against China. We need to encourage the US to significantly improve its ties with Vietnam, and to back them more closely alongside us, but also we must make much stronger inroads into Cambodia, just as China has made into Nepal and Bangladesh.

    Watch this video, and specifically pay attention to 1:25 onwards:

    We can see that where Vietnam and Cambodia abut China, there is the possibility for great leverage to flank a Chinese westward push towards India. The old days of US-China collusion on Khmer Rouge and Cambodian genocide are over. The urgent need is for a like-minded multi-lateral group of countries to press for a change of govt in Cambodia. Once Cambodia and Vietnam are mutually aligned again, then China will have much less room for military adventurism in SouthAsia. While India keeps turning up its nose against external alliances, always preferring to go it alone, I feel that multi-lateral alliance can help us cope with our predicament better – provided the right partners are available. Since China is clearly far more powerful than us, and since it’s not delaying in pushing hard against us, then only external alliance can help us level the playing field to meet the immediate challenge – beggars can’t be choosers. Regarding complaints by our Babus that US is not a great partner and that its interests diverge from India’s too much, then consider that a multi-lateral alliance may be more productive than a simply lopsided bilateral one between US and India alone. In the “Quadrilateral” cooperation between US-Japan-India-Australia, why can’t we get Indonesia and Vietnam added in? Such additions might eventually change the character and weighting more towards our favor.

  3. Maximus says:

    This comes as no big surprise that gov of PV Narashima Rao accepeted your suggestions in toto.This was a polyglot who spoke 17 languages and with his FM Dr M.Singh, quickly saved Indias economy from collapsing by selling some of its gold reserves.In todays world of fake news and semi- literate cow ministers, PVs was one of Indias most learned and knowledgable government.

    • Kya says:

      Do not know if we should cry or laugh at so calked educated Indian’s naivity combined with stupidity and delusion.
      Soneone who still praises that traitor mmsing the american agent after alk these years is beyond redemption.
      Still here it goes.
      Reserve crisis in early 90s was done to impose on india that unelecyable functionary and american stooge spy mmsingh as finance minister.

      How India is being treacherously enslaved by angloamerican agents likes of (unelectable and defeated in democratic election ) this Pm

      manmohan singh and the english media inside india.

      a great misconception is that so caled liberalization and globalization was brought to india by this manmohan singh. In fact soon after

      victory in iraq war in febraury 1991 the bush no. first declared a new world order in which he explicitly said that he will open up the

      world for american business. In fact his trade seccratary immeditealy annomnuced that she will make sure that america open up the thighs

      of thrid world countries (Like as with a vice ) as a slwoly and surely to american business(true analogy to a rape)-that was given the name

      Liberalization and globalization for which the british and americans had been working since 1986. What was left for america to do was

      install maleable stooges inside the thrirld world countries. escpeally those types who are unelctable and have no mass base of their own–

      in other words who are not elelctable democratically but installed from above through media and other manipulations.

      this manmohan singh in india fulffiled that criteria of being unliked and unelctable insignificant person who was willing to act on arder

      of his american masters -if they had asked him to turn communist he would have done that.It is this traitor manmohan singh who informed

      america of impending Indian nuclear test in 1993 and also who openly said that iran pakistan inida pipe line would be difficlt to finance

      -just because his americans masters did not want that!

      It isa sad refletion on india that since 1986 we

      have has only weaklings as our prime minsiters and fincnace minsiters not to speak of non mentionable defence misnters who made sure that

      Indians nuclear and missle programme got stuck at 1986.

      Modus operandi of british and american scumbags –Groom an opposition candidate to run against the guy you hate, pay him well and line up your media to back him.

      During the campaign, sell him as the savior of the bourgeois opposition who lost their money in the revolution. Use your own pollsters and media propaganda to convince his followers that they are going to win by a wide margin.

      When your guy loses, scream “FRAUD!” It’s akin to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre, inflaming all those disappointed bourgeois counter-revolutionaries. Get them out on the street, setting fires, playing the victim, waving flags, ready-to-go placards, banners, women crying in front of CNN and BBC cameras and men yelling angrily ”

      Rubin, Summers and Geithner are credited with managing the global economy through the turbulent nineties, including the

      Mexican, East Asian, Russian and Latin American financial crises. This narrative glosses over the role they played in forcing countries, particularly in Asia, to liberalize financial flows.

