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It was in 2008, for the first time, that the then Defence Minister acknowledged the possibility of a two-front war simultaneously with China and Pakistan. He issued a circular, stating that the Armed Forces be prepared for a two-front war. The Armed Forces also considered the terrorist organisations based in Pakistan and those supported by China in our Northeast, as they would exacerbate the situation and create another half front, by disrupting logistics in the rear of combat zone. They would impede the move of ammunition, rations, fuel and other war-waging stores, which are required to fight and sustain the war. After all, it is Pakistan that treats the ‘Terrorist Organisations’ as its strategic assets and nurtures them precisely for such eventualities. Then, what is the doubt that we need to be prepared for such a contingency and cater our plans to neutralise the threats emanating from two and half fronts? 

 

Looking back into the pages of history, the actual two-front war was fought by India in 1965, when the Chinese mobilised their forces against India and gave us ultimatums to vacate troops, in areas, which they considered disputed.  The Chinese mobilisation ensured that we were not able to move troops from our Northern Front to the Western Front, where war was raging. Many, may not know, that we kowtowed to China and lost Jelepla Pass, towering over the Chumbi Valley! Incidentally, it is still under the occupation of China. On being intimidated by China, we accepted the ceasefire with Pakistan, even before Pakistan accepted the same! Even after this experience, it took the Government 43 years to recognise the prospects of a two-front war? Such is the say that the armed forces have in matters of defence of the country? However, sad to say that the Minister did not do anything about the two-front threat, which he had espoused to the armed forces. On the contrary, even the meagre capital defence budget for the year 2008-09 was underutilised by 12 percent, indicating no resolve to tackle the two-front threat. With scams galore, very little modernisation could take place during the United Progressive Alliance’s decade-long rule.  Even the Rafael Deal, that had matured to be signed on the dotted lines did not materialise.  The recent statement of Antony substantiates that he did not proceed with the deal as it would have created a controversy. Keeping out of controversy to him, was more onerous than national security. 

 

There was a sigh of relief in the armed forces, when the present government took reins. The first dampener was, when the Finance Minister was appointed as the Defence Minister.  These two ministries are at loggerheads in their purpose, as the old view prevails that defence is a non-productive consumer. No wonder, 9-10 percent of the defence budget was surrendered in the first two years of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime. As a lawyer and economist, the Minister perceived that no war would take place in the near future; hence there is no need to allocate anything substantial for defence. It is a common belief held by most politicians and the majority of public that the armed forces are required only during wars. Remember the words of the former Defence Minister – that the importance of the Army has diminished due to a lack of wars in the past forty years.  The logic strikes a chord with the Prime Minster, the present Defence Minister and even with the opposition leaders, who feel that there is little threat of war. They do not seem to recognise counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in the Northeast and J&K as wars. They also do not consider that defending 770 kilometres of ‘Line of Control’, 4,000 kilometres of ‘Line of Actual Control’ and 110 kilometres of ‘Actual Ground Position Line’ as operational tasks. 

 

Now, let us look as to how the armed forces play their part in shaping the nation’s geo-strategy, when no wars are taking place?  The acme of ‘strategy’ is to win a war without fighting a battle. It does not mean that we should not have the armed forces! When a nation state takes a decision that is not in its national interest, at the behest or due to coercion by an outside power, it means the country has lost the war, without fighting a battle. It is the acme of statesmanship of its adversary. 

 

The essence of a country’s foreign policy is relentless pursuit of its national interest. In the rough and tumble of world geopolitics, it is essential that we use our instruments of national power, in pursuit of our national interest. The diplomatic power of a nation utilises these instruments of power with tact and guile to bend the will of our adversaries and even friendly countries, to further our national interest. The props of the diplomatic power of a country are its economic power, science and technological power and lastly its hard power (‘Military Power’). These instruments of power enable the diplomats to leverage the behaviour of other countries in pursuit of our national interest.  

 

Unfortunately, India is facing a severe hard power deficit. It shows in our relationship with other countries. Of the countries of South Asia, let alone Pakistan, even countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives have gone out of our orbit. We have started genuflecting and bending backwards to accommodate China. If not, why have we withdrawn permission to hold 7th World Parliamentarians’ Convention scheduled in April 2018? Even the ‘Thank You India’ event remembering the sixty years of HH Dalai Lama’s escape to India, scheduled on March 31 at New Delhi has been shifted to Dharamshala. Even, the event of His Holiness, scheduled in Delhi on April 1 has been called off, with instructions to all government functionaries not to attend. It is a repeat of our submission to China, practised to perfection by the UPA government. Now, it is the turn of the NDA regime to follow suit. Surrendering to China is in the deep state of the Ministry of External Affairs and they continue to do so irrespective of which government is in power! Not to forget the withdrawal/rejection of visas to Dolkun Isa (Uyghur activist), Lu Jinghua (escapee from China after the Tiananmen Square incident) and Ray Wong (pro-democracy leader from Hong Kong) from attending the annual gathering of pro-democracy activists in April 2016 at Dharamshala. All these appeasement actions to please China have only resulted in nursing its arrogance. China perceives it its right to coerce, being powerful, and India should suffer, it being weak, as it actually is!

