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Changed Environment in Jammu and Kashmir: Jettisoning Clichés

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


On 08 April 1989, Mr Jagmohan, the Governor on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) wrote to the PM of India, “”…the situation is fast deteriorating; it has almost reached a point of no return… The situation calls for an effective intervention. Today may be timely, tomorrow may be late.” Over last three decades Army and other Security Forces have dynamically operated in J&K, in near incessant counter–terrorist (and counter-infiltration) operations, albeit of varying intensity and changing arcs of concentration. In this course, certain doctrinal guidelines became the building blocks of Indian Army’s dealing with the terrorism in J&K, as the key rules of engagement. First, the Chiefs of Army Staff (in plural) had laid down and reiterated commandants – which have been comprehensive, broad based, and became etched in stone for all troops operating in J&K. Second, Rashtriya Rifles and Special Forces became the mainstay as the main counter-insurgent forces; launching people-centric, actionable intelligence based counter-terrorist operations, avoiding collateral damage. The epithet “iron fist in a velvet glove” was enunciated that implied a balance between resolute counter terrorist operations and a humane approach towards the populace at large in the conflict zone. Third, use of minimum calibrated force highlighted the self-imposed restrictions on use of force, like the considered decision to not employ offensive air power or artillery against terrorists, being indiscriminate and leading to large-scale casualties. The principles of discrimination and proportionality had been stressed upon repeatedly in the army. This related to differentiation between the terrorists and innocent population in a conflict zone. While the army conducts deliberate operations with proportional and justifiable force against terrorists, there is a concerted attempt to safeguard the people, who remain in danger as a result of collateral damage. Fourth, it was repeatedly stated that the centre of gravity of the proxy war will always be the population. To this end, Operation Sadhbavna was initiated with the aim of carrying out developmental activities to meet aspirations of the people thereby winning their hearts and minds. Fifthly, and most importantly, it was always understood that the role of the Army (and Security Forces) was confined to creating a secure and conducive environment for the initiation of a political process. This is that as and when the situation became conducive, the Army would retreat to the proverbial barracks!
In numerous times in the past three decades, the situation at large in J&K had seemed to be comparatively encouraging to initiate political processes. However, external abetment continued. It is always difficult to base upon statistics, like the numbers of infiltration attempts, the terrorist initiated incidents, the number of militants killed, or the numbers of fresh recruits, to foretell or become true barometer of the success quotient of a counter-terrorist campaign in J&K. Hence, with the extended duration of the employment of the Army in counter terrorist operations, the security strategy became one of containment than to reverse the thrust of insurgency. Hence, with changing nature to agitation, in the past decade and a half, the chorus from the nation was to initiate a political process. There were distinct attempts in 2003 Agra Summit and the back room parleys in 2006-2008 to negotiate a solution with Pakistan. Simultaneously, interlocution through well-minded citizenry was undertaken, opening channels of communication with various parties within J&K. All were aimed at creating the environment for commencement of a political process. Apparently, all came to a nought.
Then 05 August 2019 brought about a much anticipated forceful political thrust – the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, the UT-isation of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh separately. This is a totally amended paradigm. The post-script to this near earth-shaking politically driven process is yet being written, but suffice it, that the ground arithmetic stands revised. At this juncture, it is mandated to re-emphasise that the role of the Army (and Security Forces) is to create a secure and conducive environment for the initiation of a political process. Unmindful of the security environment of the State, the political process stands initiated, and even if it has taken a converse method of addressing the imbroglio, the plunge has been taken. It becomes necessary hence that the Army and the security forces revisit and revise their mandate, internally and on their own initiative. There is a prime necessity to match the political process with ingenuity and inventiveness.
As a prelude, it is imperative that in the changed environment, the well worn and now meaningless clichés and rhetoric that gets most often repeated are junked forever. Many of these cause consternation and dismay among the peoples and alienate them further – not advantageous to the newly commenced peace processes. The population in Kashmir is our kith and kin, and must not be referred to as centre of gravity – a military soubriquet. Similarly ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ was useful in the past. While focused counter terrorist operations must continue, there may be no need for an iron fist – it sounds too brutal. Three decades of winning hearts and minds, and Op Sadhbavna should take a back seat, it not altogether stopped. The Government is undertaking strong initiatives to bring about well planned socio-economic and infrastructural development. Already the UT and Central Administration are reaching out to village panchayats, and should be planning to reach far and wide to the masses, ameliorating their suffering and providing for their needs.
In this context, four postulations are proffered:

  • First. Centre of Gravity is the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act. Centre of Gravities need to adapt or change to the environment, and remaining fixated may be counter-productive. In J&K the problematic history, its synthesis with radicalisation and people’s grievances is the larger cause of the imbroglio. It is the radical ideology that is currently pumping the agitation and terrorism, duly controlled and abetted by Pakistan. It is also the radical organisational structure that propounds and supports this radical ideology that is of concern. The emphasis on Kashmiri identity over the ages and its preservation thereof, fruits of socio-economic development and countering of adverse misinformation, will be the key to de-radicalisation. There is need for a long term perspective to contest the radicalisation – and on a war footing, albeit it will be a long term enterprise. Counter radicalisation requires experts – social scientists, psychologists and religious teachers to evolve the approach to condition the minds.
  • Second. The Army has an acknowledged role in nation building, one of the guarantors to the idea of India. With this as forethought, the Army has to proceed in the J&K in this amended paradigm. The units and sub units are located and operate in all nooks and corners of the state, and have intensive interaction, relations and often great rapport with the peoples of J&K and the Panchayats. More often than not, the administrative machinery is unable to have the same access and knowledge, largely due to security concerns. Commencing from the grass-roots the Army can help prepare a blueprint of what is infrastructurally imperative in the state – roads, tracks, culverts/ bridges, electricity and transmission, water supply, sewage systems, pucca houses and the like. The Valley has a credible infrastructure, especially roads and bridges. Inhabited reaches of Shamsabari-Pir Panjal-Great Himalayan Ranges and the hinterland require much emphasis. Similarly, would be true of improvement in socio-economic conditions and human resource development parameters. A consolidated blueprint can be prepared amalgamating pointers received from grass roots of the Army deployment, and presented to the Government for taking cognizance and prioritising infrastructural and socio-economic development. In fact involving and empowerment of Panchayats and the youth will be critical in these processes. The very large un-employment and revitalisation of education – at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, need strong emphasis. This should encompass both UTs that is Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh. The thrust is to ensure that the UTs Administrations become the lead, and take the responsibility and the authority in this all-important task of development in the state – that should ameliorate the problems faced.
  • Third. In manner of speaking, information to the peoples is going to be the key, and the mechanics of dissemination of information will matter immensely. The audio-visual medium, the vernacular press and the social media will be material in this and a plan will be imperative. The audio-visual medium that enters the households with strong decibels, negativity, often angry rhetoric and visuals, causes dismay and fans in more radicalisation. These media fiercely defend their independence (and rightly so) and hence cannot be ‘managed’. Prudence can be sought by the Government, especially from the audio-visual medium, in its endeavour to change the paradigm on the ground, and seek moderation in reportage. As the fruits of development and the changed paradigm reach the grass-roots, an imaginative and professional dissemination system will be needed.
  • Fourth. Counter-terrorist operations are bound to continue, with inimical and misguided elements challenging the transformation. The security forces have been pragmatic and prudent in their operations, especially post 05 August 2019, as had been alluded to by the National Security Advisor (Not a single bullet fired in Kashmir in past 1 month: NSA – SUNDAY TIMES, 08 September 2019) . However, goaded by Pakistan and internal radicals, the agitative politics and terror will continue to surface, and the security forces will get stretched. There is need to enunciate tighter rules of engagement in this newer paradigm, where relapse is always an omnipotent and omnipresent threat. These operations will invariably remain firm. The security forces should ensure a moderation in language of information dissemination pertaining to counter terrorist operations, as the larger number of current terrorists have part and parcel of the society, having picked up the gun only recently.

