India’s two-front enigma

India has been toying with the idea of a ‘two-front war’ since its defeat by China in 1962. Ironically, it was the Chinese who kept cajoling it from 1947 to 1960 to resist the spectre of a two-front conflict by making China an enemy. Much to Pakistan’s relief, India opened the two fronts to appease the West. Thus began the process of morphing two fronts into one by a stroke of Modi’s historic Union Territory and Kashmir maps.

All said and done, the successful execution of such a war needed self-reliant elements of national power, a systems approach to building a military force structure, light mobile and hard-hitting ground forces, air cover and the ability to keep sea lanes of communications open from the Arabian Sea through Strait of Malacca up to South China Sea. Against China, India never built interior lines and laterals for shifting forces in quick time, while its naval armada never rose above brown waters. Post Balakot, Pakistan could have destroyed the Indian nuclear submarine but chose to escort it out of Pakistani waters.

Indian strategists and generals thought big and toyed with concepts without grasping the essentials associated with the conduct of war. The vision was grandiose but lacked professionalism. Thinking big could be axiomatic, but acting big needs a system India never developed. In strategy, hard facts and ground situations cannot be superimposed by fiction to create an illusion of victory. The Bollywoodisation of the Indian armed forces and its conflicts in media and National Geographic will not work.

Karl Von Clausewitz of ‘On War’ and Niccolò Machiavelli of ‘The Art of War’ adorn Indian military libraries and Messes. I wonder if they were ever read or grasped. Commentaries and analysis pouring in from American researchers did not help either. Strangely, in pursuit of westernisation they even ignored Chanakya Vishnugupta Kautilya, the master strategist who helped the rise of the Great Mauryan Empire. They reduced him to an intriguing and cantankerous joker in Bengali dramas.

In the annals of military strategy, there are many outstanding examples of the conduct of two-front wars. This means dealing with two enemies on two different fronts piecemeal, through well timed manoeuvres, laterals, concentration of superior forces at the right time at the right place and most importantly surprise. From medieval to modern warfare, the factors of manoeuvre, superior concentration at the right place and at the right time with surprise and logistics played an important role in military victories.

Hazrat Tariq Bin Zayad in Spain, Hazrat Khalid bin Waleed in Walajah and Yarmouk used variants of these manoeuvres successfully. But the benchmark that inspired Europe in flanking manoeuvres was the planning and execution of Hannibal during the 2nd Punic War at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. Hannibal through twin enveloping manoeuvres concentrated forces in the weak rear of Roman forces and defeated them. The original German Schlieffen Plan was much the same but could never be executed. These are strategic fixations adopted by the West and India; which only Israel managed to replicate.

Israel in 1967 and 1973, proved it could fight a short, intense and decisive war on two fronts through superior manoeuvres, concentration with surprise at the right time and the point, and shift forces from one axis to another. In the 1973 War, in the first phase Israel defended against Egypt, concentrating to defeat Syria first and shift forces to encircle and defeat Egyptian forces.

Militarily, India toyed with the replication of the Schlieffen Plan under General Sunderji with RAPIDS and mechanised forces slicing Pakistan in two. Later it exercised Operation Parakram and Cold-Start to coerce Pakistan. Lastly it wanted to fight a limited decisive war against Pakistan with preponderance of nuclear superiority (nuclear shadow).

Perhaps it was Pakistan’s withdrawal from Kargil that accelerated India’s wishful and delusional thinking culminating in what Indian critics themselves would call Modi’s Strategic Muddle. The man who fired the first shots was none other than General V.P Malik who commented after Kargil, “In the future there was greater likelihood of limited wars and they could take place without warning. It is axiomatic; therefore, that we are better prepared and maintain a higher state of readiness than hitherto-fore. In the Indian context, a limited war could range from the icy heights of Siachin, the world’s highest battlefield to Kargil and the kind of country where Indian and Pakistani troops have been regularly trading gunfire since the eighties”.

BJP adopted this doctrine which created a cesspool between the military and political linkages. Coming soon after Kargil where India was surprised for months and Pakistan’s withdrawal was possible only after its own mishandling, Malik behaved like a victorious Field Marshal. More humiliation to his own doctrine is now caused by China who surprised India without warning in Ladakh.

Dreams never come true. Adhocism in Indian force structure with stuttering domestic arms industry, reliance on imported military hardware, pretending it to be indigenous by assembling knocked down kits and kaleidoscope of logistic lines did not allow it to happen. Now at the time of reckoning, India must face humiliation or use diplomacy to resolve its issues with neighbours.

Though India spent hundreds of billions in imports posing as counterweight to China, the exporters were more interested in running their military industrial complexes rather than question India that the hardware was Pakistan specific and ineffective against China. Now that Chinese have ingressed at multiple dominating locations, India is in a limbo. There is no space for initiative.

How will India teach China a lesson when it is economically and technologically reliant on China and has to fight along thousands of kilometres? Modi’s bad economic policies, effects of COVID-19 and snapping economic ties with China will pull back India in decades.

Yes, in contrast to Pakistan, India showed more consistency in developing and rallying its national power. ‘Made in India’ was a pride till globalisation swept in and Chinese quickly occupied all vacant spaces. The Indian industrial juggernauts in Ambanis and Mittals did little to strengthen the military force structure. Tata is one exception in the transport fleet.

Though in Pakistan’s ruling elites, developing incremental national power was a low priority after the 70s, the armed forces kept the notion alive. They set up an indigenous manufacturing infrastructure to standardise logistics. This structure is now mature to provide dual use technologies to the country in almost every sphere of industrialisation from aircrafts to ships, heavy equipment, transport, communication systems and exportable weaponry.

The present conflict in no sense is a two-front war. It is now one front from India’s extreme east through the Himalayas and Karakoram right up to Gwadar and Suntser, Pakistan’s farthest tip.

For India, a limited conflict under a nuclear shadow will never work in its favour. A theoretical notion of total war is prohibitive. An exclusive CDS Bipin Rawat with a Non-Contact destruction of Pakistan will not work. Both China and Pakistan are capable of wreaking far more destruction inside India.

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