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How India must face the Chinese threat

November 11, 2009 20:58 IST
India, argues Bharat Verma, needs to aggressively counter China's imperial ambitions.

New Delhi cannot afford to sit around while others plot its destruction.

Surrounded with sullied strategic environment and the spreading fire that engulfs the region, New Delhi can either continue to live in fear as it has in the past, or fight back.

There are two distinct threats that endanger the existence of the Union.

First are China's imperial ambitions that threaten to ultimately dismember India into 20 to 30 parts. To succeed in its aim, Beijing over a period of time unleashed the first phase of the strategy and intelligently encircled India. This initial phase resulted in shrinking New Delhi's strategic frontiers in its vicinity.

The Indians unwittingly made the Chinese task a cakewalk as they were preoccupied with internal bickering for short-term personal gains, overlooking the vicious expansionist agenda designed jointly by Beijing and Islamabad to tear apart the country.

Even as it pretended to withdraw its covert support to the rebels in India's northeast in the late seventies, China took advantage of Islamabad's hatred for India, and deftly invested in Pakistan to carry out the task on its behalf.

The primary segment of the Chinese strategy moved with clockwork precision by investing in autocratic and Islamic fundamentalist elements in countries on India's periphery -- Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Maoists in Nepal.

In Sri Lanka, while Indians dithered, Beijing and its proxy Pakistan quickly moved in to help arm Colombo against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, develop the Hambantota port etc.

While the adversary invested in encircling India on its land and sea frontiers, the Indians merrily continued to indulge in their favorite past time -- meaningless and endless debates.

Invited by Islamabad, the Chinese moved into Pakistan occupied Kashmir. With growing irrelevance of Pakistan as a nation State, this area in times to come will become Chinese occupied Kashmir. Similarly, China fabricated its territorial claim on Bhutan and is working to eclipse the prevailing Indian influence there.

Is New Delhi prepared to defend its strategic frontiers in Bhutan unlike our timid response in Tibet?

The second phase of the long-term strategy to unravel India based on smaller geographical regions is now underway. After successfully encircling India, the recent spurts in Chinese incursions on the border, objections to the prime minister's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, lobbying against India at the Asian Development Bank, the drama of apportioning official annual budgets for the development of the so-called Southern Tibet (Arunachal Pradesh), devising opinion polls against India, issuing visas on separate sheets to residents of India from Kashmir are clear pointers in that direction.

The concluding part of the plot of unraveling the Union, if successful, will remove the challenge to China's unquestioned supremacy in Asia.

China's initial thrust succeeded not only in effectively rolling back India's influence in its external periphery, but also helped its proxies to extend their tentacles deep into India, threatening the Union's internal stability.

Therefore, the second distinct aspect that endangers the existence of the Union is the rapidly increasing internal security threat.

While the external adversary devised strategy to shrink India's influence in its 'near abroad', the individual states's inability to govern ensured rollback of authority towards their respective capitals.

The Indian sway unwittingly stands reduced simultaneously, within its borders and in its immediate vicinity. The combined intensity of the external and the internal threat, where each feeds on the other, if not handled with ruthlessness, will unravel India in times to come.

Negligence in governance is primarily responsible and permits the hostile external actors to take advantage of the internal dissent to further their imperial ambitions.

To power itself out of the largely self-inflicted external-internal encirclement New Delhi should work out a comprehensive counter-strategy with an offensive orientation. For an enduring win against the heavy odds, the national goal should be to emerge as the single most dominant power in Asia by 2020.

This aim envisages an economically powerful India backed by extraordinary military capabilities and reach, and formation of potent international alliances that help defend multi-cultural democratic values under adverse conditions in Asia.

Instead of endlessly ceding strategic space as in the past 62 years, we must learn to fight at multiple levels, and secure and extend our influence in Asia through hard and soft power on land and sea.

Pursuit of this singular national goal will automatically force us to gear up the entire infrastructure, resources, policies and strategies towards the fulfillment of this endeavour.

At present, we are an inward looking, bickering, dithering and indecisive nation. New Delhi lacks the key aspiration and therefore the vision, that motivates and impels a nation to excel and achieve worthy living standards for its citizens. Centrality of such national core ambition will remove the prevailing confusion and the attendant aimlessness.

However, to be the pre-eminent Asian power, it is essential that New Delhi first set its own house in order by reclaiming the space lost within to the non-State actors.

Lack of skills and direction, self-serving gimmicks and dwindling integrity in the civil administration ended up in handing over the control of 40 percent area to the Maoists and ten percent on the borders to the insurgents.

It is vital that the State recaptures this space in the shortest possible time frame and establishes its authority up to the borders. Otherwise, India will be the next State after Pakistan to be consumed by civil war.

Since the Maoists and the insurgents are armed and supported by external actors, it is appropriate that they be dealt by exercise of requisite military force, before development and effective policing can take roots. The nation is witness to the fact that the Indian police and civil administration just do not have what it takes to disarm those who wield weapons against the State.

To rapidly develop the sinews of the civil administration including the police to face the war like situation brewing inside, it is crucial to inject military thinking and muscle.