It is likely that the plethora of naysayers will indicate the above as semantics. Indeed, the success of these measures cannot be quantified, but will surely add to qualitative change. However, optics apart, the Army has to match up to the amended political paradigm and the attempts to being peace in J&K. In time, it is earnestly hoped that the populace will feel the positive flow of administrative energies. The Army, hence, in a graduated manner should take a low key or back seat in favour of the local administration, and reduce visibility – on all fronts. The security situation, understandably so, will not placate, as is said idiomatically, in a jiffy. That will yet remain the prime task of the Army. Similarly, higher military commanders need to allow the civil administration and police to be the face of information. May be time is ripe also to jettison unit commendations and take a two-year (if not more) holiday!
The thrust of the article above is to signify that the political processes having commenced with an immense gusto, it is for the Army and security forces to match the initiatives by allowing the correct semblance and visibility of peace. The UT Administration should emerge and become the only managers of the UTs!
If the leader communication had to be re-written, is should be “…the situation is fast improving; it is almost reaching peaceful routine activity. The situation calls for an effective Civil Administration.”

Contemplating the Amended Paradigm

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


Six months, and the external security environment of India has turned on its head! With burgeoning trade at the threshold of $100 billion and general bonhomie, China was spoken in India with bated breaths, if ever, under a broader enunciated policy of appeasement and restraint on the LAC. This was despite a confirmed belief that there was deliberation in China disallowing forward movement to reconciliation of the borders, and there was a growing chasm in all fronts with China. Pakistan was the perpetual adversary, and which is why major defence expenditure was towards that direction. Not too long ago, conventional wars of the territorial kind were considered passé. Two-front war was considered worst case scenario, and it was felt that armed forces do not get organised and equipped based on worst case scenarios – as these are cost prohibitive. Think-tanks and seminar circuit was seriously abuzz and concerned with the runaway military salary-pension.
That changed gradually since May 2020, and totally after 15 June 2020 incident at Galwan in Eastern Ladakh. This period has seen tensions on the LAC, which in early September 2020 on occupation of heights astride the Spanguur Gap (Chushul Sector) by Indian Army, had greatly escalated. Inconclusive debates since May 2020, have assigned rationale to China’s belligerence to geo-political ambitions and expansionism, linked to aggression in East and South China Seas and Taiwan, India’s status changing abrogation of Article 370 and infrastructure construction along the LAC, opposition to BRI and RCEP and growing linkages with the US and QUAD. Five months since then, two-front war has been seen as a feasible reality, from opposing directions of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Aksai Chin, against the immense topographical wedge of Saltoro Range/ Siachen Glacier and Sub Sector North (SSN) of Eastern Ladakh.
In the same period, in July 2020, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a virtual meeting with his counterparts of Nepal and Pakistan (and Afghanistan), to forge “four-party cooperation” to continue work on projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The stated focus was to obtain geographic advantages, strengthen exchanges and connections “…actively promote the construction of the CPEC and the trans-Himalayan three-dimensional interconnectivity network…” Contextually, hence the issue of China in GB and Nepal also needs deliberation.
Much has been written about CPEC, brandied as a ‘game changer’ in Pakistan. More than 400 kilometres of this CPEC route (N-35) passes through GB. The 175 kilometre road between Gilgit and Skardu is being upgraded to a 4-lane road at a cost of $475 million to provide direct access to Skardu from the N-35. China is mainly interested in GB’s large mineral deposits – metallic, non-metallic, energy minerals, precious and dimension stones, and rocks of differing industrial value. Mining in GB is already dominated by corporations mainly from China or ghost companies operating on behalf of the Pakistan Army. Pakistan has illegally awarded more than 2000 leases in GB for the mining of gold, uranium and molybdenum (which is used in space technology) to China. Chinese companies and labour are everywhere in GB, especially in the Hunza-Nagar district, which is rich in uranium. Chinese has also leased areas in Astore district to extract high quality copper, and in Ghanche District (adjoining Saltoro Range) for uranium, gold, copper, marble and precious stones.
Additionally Moqpandass Heavy Industry SEZ, located 200km from Sust Dry Port enroute to Khunjerab Pass is planned 35km from Gilgit and 160km from Skardu. It is planned to have industries for granite/marble, iron ore processing, fruit processing, steel industry, mineral processing unit and leather industry. Co-located will also be Gilgit Hydropower station generating 100MW. GB hence is the fulcrum of Chinese greed for raw materials that have to be extracted and transported to China. There is a likelihood of a road connecting GB with Shaksgam Valley and on to Western Highway G219, across the Shimshal Pass on Karakoram Range, thereby bypassing the long loop through Kashgar.
China is simultaneously developing China-Nepal Economic Corridor (CNEC) with major infrastructural projects under the Nepal China Trans Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network. The 72km Kerung-Kathmandu railway corridor will finally connect Kerung to Lumbini. There are motorable roads from the Chinese border to Hilsa, Korala, Rasuwa, Kodari, and many more are being added. The Sep 2018 Protocol of Transit Transport Agreement enables Nepal to access Chinese sea and land ports. China has allowed Nepal to use Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang open seaports and Lanzhou, Lhasa and Xigatse dry ports for trading with third countries.
The geographic barrier of the Himalayan Mountains between Nepal and China, China and Pakistan is being changed by infrastructure – railways, roads and tunnels. In the battle between geography and technology, the Chinese will push its technology and deep pockets to ensure that this infrastructure will come through. The G219 is the link that comes live in this context, though it is a long and hard journey because of the harsh environment, in larger parts with regular rain or snow and temperatures remaining always sub-zero. There is also very limited habitation, like Shiquane (called Ali Town), Rutog and Xaidullah (called 30 Li Yingfang or Sanshili Yingfang). (As an aside, from Urumqi -capital of Xinjiang, to Lhasa the commonly used Routes are the Jingxin and Jingzang Expressways (G7 and G6) and not G219.) Through this route – G219, it seems Foreign Minister Wang Yi is intimating linkages between CPEC and CNEC, and change the character of the region around Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh!
That brings in contemplation of the tense situation on the LAC. Likely steps to break the impasse[1] and appreciation of LOC-isation of LAC[2] are not being re-examined. This contemplation is endeavoured in six pathways:
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wengbin’s belligerent statement on 27 Sep 2020 “…China-India border LAC is obvious, that is the LAC on November 7, 1959. China announced it in the 1950s, and the international community, including India, is also clear about it”, is instructive. India, promptly and stoically rejected this statement, “…India has never accepted the so-called unilaterally defined 1959 LAC. This position has been consistent and well known, including the Chinese.” The reference to 07 Nov 1959 LAC by China indicates, in part, rationale for the incursions of May 2020, as is evident in Pangong Tso North Bank and Depsang Plateau. The Chinese statement has two clear pointers. One, having undertaken incursions towards the 1959 LAC, China is unlikely to relent on disengagement or return to status quo ante. Two, there are many similar areas of the ‘1959 LAC’, which are not in PLA’s control, like in Demchok and even in Depsang. This mandates a caution in appreciation of future operations of PLA, attempting to further ingress.
The current posturing along the LAC and preparations of Indian Armed Forces provide immense confidence. The defensive lines (and their planned offensive content) occupied by the Army along the LOC-AGPL and LAC are strong, and cumulated with IAF potency are strongly deterring. A two-front war, with Pakistan as a Chinese client state, can also be deemed to be defensively secured, which includes LOC-AGPL. However, there may be need to rebalance forces[3], between the Western and Northern Fronts, to cater for reserves and for offensives. In this context, with the increased Chinese presence and the importance of GB for them, the threat to Kupwara Sector, Western Ladakh and Saltoro Range also stands fairly enhanced.
PLA’s example of use of medieval weapons and later unmilitary-like massed armour followed by infantry must not lull us into complacency. The adversary will retain some trumps up his sleeve; PLA is but a technologically fairly advanced and modern military, albeit inexperienced in territorial warfare. PLA’s current dominant mode of warfare is confrontation between “information-based systems-of-systems.”
Warfare itself is in transition. As witnessed even in Nagorno-Karabakh recently, the efficacy of armed drones (of Turkish origin) by Azerbaijani military against tanks was telling. Our contemplated acquisitions of the last five months give an impression of being reactive and even hasty, with some not even in Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP). It is an optimal necessity to examine prosecution of warfare in all its manifestations, plan integrated capability building and stagger the acquisitions. The Armed Forces in general, and the Army in particular in territorial domain, have to undertake modern warfare integratedly, and any lopsided capability building will be counter-productive. While legacy systems do require replacement or upgradation, with finite defence budget, state of the national economy, and the ongoing vagaries of COVID19, priority must be on acquisition of modern force multipliers, like armed drones and anti drone systems. Most essential is clear prioritisation of acquisitions based upon trends in future warfare.
CPEC from Gwadar to POK/GB and onwards to Nepal along G219, will be a major transition in proximity to Ladakh, and Uttrakhand-Tibet border. As an aside it must be categorically stated that the endpoints of the CNEC and Trans Himalayan Connectivity Projects will touch the boundaries of the Gangetic plains. Since exploitation of GB and the CPEC are China’s flagship projects, this region will remain tense, in near perpetuity. There is internal turmoil in GB, including against the Chinese ham-handed methods in exploitation of the region. This needs to be strongly supported.
Though the subject of a futuristic appreciation in the light of an amended paradigm of two adversaries simultaneous belligerence, the nuclear doctrine requires a revisit, especially vis-à-vis Pakistan. It may be time to lay down punitive caveats to No First Use against Pakistan, catering for such a scenario.
In sum, 15 Jun 2020 at Galwan River has galvanised the nation, and spurred the polity and the armed forces in planning and preparing for the looming threat of an increasingly aggressive and belligerent China. It is a long haul, but as the events of the past five months clearly indicate, the Indian Armed Forces are prepared for the territorial challenge. India needs to take long-term view on this emerging national security issues.

