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 policymakers deliberately fell into the trap of grandiose designs without factorising its capabilities and vulnerabilities. To prove it was a super power and Western chum against China and Islamic fundamentalism, it evolved a non-functional war fighting strategy below a nuclear threshold, annexed occupied territories and challenged China and Pakistan. Abrogation of Article 370 opens legitimate options for China and Pakistan. Intransience 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 the two tenures of Prime Minister Modi, India has dug its heels deeper into the quagmire. Though there were many critics within India amongst strategists and political parties, they proved too feeble against the fascist saffron wave.
The shivers India created were not only felt by its neighbours mainly China, Nepal, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan but also within India and the territories controlled by it like Indian Occupied Kashmir, religious minorities mainly Muslims targeted by triplicate 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 grandiose 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 muddied thinking.
Logically, the aggregate of India’s nuclear and military warfighting capability combined with its vulnerabilities forces a policy of ‘war avoidance’. This means there are limits to use 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 can a limited military operation against nuclear rivals be decisive is a question that has baffled Indian strategists for years. Now 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 the post Balakot strikes.
Not only the present Indian standoff with China but also the botched Balakot strikes and subsequent humiliation at the hands of Pakistan with the loss of three aircrafts and precision off-target strikes in IOK exposed this strategic fallacy. What to talk of converting Modi’s strategic muddle into a tangible victory, Indian military planners have severe limitations to even demonstrate a face-saving whimper. The essentials to cater for a higher direction of war are premised on emotive factors rather than objective analysis.
So 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. India rather than defend its territorial claims is accusing China of deflecting international attention from its destructive COVID-19 crisis by creating the Ladakh diversionary. But this is neither a face saving tactic nor a retort.
Most critical in shattering the Indian strategic myth by Pakistan was the domination of full electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) blinding the Indian surveillance, achieving surprise in broad daylight and using aging Mirage fighter bombers with cover of JF 17 Thunder interceptors against an air force and air defence that was considered far more 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 more 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 like 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, which will only have losers.
So 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 would have once 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 battlefield into non-kinetic dimensions has plucked the nuclear option from the equation.
The 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 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 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 the 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 the Line of Actual Control with China and the 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.a