First, the State should infuse military talent by offering attractive terms and conditions to retired military personnel on fixed tenure and contract basis to take the battle effectively into the heartland of Maoists and the insurgents. They are fairly young, have military skills, are motivated, and understand combat in all its hues to take on the Maoists and the insurgents.

Second, from the pool of retired military personnel, create military advisory cells in the home ministries of the states and at the Centre with adequate resources. Inter-link them with each other on a national grid to develop military appreciation of the situation on the ground and offer clear and decisive options.

Third, since it is a long haul, the central and all state police forces should pay the Indian Army and Navy to select and train at least 100 constables each year in their various regimental training centres to augment the armed constabulary.

Fourth, the Indian Army can select and train a few officer cadets every year for the Indian Police Service at its Officer Training Academy in Chennai on the same tough pattern as the military officer cadets. This will rapidly induct precision of military thinking and sinews that the civil administration urgently requires to fulfill the task at hand.

The success of expanding Chinese strategic reach in Asia is due to the singular fact that, unlike other Communist parties, the Communist Party of China from its inception has the advantage of precise military thinking in the party, as the People's Liberation Army officers are integral to it. The above suggestions are particularly relevant to pacifist India, as military thinking in most of the other cultures is a natural component.

In addition, remove all man made barriers like inner line permits etc to allow inter-mingling of citizenry, and establishment of businesses and industry in the northeast and Kashmir and other states.

While the terrorist, jihadi and the infiltrator forcibly change the demography, citizens are not allowed to settle and buy land in many areas of the Union. Such contradictions besides being illogical defy national integration, consolidation and fusion of the nation into one entity. However, we should avoid forced settlements like the Han Chinese in Tibet or Pakistan in the Shia-majority Northern Areas.

But, of course, the writ of the State cannot be re-established within, unless it can deliver high quality governance and development programmes.

If India had developed its military power on requisite scale and demonstrated the gumption to use it when and where necessary in the past 62 years, if the foreign office had injected military spine into its policy making, and if the enemy knew that New Delhi would respond ruthlessly if threatened, with a clear message, 'Don't mess with us!' -- I am convinced that multiple wars would not have been imposed on India.

Neither export of terrorism would have occurred on the scale it does nor China would have dared to be so nasty.

Adequate military preparedness and the ability to wield it tellingly act as deterrence, taking away the cost-benefit ratio of war from the adversary.

To emerge as the dominant force in Asia, it is therefore, essential that offensive orientation in thinking be injected across the spectrum from a young age. This entails confronting adverse geopolitical situations differently to achieve dominance.

Beijing has created an excellent infrastructure of roads and railway network in Tibet that allows them to bolster its hostile posture towards New Delhi. To create similar infrastructure on our side of the border is going to be time consuming. Therefore, if push comes to a shove, how can we innovate to neutralise the imminent threat posed by the adversary?

We should induct massive heavy lift capabilities for troops by introducing a fleet of helicopters and transport aircraft on a war footing. Initiation of superior means of mobility for the troops and extraordinary firepower will act as a robust deterrence.

We should create military capabilities to disrupt the enemy's rail supply line to Tibet.

Indian thinkers are nervous at China's declaration to further extend the railway line to Nepal and Myanmar. Brought up on pacifism, they forget that railway lines and roads can move traffic in two directions. Therefore, in case hostility breaks out, we must ensure military wherewithal to dominate these railway lines and use it to induct our troops in the reverse direction.

We must always plan to take war to the enemy using his vulnerabilities.

Kashmir legally acceded to the Indian Union, therefore, in my mind there is no dispute. However, Tibet and Sinkiang (East Turkistan) were forcibly annexed by China. These indeed are matters of dispute.

As sovereign nations, India and Tibet did not have any major boundary dispute. Therefore, illegal occupation of Tibet by China does not bestow on it any legitimacy to raise bogus boundary claims on India.

Similarly, Baluchistan was tricked into joining Pakistan. This also can be a subject of dispute. New Delhi should learn to think differently.

Wielding the weapon of psychological warfare, the Chinese recently prodded their friends in Pakistan to project via the Indian media that this is going to be the Chinese century and in Asia, the American influence is going to disappear leaving Beijing as the dominant power.

Therefore, India must decide whether it wants to side with the losing Western alliance led by America or the winning side led by China. These are symptoms of acute anxieties in Beijing and Islamabad. The presence of Americans in Afghanistan-Pakistan and the growing Indo-US strategic partnership unnerves China.

However, despite its technological superiority, the Americans cannot win the war in Afghanistan without India's help. They just do not have adequate boots on the ground.

Similarly, India on its own cannot prevail in this region and requires the Western alliance's assistance. There is a synergy of purpose. Equally true is the fact that the Americans are fighting India's war too. If they withdraw from the Af-Pak area, the entire jihad factory will descend mercilessly upon India to create mayhem.

Hence, it is in India's national interest to synergise with the West in Af-Pak to benefit from resource rich Central Asia and deny the centuries's old route of invasion to the adversary.

New Delhi must contest and reclaim the strategic space lost within and in its vicinity. Otherwise, in times to come, the Union will slip into civil war and finally wither away.

Bharat Verma is the editor, Indian Defence Review

Bharat Verma