End Notes
[1] Lt Gen DS Hooda and Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma, How to Break the Impasse, India Today, 26 Sep 2020,, accessed at
[2] Rakesh Sharma, LOC-isation of LAC, Pragmatic Appreciation, 25 Sep 2020, Indian Defence Review, New Delhi, New Delhi, accessed at
[3] Rakesh Sharma, Ideating Structural Rebalancing, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi 25 Aug 2020, accessed at

LOC-isation of LAC: Pragmatic Appreciation

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

In a candid statement on the floor of the Indian Parliament on 15 and 17 Sep 2020, the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stated that there is no common delineation or perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between China and India. China was also unwilling to pursue LAC clarification exercise over many decades. A Five-Point Consensus arrived at in Moscow on 10 Sep 2020, between Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, agreed on continuation of dialogue, quick disengagement, maintaining proper distance, abiding by all the existing agreements and protocols and on conclusion of new Confidence Building Measures (CBMs).
Consequently, Border Personnel Meeting was held in Ladakh between Corps Commanders on 21 September 2020. The Joint Press release mentioned earnest implementation of Consensus, strengthening communication on the ground, avoiding misunderstandings and misjudgements, stop sending more troops to the frontline, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, and avoid taking any actions that may complicate the situation. Indeed, the statement is generic and attempts to freeze situation on the ground to avoid any incident. It is likely that the negotiators would revert to their respective Principals to obtain further directions.
This brings to fore the existential situation and need to envision ahead. As is evident at Pangong Tso North Bank PLA is industriously creating infrastructure. At Depsang Plateau, PLA already has bases/ garrisons like at TWT, Tianshuihai, Qizil Jirga, Samzungling and Sumdo, which only require expansion. The heights astride Spanggur Gap (Chushul Sector) occupied by Indian Army, both sides are face-to-face, in a situation on a short fuse, wrought with the likelihood of skirmish. This latter situation is of gravest concern in China, cumulated with clear advantages that Indian Army units have in super high altitude. It is also likely that to sustain the forces, habitat and other infrastructure would be under creation along the 100km Rutog-Moldo Road.
Actions speak louder than words. It is apparent that PLA has little intention of vacating the transgressed areas at this juncture or any reversal to April 2020 state. The discussions at Chushul-Moldo would largely relate to de-escalation, disengagement and arriving at fresh CBMs. De-escalation, implies demobilisation or deinduction of additional forces currently located herein, to respective Cantonments/ Bases. This is important as it would obviate the threat of conventional war (limited or all-out). The disengagement on the LAC is essential to preclude a fire-fight or scuffle between troops in contact. However, the eroded trust necessitates verifiable mechanisms to assure that the disengaged area is not surreptitiously occupied by the adversary. Again, subsequently, domination to respective LACs based upon older CBMs, is weighed down by the likelihood of repeat of scuffles, brawls and firing (Indian Army troops have an amended rules of engagement.). It is clear that the LAC is a flawed concept, and without initiation of demarcation/ delineation, the situation has the potential of rapidly degenerating. This is a proverbial CATCH 22 situation.
The Indian Army has been feverishly preparing defences and building up operational logistics for the forthcoming winter. The situation is being dubbed in a futuristic scenario as LOC-isation of LAC in an obvious reference to the proximate occupation of defences on the LAC, akin to what exists against Pakistan in J&K. The implications of this are appreciated in three-pointers:

    • The LOC has sectors in high altitude, and in certain sub-sectors in super high altitude. Along the LOC there is precipitation, the existence of tree-line, snow fall and large retention of snow, reasonable roads-tracks infrastructure and comparatively healthy environment. Au contraire the LAC in Eastern Ladakh is a largely rain-shadow region, with steep barren ridges, deep valleys/ gorges, and snowfall that is minimal and retain minimally. There are serious infrastructural and access issues to Ladakh in winter months. The entire LAC in Eastern Ladakh requires at least a second stage acclimatisation. While areas closer to LOC are largely inhabited, LAC has populated villages far and few in-between.
    • Approximate 900km LOC-AGPL had connotations of ‘holders-keepers’ and with infiltration of terrorists, had necessitated holding of defences closest to LOC, which is prone to ceasefire violations and artillery firing. The units and formations on LOC are settled in a well planned defensive-offensive systemic. The LAC has been undemarcated and undelineated, and largely dominated by patrolling. The PLA serial actions of May 2020, and its intransigence in not returning to previous positions, are an attitudinal change, which demand posture transformation for the Indian Army units.
    • Logistically, LOC and LAC are different as chalk and cheese. In Eastern Ladakh, the terrain and climatic challenges have effect on health, even after acclimatisation. Winter stocking, especially fuel for warming and cooking purposes, is imperative. An immense anxiety can be of potable water. However, the air-bridge established between mainland and Leh, and Leh to forward areas will greatly facilitate logistics round the year. In the current imbroglio, with defences on high ridges and passes and much higher numbers of units, the operational logistics will be an immense exercise.

That brings to fore the question of LOC-isation of LAC as a manner of operational deployment. There is understandably an apprehension of PLA having not finished its agenda and yet having aggressive designs up its sleeve. That could come about in Eastern Ladakh, or in another sector of the Northern Borders, before onset or during winter, or immediately thereafter. The omnipotent question is the posture that Indian Armed forces need to adopt or the likely winter strategy. The issue is examined in seven pathways:
First. Much has been stated about internal squabbles in China and the PLA overreach. The media, print, audio/visual and social, in gung-ho about PLA troops lack of experience in warfare per se, in ‘roughing’ in the super high altitude, the conscripted character of troops (PLA has conscripts –yiwubing and volunteers –zhiyuanbing) and the vagaries of one-child familial structure. This implies that PLA soldiers who have absolutely no fighting spirit.[1] Examining realistically, it is difficult to outguess the Chinese, strategically and tactically. Herein, it is important to quote the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “…there is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent.” Indeed, in matters of warfare, as soldiers we need not overestimate the PLA, yet we must not underestimate the opponent either!
The MEA Spokesperson on 24 Sep had stated that “…disengagement is a complex process that requires redeployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC. This will require mutually agreed reciprocal actions.” As mentioned earlier, there is a rightful trust deficit existing. While attacking and capturing mutually defended localities held by Indian Army units will be no mean feat, occupying vacant or vacated passes and ridge lines will be exactly what will suit PLA’s cunningness and guile. There is hence prudence mandatory in ‘redeployment of troops to their regular posts’ without strong verifiable systems. After the experience of Kargil 1999, capturing PLA occupied areas by deliberate operations is plannable. However that decision will fall into political realm and the risk of escalation may become a dampener. Hence complete redeployment, even to obviate skirmish, will be detrimental, as it may be taken advantage off by the PLA.

