|By Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis (Retd)||Published: October 2017|
THERE WAS muted celebration, rather than a sigh of relief, when our troops succeeded in staring down the Chinese on the Doklam Plateau.
As we always do in a crisis, the whole nation stood firmly behind the government and our troops, in not accepting the Chinese attempt to route a highway through Bhutanese sovereign territory.
Reassured by the Army’s confidence, the government publicly refused to have a dialogue with the sneaky intruders unless they pulled back. Notwithstanding this outward posturing, deft Indian diplomacy allowed the Chinese a face-saving formula, behind the scenes, to pretend to their people they had not eaten crow. The Chinese press went in to overdrive to rally the masses’ patriotic fervor; this was in stark contrast to the Indians’ spontaneous spirit of support!
The muted Indian jubilation was a sure sign of our growing maturity. No unnecessary hyperbole, but a sense of satisfaction, that the government and the military had demonstrated they had what it takes to face a serious infringement on our interests.
The Chinese had clearly miscalculated on the following counts:
- They failed to appreciate that the plateau offered a positional advantage on ground and from air; Chinese intelligence belatedly concluding that India could bring in air power too, were it to become necessary.
- They are under-estimating our military’s strategic acumen and tactical prowess; these have been honed and tested by the three services in joint exercises with a host of nations. This has generated a confidence which the Chinese have not been able to assess and have overlooked it in their over-confidence against India.
- For all the perpetual urgings of the three service headquarters to MoD to make good shortages in weapons and munitions, as also for overcoming bureaucratic lethargy in approval of cases for modernisation programmes, our ability to deal with limited action is good. Chinese glee at our internal wrangling had their intelligence misconstrue that our fighting capability and resolve are low.
- China was surprised at Bhutan’s steadfast confidence in India’s commitment to stand by her in the event her territorial sovereignty was threatened, even marginally.
- In Chinese reckoning, Indian government’s hardened policy in dealing with Pakistani sponsored terrorism was not likely to stay the course toward their misadventures; to their folly, they found their assessment totally off track!
INDIA CANNOT GLOAT OVER THE OUTCOME
Despite its enormous executive powers, Chinese leadership finds itself in dire difficulties to explain to its National Congress, the reasons for backing off from an international confrontation, especially one of its own making. It is considered a national loss of face.
A retrieval action plan to regain national prestige is always to be expected as a result.
A second reversal is unthinkable if the leadership wants to hold on to its authority. Despite this pressure for action, there will be no impatience to rush in to it. The planning will be elaborate and the execution at a time and place of its choosing. We have to understand they have not given up on routing the road through the Doklam Plateau exactly as they have planned. They will endeavor to grab land in place(s) where India, and Bhutan too, will be forced to barter an exchange of real estate.
CHINA’S AMBITIONS AND WOES GROWING IN UNISON
China’s expansionist greed knows no bounds: its dozen and a half frontier/territorial disputes, run from alignment of borders, rights over territorial waters to ownership of islands and even claims to a full country (Cambodia/Tajikistan). Not satisfied with existing real estate, they are venturing in to converting shoals into artificial islands! Inevitably, such an approach causes fear and/or hostility. Economic/industrial/arms aid succeeds in drawing in to their embrace weak-economy nations. Philippines, an American ally of long, has decided that, given its juxtaposed position with the Dragon, it is preferable to ride along with it, rather than face its fiery breath.
In its belief that it is destined for global hegemony, China knows that in the first instance, it needs to establish its unquestioned supremacy in Asia. But India is challenging that paradigm; in this context China would surely view Doklam back-off as set back.
To keep Tibet Linked with the Chinese western provine of Xingjian, the Aksai Chin highway is of utmost strategic importance to China. Hitherto it may have agreed to yield its territorial claims in Arunachal Pradesh in exchange for India relinquishing its rights to Aksai Chin. Doklam has the potential to change that equation.
The Tightening Squeeze on Pakistan: Pakistan is on the verge of being declared a terrorist state. To prevent that from happening, it has no alternative but to rein in the terrorist organisations to the extent that it can (Pakistan’s control over its ogre-like creations is now minimal). Should Trump walk his talk and curtail aid and support to Pakistan, Pakistan will get drawn deeper in to China’s embrace.