 

The recent Maldivian crisis and India’s helplessness due to presence of China is another example of how the hard power deficit marginalises our influence in our own sphere. There should not be any doubt that the Indian Navy should have an intimidating maritime domination in the Northern Indian Ocean. Now we have reached a stage, where the Chinese nuclear submarines dock in Colombo, though in May 2017, Sri Lanka denied the permission to China. 

 

How important is Tibet to safeguard our national interest is not understood by our policy-makers? Prior to the formation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Indo-Tibetan Border was a settled border. The Shimla Accord of 1913 was signed between British India and Independent Country of Tibet, which was not under China at that time. Tibet was completely independent from 1913 in the aftermath of Xinhai Revolution till 1950, when PLA invaded Tibet. The McMahon Line was a recognised line between India and Tibet.  The dispute started, when the Indo-Tibetan Border became Sino-Indian Border after Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in 1950. Similarly, the Treaty of Chushul of 1842 gave Ladakh to Sikh Empire. The boundary line between Tibet and Ladakh was indeterminate and was drawn by British cartographer Sir Johnson in 1865 and later modified by Macartney–MacDonald Line in 1899. India has stuck to Johnson Line as its national boundary. The Chinese Western Highway connecting Tibet and Xinjiang transgresses Johnson Line but not the Macartney–MacDonald Line. However, if Tibet was an independent country, it would have been a settled border by now. Hence, a stable and settled Indo-Tibetan Border became a disputed and hostile Sino-Indian Border. It is in the interest of India to have an independent Tibet. The British Empire had always kept Tibet in conjunction with Afghanistan and Iraq as a buffer with Soviet Russia. India surrendered the independence of Tibet, at the altar of expediency to recognise Tibet as a part of China and lost the strategic importance of Tibet as a buffer state.  Hence, it is in India’s interest to work towards an independent Tibet. India has yielded to the pressure from China and acted against our national interest with the Home Ministry cancelling the permission given to host the Tibetan Parliamentary Conference.  While we are sensitive to China’s sensitivities, it has no qualms to station troops and construction agencies in PoK for constructing China Pakistan Economic Corridor. It also does not demur in obstructing our entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) or in protecting Maulana Masood Azhar under 1267 UN resolution from being designated as a ‘global terrorist’? China does not abnegate its claims on Doklam Plateau on the basis of Anglo-Chinese Treaty of 1890, while in the same breath, reneging on the Shimla Agreement of 1913, calling it an unequal treaty enforced by Imperialist Britain. The British Imperialism, where it benefits China is acceptable and where it does not, it would be spurned! Aren’t our foreign policy makers alive to the perfidy of China? Last year’s faceoff by India with China at Doklam needs to be lauded but remains as an isolated incident rather than a policy imperative. 

 

India’s passive acceptance of China’s dominance is proof of our ‘hard power deficit’ and acceptance of a country of a tributary status to the ‘Middle Kingdom’.  The report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence is a proof of our inability to stand up to China. We have surrendered our national interest by a meagre defence budget that is inadequate even to foot the committed liabilities, let alone modernisation. It is a mere 1.58 percent of our GDP, lowest since 1962. The Indian Air Force is languishing at 33 squadrons against a minimum requirement of 44. The Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft requirement of 126 was first projected by the Indian Air Force in 2001. Now, after 17 years only 36 of them are in the pipeline. The Army does not have its basic weapons such as assault rifles, light machine guns and carbines. Just at the beginning of this year the MOD has just signed its ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ and it would take years for the weapons to reach the troops.  The submarine fleet of the Navy is in dockyard rather than under water. The ‘Scorpenes’ are being added after years of delay. In a couple of years, the Indian Navy would not have any minesweepers, as all the six of them are in a state of obsolescence, with no prospects of fresh induction. Such being our defence preparedness, little wonder we are kowtowing to China.  The ‘Hard Power Deficit’ shows in our actions. Remember the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Talk softly but carry a big stick.” With a broken stick in our hand, we are only capable of bending forward and bowing to China.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of Manipal Advanced Research Group.