    • Eastern Ladakh defences, as mentioned above, are largely above 16000feet. Though Indian Army is holding partial defences on the LOC, and wholly on AGPL in comparable heights, for Eastern Ladakh it will be a first. The units hence will be pushed to establish new defended line in Sub Sector North, in the Cheng-Chenmo Valley (Hot Springs – Gogra), North of Pangong Tso and on the Kailash Range. Similar concerns will also be in the Central Sector and Arunachal Pradesh (less West Kameng District). The time-tested teaching of troops to capture (or occupy herein) and troops to hold, mindful of appreciated threat per locality and availability/ time-distance matrix of employment of reserves, needs to be practised. This may facilitate some redeployment, and make the localities more winter-manageable.
    • The doctrine of preferring readjustment and reinforcement in mountains must give way to deliberate offensive planning, even in super high altitude. The occupation of Kailash Range on 29/30 August 2020 can be construed as the rightful measure vis-a-vis capture of transgressed areas. The extent of commensurate occupied areas (which both India and China claim as their own), is manifold larger. This entails adequacy of reserves, that are trained and positioned to turn the adversary’s plans and hence are proactive enough as credible deterrence. Loss of territory will be unacceptable to the adversary, and to recapture it will be Herculean! As a corollary, a forceful offensive territorial response to even non-kinetic or non-contact typology of warfare will prove internally disturbing to China.
    • The prowess of sons-of-the-soil that hail from the high altitudes regions and their force-multiplier effect, like the Ladakh, Dogra, Garhwal, Kumaon, Sikkim, Arunachal Scouts and the Special Frontier Force will be most pronounced. Asymmetric warfare capabilities will be the best to challenge force asymmetry and cause major upheaval to any offensive–defensive designs of the adversary. It will be advantageous to re-examine the Scouts’ per se, create a separate identity, expand the LSRC into a Scouts Centre of Excellence, and enlarge the force by additional conversions of infantry units from Scouts’ parent Regiments.
    • The management of satisfactoriness of peace tenures for large numbers of all arms units inducted along the Northern Borders (especially those not based upon Corps Roster postings, like infantry, artillery, engineers), will be severely hampered. Long haul, as has been stated, mandates these staff duty considerations, as in the long run there are social requirements too! However, it must be stated that units and troops are generally more contented to serve in difficult areas and on operational tasking.
    • There will also be immense logistics concerns for the enhanced deployment in Ladakh, along the Northern Borders. While super high altitude areas of Saltoro and along the LOC have settled down to a systemic, managing logistics in newer deployments in Eastern Ladakh, including fuel and water will be stretching. It is all the more reason to appraise the optimal ‘troops to hold’, and create a right turnover system.

In sum, LOC-isation of LAC is easier said than done! Appreciating historical references, Indian Army tends to occupy areas that have had contestation in perpetuity. With deliberate consideration of the appreciated enemy threat and the terrain, and despite the erosion of trust, LOC-isation of LAC in its fullest measure may not be required and may turn counter-productive. While units on the ground will opine a threat pattern, and with bravado, zeal and enthusiasm and Regimental spirit, may even be resolute on status quo of current deployment, the situation demands a pragmatic appreciation and reassessment, well prior to the onset of winter. Being hardy, tough, experienced in high altitude warfare is correct, but being practical and realistic is as important. LOC-isation should remain what it is, a coinage!

[1] Sanbeer Singh Ranhotra, Chinese army is full of wimps, sissies & little emperors. We are not saying this. This is what China thinks, TFI Post, 29 May 2020, accessed at