India, a Common Nemesis: Given the situations in which China and Pakistan find themselves on the global scene, an action plan in collusion against their sworn common Nemesis, India, is not beyond the realms of the possible. India cannot, must not, proceed on a pious hope of this not happening; we have come-a-cropper time and again on such wishful thinking. We have no alternative to being prepared for a simultaneous two-front show-down.
India has a lead time of 5-10 years, with extraordinary luck, 15, to gear up for this contingency. There is no time to waste to get down to brass-tacks. The future period of 5-10 years hence will always seem a long time in the present, but as they flash away, we rue the warnings left unheeded and the time wasted.
THE WAY AHEAD
Get Real: First and foremost, Indian politicians, as well as the citizenry at large, have to clearly understand and accept the reality that a war, of any dimension, is not a responsibility to be thrown at the military as its last instrument of state power; and leave it to their prowess to do what they can. We also need to realise that India has been continuously in a state of no-war-no-peace; a national awakening is critical to accept that terrorist attacks whether generated externally or from within, are not crimes, but acts of war against the state. Also, when the state deems it necessary to call in the military for armed action for internal security, any act of defiance against it, is war against the state. The military needs not only arms, but also legal cover to allow it to function in the way they are meant to.
Politicians, whether in power or sitting in opposition and the citizenry at large have national security responsibilities too, that are summarised:-
- A code/convention of conduct is necessary to ensure national unity and security.
There cannot be partisanship in threats to national security. Identifying oneself with the concept of undivided nationhood is mandatory; anyone acting in opposition to this concept becomes an enemy of the state.
- An understanding that national morale impacts on military morale
- Understand that military laws and dispensation of military justice have been codified and continuously refined with the experience of decades, in effect from the time militaries have been used as instruments of state power. Military commanders are trained and experienced in this department; it is integral to the making of a warrior.
- At the apex of military command, authority is invested in the commander to function as prosecution, defender and judge to ensure good military order and discipline. Undue intervention by tribunals and civil justice system undermines military authority and lowers morale. There are cross-checks within the system to default erring superiors and bring them to book. There are strong indications that there is an increasing tendency among serving military personnel to question authority, to table grievances, to resorting to civil court action. This has led to hyper suo moto dispensations by the apex court, to the point of issuing direction that in the event of civilian casualties, filing of an FIR is mandatory. Surely it can be seen that such an order debilitates the military’s effectiveness. It may be noted that military procedure calls for internal investigation in to inadvertent collateral casualties or damage.
- Politicians in power and the bureaucracy that assists them to run the government have to work in consort to ensure expeditious removal of military shortages and sanctioning of modernisation programmes. It is important that political parties in their preoccupation to fault each other on financial skullduggeries of the other do not delay new acquisitions. Continuous systematic timely modernisation is essential to ensure the current battle-readiness of our Forces. If the fighting potential is not continuously updated, capability is adversely affected.
- Civil administration and local authorities have to come to grips with their jobs. Their disorganised state of affairs has led to daily chaos, to the brink of anarchy in every aspect of routine life. It has led citizenry’s loss of confidence in the administration; total disregard to public safety are the cause of disasters recurring in every aspect of pubic life regularly. When they happen, civil administration turns to the Forces for rescue as a matter of standard procedure; whereas in times of military operations, the civil capabilities and expertise should be filling the voids of the military.
- Rapid movement of troops and material from the rear positions to the front and between theatres of operation is bound to be impaired, given the below par standard/state of roads and the chaotic urban as well as inter-city traffic.
- Quality standards and speed of working of all engineering disciplines are well below acceptable norms. These shortcomings have crucial consequences during hostilities.
- In pursuit of sheer numbers, quality of technical training has fallen, leading to lowered professional proficiencies. This has caused a much lowered standard of administrative abilities. Administration is a principle of war, for good reason; if it is unstable, operational functioning will be shaky. It applies to civil admistration too. Military needs an efficient and supportive civil administration.