      A New York Times account from February 1999 noted: �It was American officials who pushed for the financial liberalization that nurtured the speculation (even if developing nations themselves welcomed it). And it was American bankers and money managers who poured billions of dollars into those emerging markets. Then, when the crisis hit, American officials insisted on tough measures like budget cuts and high interest rates, which many economists argue made things worse.�

      Summers and Rubin were the point men for liberalization, which led to the rise of oligarchic billionaires and financial panics that saw huge outflows of funds, currency devaluations, mass impoverishment and Western capital sweeping in to cherry-pick industries at fire-sale prices.

      march, 2007

      –this unelectable (and three times defeated in democratic elections ) so called prime minieter manmohan singh is a blot on the face of democratic india. he is there aonbly because the anglosaxon powers wanted him there instead of sonia gandhi(who wouldnot have been that maelelable to english speaking world-master race as this stooge manmohan is). this manmohan singh has been very unpopular in democratic election losing even when there was a wave in favour of congress. he has not even let pujab select his d=congress pqarty for assembley election in 2007 so mucn unpol;ular he is. but he is very popular amnost the anglosaxon media and govert. therefore he is popular amonst the english media and all the angloamerican stooges theat you find in any thirld world aka allwi,Ahmed Chalabi(of iraqi traitor fame) mubarak types.

      manmohan singh is a yeltsin of india-very pouilar amonst enemies of india exactly because he has sold india cheap to thse amngloamericn interests.
      now the idito indian elites are pro=jecting this imbecile manmohan singh as some intelecutal -whoever heard of e=an economist as a scintist or intellectual espceaccilly the economist who foolws voddo ecnomy of chaicago school?
      even granted someone is educated what thse iditot elites of india are saying is that a geek with =zero personality and nil oratory power with no public fowwlloping should become a leader of 1.2billion people without being unecleted or despite losing elelction in genral elelctions. three times.

      ofcourse with no personality and a rote knowledge of chicago peudo-economics this imposter on indian poilctical scene is a cancer to the very name of democracy and decency.he is very very dishonet-he lies at he drop of hat (indo american nuyclear pact, indians defence procurements, agricultrual disaster inside india -which caters to 75% of indian population0.), this manamohsn singh has papuperized india and weakned the idnian defence forces.
      During the period from 1992 onwards the indian defence forces has weakened to one third of its ablity during this traitors helm at finance minsitry and primeministreship.
      this fellow has made indian air force virtually a camel air force.manmohan singh is responsible for tracherous indo nuclear pact and for dragging his feet over delay procumrent to indian air force jsut to please his real masters the angloamerican interests.

      22.4.2007–“JE Menon wrote:
      Despite the mountain of criticism our babus in the MEA take, overall I believe they have done a pretty good job over the past two decades in particular.

      I don’t know who has said what on this issue w.r.t. the babus, but speaking for myself, I trust the babus. It’s the PM I don’t trust.

      Sorry to say this so bluntly, but MMS is a hell of a wishy-washy, weak-seeming fellow, and I think there are solid grounds, based on the publicly available record alone, to think that he would have bungled massively by now, if not for the senior bureaucrats/brass in the areas involved. To wit:

      * If not for the vociferous public statements by General JJ Singh opposing the plan, MMS would have given away Siachen, as a “goodwill gesture” to Pakistan (under US pressure of course). Thank God for the generals and the military brass.

      * If not for the vociferous public statements by AK (and many others, including President AK and the BJP), MMS would have long ago signed up to a lousy nuke deal very damaging to India’s long term national interests.”

      “I am not saying MMS is a traitor (such claims are nonsense), but that he is a dreamer with his head in the clouds, and not in touch with the vicious real world. He is a bloody economist, and he thinks that economic policy is the be-all and end-all of national security. It seems he genuinely believes that who controls Siachen is irrelevant, nuclear weapons are irrelevant (maybe he himself is a sincerely-believing NPA). I am still furious at him for (apparently) authorising the trashing/bad-mouthing of Indian nuclear scientists for the last two years. The two AKs (Anil Kakodkar and Abdul Kalam) have been profiles in courage; Shekhar Gupta and his DIM (Dork Indian Media) fellow-travellers have been disgraceful.”