Ideating Structural Rebalancing

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member


In a recent article catchily headed, The Army in Indian Military Strategy: Rethink Doctrine or Risk Irrelevance, the author states that “…Indian Army’s prevailing doctrine leaves the military with two choices: do nothing or risk wars it cannot win. The Indian Army needs to rethink its use of force to meet today’s new challenges.”[1]
Again, in recent webinars conducted by think tanks, it was stated by two erudite and very senior (fresh!) veterans that 60 to 65% of the Indian defence budget goes into the (Army’s) Western Front and that there is an imperative need to rebalance from the Western Front! (No names as bound by Chatham House Rules.) These are potent statements that cannot be summarily negated for being out of synch with threats and challenges.
John F. Kennedy had once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to past or present are certain to miss the future.” But again, it has also been said, that change simply for the sake of change is an abdication of leadership. Again, fixing the substantive problems is harder because those fixes require changes in organizational culture.’[2]
Army has been on the verge of transforming for over a decade or so. Conflict and tension of devising military strategies are neatly captured in a pair of rival maxims: first, ‘war is too important to be left to generals’; and second, ‘war is too important to be left to politicians’.[3] The all-important question is, that changes mandatory at this stage? Four distinct rationales stand out.
Firstly, China, after a long hiatus, has finally shown itself as muscular, aggressive and expansionist. Our architecture of LAC management with China had ever remained anarchic, and peace was only guaranteed by deliberate restraints exercised by India. Realism for India is that balance of power had been severely disrupted in China’s favour, and this unbalanced power has become a potential threat.[4]
Any nation that has gained surplus comprehensive power as China has will always be tempted to use it. Contextually, hence it is imperative that India accepts China’s mammoth behavioural and attitudinal transformation as a challenge. There will remain a constancy of threat that calls for India to envision the changed threats paradigm, and ideate on structural rebalancing, preparing for newer realities.
Secondly, it had been authoritatively stated “…battle-winning factor in future combat may not be numerical equivalence but technological superiority. Brick and mortar military structures and capacities will perhaps matter less; technological capacities in enabling domains like AI and cyber will decisively tip the military balance.” [5]
There is this sprint for military technologies, especially in China, and by extension with Pakistan, which will have an immeasurable effect on warfighting. The information age has diktat on warfare – Artificial Intelligence, autonomous weapon systems, space and cyber warfare, precision projectile warfare including hypersonic glide and high powered microwave weapons and aerial drone swarms, electronic, space and network warfighting capabilities. These all indicate an amending paradigm in warfighting. The converse option is of incremental enhancement of force capabilities with the select acquisition as hitherto fore. This will prove strongly counter-productive – as with the passage of time there may be strong evidence of glaring weaknesses, which will be exploited by adversaries.
As is apparent in the current ‘mirror’ deployments on the Northern Front, Indian Army may have lost flexibility in force levels for a two-front war. Time hence is for bold and even distasteful decision-making that would create capabilities for fighting modern wars, shedding intra and inter-service silos.
Thirdly, PM Narendra Modi on Red Fort Ramparts on 15 August 2019 had plainly stated that entire military power will have to work in unison, acknowledging that their current approach was “fragmented,” and that there is need for the three Services to “march in step”. It has oft been stated that jointness among armed forces within the next few years is a given, the impetus being provided by the political establishment. Need is for Services to prepare for oncoming integration.
Fourthly, no broad-based change is feasible without the revitalisation of operational doctrines or strategy, the formal pronouncement of plans to modernise within existing force ceiling, and management of available budget with the appalling revenue-capital mismatch. These are often different and contrasting requirements, as newer doctrines require newer structures and force accretions, which eventually lead to even more adverse revenue-capital budgeting. Naturally, all these have to be parallelly examined and via media evolved.
Indeed, the doctrine of punitive deterrence against Pakistan has been unsuccessful, as a threat of ‘punitive’ punishment has not been able to deter it from ad-lib support to proxy war. The punitive cost often takes the form of capturing enemy territory, destruction of adversary’s warfighting machine or capturing prisoners of war, as bargaining chips. This mandates the Army to re-examine internal doctrines, strategy and structures, that will form part of integrated warfighting systemic.
The traditional Indian theory of victory—a punitive cost-imposition strategy whereby land is seized to be later traded for political concessions—is based on an outmoded character of war in South Asia.[6] If wars are to be short and most likely limited, intense, and lethal, the concept of victory needs a change. The goal of war needs to be redefined as a success rather than victory, where success is measured as much in avoiding excessive casualties, suffering and destruction, furthering political goals, and paralysing adversary’s decision-making processes.
In the above-quoted paper, the author emphasises two dozen times that the Indian Army has an ‘orthodox offensive doctrine’. This is examined in three-pointers. First, the mention of orthodoxy in the offensive doctrine would refer to traditional war-making concepts of capturing large territory, destruction of adversary’s military forces or strategic reserves, and attacking fortified defences. This is an approach of use of force that centres on large army formations (strike corps), operating relatively autonomously from the political direction, seeking to impose a punitive cost on the enemy.[7] These have become less relevant in modern warfare.