GEARING THE MILITARY FOR A MAJOR SHOW-DOWN
Total defence budget needs a substantial increase. Progressive increment to 3% of GDP is necessary to face what lies ahead.
To use their budget most efficaciously, the three services need to respect each other’s core competencies. It is important that uncalled for duplication of weapon systems/platforms is avoided; trespassing on areas of core competencies and responsibilities has to be eschewed in totality; misplaced service desire to covet other service competency to itself is a wasteful scourge, leading to unnecessary expenditures to the exchequer. This goes against the principle of jointmanship.
The COSC has a vital role to play here. The three members have to accept,that whatever an individual’s take on the necessity of CDS, it cannot be an excuse for any dysfunction of the COSC; there are joint organisations/departments for intelligence, planning and operations; these are their tools for effecting cohesive jointness in facing security challenges.
Moral courage and a spirit of nation-before-service are the twin traits that our top military leadership must inculcate in themselves and in those they command to ensure that the men behind the weapons live up to the expectations that the nation has placed in them.
There are several critical issues that the COSC needs to deliberate upon most deeply. Undoubtedly, every new generation of commanders comes to the top with greater knowledge and experience. Veterans cannot, must not, attempt to teach them how to do their job; they are better at it, than the previous generations! But it is important that we share our experiences, the good, bad and the ugly, and recount how we dealt with dilemmas of conflict within. Official reports on previous operations should be at hand for reference. Ego often prevents total candidness in these after-action reports. The sticky issues that need to be resolved, yet glossed over are:-
- In-house after-action reports are not shared with other service headquarters;
- Mistakes in joint planning and operations are not readily accepted;
- Hesitation in sharing own weaknesses and doubts;
- Not deferring to the advice of the service on use of its core competencies;
- Inadequate comprehension of the strategic reach and potency of air power.
With the existing platforms and technologies with the IAF, its strength-in-being will be the crucial factor on both fronts, but particularly so in the north where the IAF has a definite edge over the PLAAF. Even the PLAAF is aware of this. They have earlier shown interest in familiarising themselves with our pilots’ selection process and flying training methods. They have also shown interest in knowing how the IAF has remained an independent force, free of army control, implying that their existing organisation is stifling their freedom of action. India would do well not to fall into the trap of theatre commands. The list could go on. The point to note is that greater the mutual confidence and candidness, greater the synergetic outcome of jointmanship!
Encapsulating Sino-Pak Collusion: India cannot dodge the emerging challenge that lies ahead. We have not been able to resolve the border issues with China for over half a century; after Doklam, hopes of a political resolution have evaporated. China will never voluntarily give up Aksai Chin; they will continue to claim part of Arunachal Pradesh as integral part of Tibet and hence theirs; they are unlikely to give up this claim in reciprocation for India giving up its claim Aksai Chin.
J &K issue has remained unresolved for seven decades. Pakistan never did, and never will accept an agreement which does not allow it possession of the whole state.
Both countries await an opportunity to achieve their objectives; it is only a matter of time. They have realised that simultaneous twin-pronged action against India from the north and west give them the best chance to achieve their respective goals.
Military Potency: The Key to National Security: Notwithstanding all the minuses of a nation steeped in a myriad of negative factors, the Indian genius is unique in holding its course to move in to the First World. In its 70 years of independence, it has faced crises on innumerable issues, but always found solutions to overcome its challenges.
However, the biggest challenges to India have been on the security front. Except for the debacle of 1962 (which happened due to utter political apathy to military advice and failure to equip the forces with their basic needs), our defence forces saved national honour and territory in 1965 and 1999. In 1971, a perfectly enacted joint action by the three wings of the military brought India an unequivocal victory. This war demonstrated what can be achieved when there are harmonised politico-military actions, the forces are equipped well and thoroughly prepared for the challenge at hand.
Even simultaneous joint threats to India from China and Pakistan can be successfully overcome if we proceed along the lines of our own experience of 1971. We are not fully conscious of our own potential in our moment of truth.
The Indian Armed Forces have the confidence, they only need adequate wherewithal to give the Nation the security it deserves.