    • Satya says:

      Selling gold to save country from an immediate default scenario, was done by Chandrashekhar govt, when Yashwant sinha was the Fm, and Venkitaramanan was the Rbi governor. So lets be fair and give the credit, where its due. But then congress toppled that govt, on flimsy pretext, and Manmohan Singh as next Fm, merely followed that template, and sold more gold, because the crisis was still looming large. Selling family gold, painful, but not a mean feat. All said and done, it was a desperate act of crisis management, to keep the country afloat, even in the short term, and was the cumulative result of disastrous Nehruvian policies followed by the preceding congress govts, which btw ,did not have a single “cow minister”.

      So far as Pv Narsimha Rao, is concerned , he should truly be accorded Bharat Ratna for all his contributions in turning the Nehruvian policy, on its head, lock stock and barrel, and I can safely vouch, that the “cow brigade” would be all too happy with that.

  4. andy says:

    Wow!Bharat truly an incisive column!!!reflecting 30 odd years of a sharp thought process,complete with what ails and also the remedy(what use is a Doctor who can diagnose but not cure?)

    If even 50% of your recommendations are carried out India will be a much safer place, because Pakistan is just a proxy for China as is the Maoist menace.The big daddy is China.

    As for the new FS he better heed the PMs wishes ,otherwise he might be shunted out within no time like the former FS Sujata singh,(check out Modi giving her the cold shoulder and her expression at Obamas Guard of Honor at Rastrapati Bhavan,her eyes almost pop out)

    But the current GOI really needs some expert advisors on matters of security,all the external help is concentrated in the economy.High time such negligence is rectified.

  5. sanman says:

    Mr Karnad,
    Regarding latest Security Scan episode, it seems to me that while India’s aircraft carriers are useful against Pakistan, they’re not so useful against China which mainly fields submarines as its primary naval offensive platforms. India probably only needs to keep aircraft carriers for use against Pakistan, while against its Chinese adversary India probably needs more anti-submarine destroyers and frigates. As you say, we probably don’t need the cutting-edge EMALS against Pakistan, but rather would benefit from US anti-submarine weapons like the P8 Orion or ASROCs to equip our surface ships with.

  6. sanman says:

    Also, what are the feelings about the latest tweet from Trump against Pakistan? Coupled together with Pak’s recent invitation for a Chinese base in Gwadar, as well as the protests in Iran, it all has me now wondering if the US is preparing to overthrow the Iranian mullah regime.

  7. ranjith says:

    A declared military doctrine of using TNWs at the first sign of invasion is the only way to deter the Chinese. Produce them in the thousands and deploy them at battalion level and all these incursions will come to a full stop. China will be jumping with joy if our strategy is to deter/fight them conventionally.

    • sanman says:

      When we get all of our water from the Himalayas and Tibet, will our threat of using nuclear weapons around these water sources seem credible? Of course the Chinese get all their water from these places too.

  8. Satya says:

    If Nehru was really an intellectual giant, as Bharat eulogises him, he couldnt have been a practical pygmy. Both attributes are mutually exclusive. It was Patel who flagged the China threat to Nehru, Nehru still failed to acknowledge it. Why! What stopped him! If Nehru really saw the latent threat coming from China, and still threw wool over our eyes with his famous “Hindi Cheeni Bhai Bhai” bullshit , then clearly he is even more culpable, if not complicit. Least of all he was atleast deluded , and in that case he couldn’t have been an intellectual giant.

    Appeasing the bully with abject surrender, whether at home or at the borders, was the hallmark attribute of Nehru, and cannot be laden with any intellectual niceties or hidden under ideological compulsions or constraints. It was like, ‘ If you cease to pose any credible threat to your adversary, or a bully, dont “anger” or offend him, then you would be spared.’ Nehru went a step further, he went on to rescue China in UN, from international isolation, in spite of a ‘known’ threat about China’s ulterior motives. The more you bully, the more we shall please and appease.

    It was an antithesis to what Vidur, of Mahabharata, the real intellectual giant propounded viz “shatheshathyam samacharet.” Do unto the wicked, what the wicked does to you. If that is too much of rightwing anathema to swallow, then Chanakya, too had similar strategy. Nothing wooly ,…or bovinely pacifist there. What Guha, Tharoor, Sen , MMS, and coterie try to paas off as ‘ Traditional Indian Values’ is factually Nehruvian values, and as old and traditional only as Nehru himself.

    Nehru had too much of a romanticized leftist vision of the world, and a personal statesman image to cater to, which he largely succeeded in; but at what cost .

    • Satya says:

      Sorry Bharat, this comment was for article reviewing your book ‘Why India is not a great power.’ Wrongly posted. My apologies.

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