Large scale operations in very highly urbanised and over-populated areas on the western borders will cause untold collateral damage. Redrawing of recognised international borders by wars is difficult to construe. Indeed, nuclear deterrence will also have a role to play. A Blitzkrieg (orthodox large mechanised offensive, carried forward from World War 2) entails massed manoeuvre elements, deep thrusts, occupying, manoeuvring through or threatening lived-in large urban centres (or even vast tracts of barren land). Blitzkrieg will inevitably cause great collateral damage and immense hardships to civilian populace, and will be unacceptable on either side of the borders, or internationally. In any future conventional operations, front, depth and rear areas would get engaged multi-dimensionally, simultaneously. Battlefield will become battlespace, non-linear, possibly to point of having no definable battlefields or fronts.
Second, is defend ‘every inch of territory’[8] relevant when international borders cannot be redrawn by force? Linear defences stretching the length of plains and deserts; epitomising the ‘Maginot Line’ (France-German Border World War 2 or Bar-Lev Line in Israel) and slogging attritional force-on-force warfare retain primacy now and ever. The defensive strategy of the sixties and seventies rested on the dictum of no loss of territory, gave rise to the linearity in defences which had served India well in the last forty years.
Linear defences, which have long been the forte of the western borders, are past. It is time to reconstruct combined arms, mechanised heavy forces blitzkrieg operations and Maginot line type defences that have dominated warfighting thought over the last half a century.
Third, proactive strategy at the turn of this century created the pivot and strike formations, former with some offensive punch though largely mired in defences akin to a tram-line. Proactive strategy (or cold start as it was colloquially dubbed) of the last decade and a half, is the basis of Western Front operations. Interchangeably, however, on personalised basis were included coinages of incrementalism, seamless continuums, full-spectrum, manoeuvrist approach and decisive victory.
In the journey, lapped up and jettisoned in quick regularity were many an acronym like the snipe, heavy degradation and heavy breakthroughs. It became obvious later that this pivot corps-strike corps operational continuum would lead to a large quantum of combat power ‘left out of battle’.
It is hence time to re-envision and rebalance the Western Front. Four broad pathways are listed below:
• The near 2500km Western Front South of Chenab River (LOC has different connotations, and hence separated) has three Command HQ, seven Corps with 16 infantry divisions, nearly seven armoured divisions, three artillery divisions, and a number of engineer and air defence brigades. This is an excessive weight on a front, which has even then not provided the requisite punitive deterrence. Accordingly, a rebalancing is recommended as follows:

  • In the context of joint structures and tasking eventually, two commands Western and Southern would be optimal. This should be as was existing pre-2005.
  • Two Corps and one artillery division should be detached from the Western Front. Of these one Corps and the artillery division should be transformed to create the offensive component for the Northern Front. There will also be a need for regrouping the increasing numbers of long-range force multipliers of artillery in conventional missile brigades, under the artillery division.
  • Pivot and Strike Corps should be subsumed, and created into sectorally configured and offensive task-relevant Integrated Battle Groups. As war is a national effort the linear defences be tasked only to PMF/ CAPF. (The PMF/CAPF are nearly one million strong, and to allocate the force to occupy defences is feasible.)
  • The Infantry formations on the Western Front must be provided requisite mobility and become technology-intensive formations.

• The second Corps relieved from the Western Front should construct an expeditionary force, for our long-term aspirations. Indeed, Indian Armed Forces do not profess expeditionary role. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had commented in 2013 that India sees itself as a “net security provider” to the region. Raising the bar for India’s global stature and pushing for a proactive foreign policy, FM Jaishankar had recently in Raisina Dialogue stated that India will be “a decider and shaper” rather than a mere onlooker to international developments and India has been “prisoner of its past image” and the country must get over it. In the light of these natural aspirations, Indian Armed Forces must not lose the opportunity. In case the word expeditionary seems offensive, a new coinage, like airmobile corps, can be adopted. This Corps should be ‘light’, with task-oriented configuration, and with the amphibious component be placed under the Peninsular/ Maritime Theatre Command, also catering for strategic and tactical mobility. The Corps also becomes a national reserve, where none exists.
• On the Western Front, punitive deterrence should give way. A tailored Pakistan centric joint war-winning doctrine and strategy is imperative, and the joint capabilities should be developed accordingly. This multi-domain strategy should plan a modern war amalgamating technological strength (Information Warfare, cyber, EW, space), the conjoined weight of airpower, long-range vectors, missiles, precision-guided munitions, rockets, heavy artillery, and offensive operations all along the Front, creating the overwhelming force asymmetry.
• India also requires a modern composite Integrated Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) system. It should be permanently in place along the battlespace, duly configured into sectors, networked and with data mining capability. Initially, it could be initiated with reconfigured SATA Regiments that become static profiled units.
In sum, the current imbroglio in Eastern Ladakh, with the impetus given by the political establishment mandates clean drafting pads and a clutch of thought leaders – military and civilian alike, and afresh contemplation of utilisation of military power optimally, and strategising 21st-century war-fighting concepts. Capabilities planned for should abide by us till mid-century. The landscape of multi-domain warfare should facilitate the creation of new and innovative ways against adversaries, as the future of warfare.
The war-fighting doctrinal transition must precede any force restructuring, and contextually, rebalancing the Western Front is mandatory, as symbolism and substance, together.

[1] Arzan Tarapore, The Army in Indian Military Strategy: Rethink Doctrine or Risk Irrelevance, Carnegie India, August 2020, accessed at
[2] William S Lind, An Officer Corps That Can’t Score: How military careerism breeds habits of defeat accessed at, 17 April, 2014
[3] Colin S Gray, War, Peace and International Relations, An Introduction to Strategic History, Rutledge, Oxon, 2007, p7
[4] Rakesh Sharma, Inflexion in Sino-Indian Relations: Case for Strategic Pragmatism, Vivekananda International Foundation, 21 Aug 2020, accessed at
[5] Gen Bipin Rawat, Nature of Future Wars and Indian Army, CLAWS Manekshaw Paper, Knowledge World Publishers, 2019, New Delhi,
[6] Ibid Note 1.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Karnad Bharat, Why India is not a Great Power (Yet), (Oxford University Press, 2015), p309.
Courtesy: First published on

Ideating Force Modernisation: Negotiating Culs de Sac

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

An intense debate on the doctrinal and force structuring basis of the Armed Forces, most significantly, the Army, is currently underway, becoming mordant as it goes. Four compelling threads merit notice.
First was the debate on two-front war, in a publicised difference of opinion. The force structuring and force development are contingent on the war fighting strategy enunciated for this appreciated multi front simultaneous committal, hence, the importance of the issue. Undoubtedly, the accurate prognostication of the future is fraught with danger of failing, yet reasonable assumptions and a modicum of contingency planning can facilitate.
Second is the budgetary allocation for the Army, and its inability to meet the committed liabilities, the defence budget of 2018-19 having slipped to 1.58% of GDP. To top it, under-utilisation of funds has been a recurring feature of India’s defence budget with the armed forces surrendering nearly Rs 7,000 crore in the last couple of years. In fact this trend of budgetary allocations has continued for a fair period of time, and is a judgmental issue for the Government. It can be well conceptualized that the next fiscal, being an election year, the full budget would be placed only post installation of the next Government, and that any major upward increase at that stage would be unlikely. It obviously directs that the policy-making security apparatus at the helm of the governance fathoms that the quantum allocation is sufficient, as per their visualisation of the future security environment.
Third is ‘cut the flab’, which has, as if, become synonymous with the Armed forces, and Google obediently gurgles out aplenty in response to the query, the last being the TOI editorial of 20 March 2018! A Committee of Experts had been constituted by Ministry of Defence under the chairmanship of Lt Gen (Retd) DB Shekatkar to recommend measures to enhance combat capability and rebalance defence expenditure of the armed forces. It was apparent that the Government felt that there were lacunae in the combat capability of the armed forces.
The Fourth is the salience of speech of the President Xi Jinping at the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China 20 March, 2018. “The Chinese people and the Chinese nation have a shared conviction which is not a single inch of our land will be and can be ceded from China”. “We are resolved to fight the bloody battle against our enemies and on the basis of independence we are determined to recapture the relics.” “We have strong capabilities of taking our due place in the world.” (To add to it are the news reports that Doklam issue – as a case in point – has not stabilized or settled.) Obviously the speech of the Chinese President does not exemplify the ‘enemies’, the disputed ‘single inch of land’, however, the military transformation and technological modernization of the PLA does indicate their capabilities to ‘fight a bloody battle’. And indeed, despite all efforts at placation and mending fences, the connotations and implications of the speech must not be missed in India. The issues as highlighted need cumulated contemplation.
The Armed Forces modernization relies on a broad document called the Raksha Mantri’s Operational Directives prepared by HQ IDS, in the absence of a formalized National Security Strategy. Assuredly, a strategy based on two-front war, and creation of capabilities for the same, will be for a worst case scenario in the Indian context. Combat planning and force levels are rarely fathomed on worst case scenarios, as these are cost prohibitive for a developing nation. Accordingly, it is seemingly clarified, even without a formal pronouncement that the armed forces have to modernize within the available quantum, and within the existing, dire, procedures, with the retention of the revenue-capital mismatch. The option therefore to continue as hitherto fore, with select acquisitions and not creation of force capabilities will prove strongly counter-productive – as with passage of time there may be stronger evidence of glaring weaknesses, which can be exploited by the adversaries.
There is also the challenge of the sprint of military technologies that are at the threshold in our neighbourhood, and which will have immeasurable effect on war fighting. Though in different league, the US has created a new Future Command informally referred to as modernization command with its eight cross-functional teams, for development of improved long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities, and Soldier lethality. The information age diktat on warfare – Artificial Intelligence, autonomous weapon systems, space and cyber warfare, precision projectile warfare including hypersonic glide and high powered microwave weapons and aerial drone swarms, electronic, space and network warfighting capabilities, eigh the kinetic ones, in achievement of political aims, indicate an amending paradigm in war fighting.
It is axiomatic that for the quandary that the armed forces are placed in, especially the Army, the doctrinal basis and the strategy for the future is placed before the Government in a crisp and direct fashion. In addition, since internal research and development is unable to maintain pace with the sprint of technologies, acquisitions from global arena is a necessity – though the latter has its own significant anxieties. Time hence is for bold and even distasteful decision-making that would create capabilities for fighting post-modern wars, than modernization based on individual arms silos.
Many of the recommendations to achieve these are on the anvil and are well known – like the Theatre Commands and jointness of the armed forces. A few, though random, (and maybe some insurmountable and unachievable) recommendations are penned herein, to energise critique and thinking processes, to adjust to the finality that the Services face currently and in the future.
The Services require an internal Joint Blue-Ribbon Committee, to net-assess the capabilities essential for the future, and translate these into a conjoined acquisitions programme. In this delineation, the Government needs to be formally sensitized on formulation of thought-processes on foundational percepts like the two-front war and the conceptualized military strategy for the future that would lead to the creation of focused capabilities. The current LTIPP, amalgamates the independent Services wish-lists without sanitizing the same in correspondence with capabilities that can be cumulatively offset. A Joint Services Vision Document may therefore place the Government on a discussion platform, and accept or reject the formulations on which the creation of tomorrow’s plans is based. To await ad infinitum for the formalized issue of National Security Strategy will only be at the peril of the Armed Forces, and self-initiative hence is imperative.
As argued earlier, since a major budget increase is unlikely, and the committed liabilities will take their toll for the Army, a serious measure of reduction in revenue budget especially for the Army is essential. Force right-sizing is contingent on the result of the Vision Document, new percepts in war fighting, creation of requisite capabilities and optimal utilization of CAPF/PMF in hostilities. The burgeoning revenue budget on account of salaries alone is immense. In the interim, it can be considered that a ten percent cut in manpower be enforced on all units of the Army bar-none, to reduce the force by over a lakh and a quarter over a period of three years. By curbing all new raisings – including those underway and by reducing the intake to one third for a period of three years, will substantially downscale the revenue budget, which must be sought to be transferred in the Army component of capital budget. In the interim in the three years the right force configuration be worked out as applicable.
The amending paradigm of war fighting envisages emphasis on newer defensive and offensive technologies that are more relevant in Information Age, than the hard power of tanks, infantry combat vehicles, artillery guns or even infantry units. Many of the hard power systems may be rendered infructuous in future wars by the precision projectile technologies, information warfare, the low cost drone swarms and the directed energy weapons. There needs a serious thought on fresh intakes been planned and modernization drive towards next generation systems. This issue is not deliberated further as should be addressed in the Vision document.
Time is at a premium for the Army at least, in facing the uphill task of getting the Next Force ready, for the future generation will be unkind to the current and the past for having not envisaged the future correctly and planned accordingly. All out efforts to be at the same page with the Government of the military strategies is imperative. It is NOT a question of acquisitions of individual platforms and modernization, it is of creation of basket of capabilities that are the call of tomorrow. Or we are destined to remain in perpetual cul-de-sac.

Line of Control Ceasefire – ‘Escalate to De-escalate’

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

The Ceasefire Agreement is historic – dating to 2003, announced as it was initially unilaterally by Pakistan, and later on the Indian suggestion expanded to include Siachen Glacier. As one recollects the years prior to the ceasefire, near-continuous firing across the LOC was a ritual, honed to an art in attempting to push terrorists across. The firing at times was so ferocious and incessant that many veterans recall it as a war-zone personified. The troops deployed along the LOC, then had well fathomed the persistent fire and adjusted to it. The civilian activities in proximity were close to cipher, also thanks to the mining of the border areas during Op Parkaram. The years consequently have witnessed significant changes. The border fence was a paradigmatic transition to a new posture of countering infiltration, ceasefire forced the Army’s hand to demine steadily and hand over areas to the civil population, the villages were permitted to relocate to traditional areas even between the fence and the LOC/international border (IB) and tilling took over every inch of territory up to the zero-line. It is not that the sporadic firing did not take place in the interregnum, that terrorists continued infiltration (though much reduced and checked) and action by border action teams from across did take place. Just that these were not deterrent enough to roll-back the normal civilian activity in the proximity to the LOC/IB, including running of schools, or grazing of cattle and even controlled trade from across Kaman and Chakandabagh. As time passed, the supremely live LOC that the units faced in the nineties became a fading memory – except in some persistent areas like Krishna Ghatti!
The Ceasefire Agreement on the Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan is now dead. The death has not come about in a day or a few weeks – it was seen coming over the last couple of years. Samba, Dinanagar, Kathua, Uri, Pathankot, Nagrota, and now Sanjuwanare all pointers towards what was to follow. The IB sector led the way, with exchange of fire between the Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers. Statistically 152 incidents in 2015, 228 in 2016, and the four-fold rise to 860 in 2017 are symptomatic of the incorrigibility of the Pakistan Army. The Pakistan Army –clichés apart –lives on pathological hatred towards India having solidified anti-Indianism as a national identity issue, and controls the Pakistani Nation in toto – letting political dispensations exist, as afacade. An active LOC/IB allows the Pakistani Army to ensure continual attention towards J&K, when the terrorist activity and terrorist initiated actions are on the wane. The death of the ceasefire is more so along the LOC/IB South of Pir Panjal, evidence of which comes in from use of indirect firing weapons, the thousands of civilians vacating their proximate villages, schools closed by the District Administrations, cessation to normal life and damage to civilian houses, peoples and livestock.
Can the situation revert back to normal – normal being adherence to ceasefire, as tenuous as it was? Indeed, it is feasible, with political sagacity and decisions at that level. However, the trigger-happiness of the Pakistan Army, and its nature in the national scheme, will not allow for a reliable adherence and return to normalcy of the civilian life. The seriousness of own casualties recently at Bhimber Gali effect the national psyche. The print and audio-visual (with its decibels) debated ad-lib escalation on the LoC, only to find contrary opinions prescribing patience, with no firm stated direction.
Close on the heels of the heightened tensions on the LoC has come the terrorist attack on Army Military Camp at Sanjuwan, Jammu. The regularity of the attacks on military camps by suicidal squads trained, equipped, indoctrinated and unleashed, causes national consternation. The drawing-room and on the street conversations – which are no measure of national policy, exhort stronger and firmer action.
What next? The political parleys may be continuing with Pakistan behind curtains at a slow pace. The events at Bhimber Gali and Sanjuwan will generate heat for a finite time, and then will be pushed to statistics, till the next ones happen at different areas. Status of existing responses have had limited heed, as the Pakistan Army allows a short hiatus, before orchestrating the next attack. A bouquet of response options do exist, many are however relegated on the altar of escalation. It is but no war-mongering to plan a more forceful response, one that is more significant to be noticed. Immediate response must be to ESCALATE to DE-ESCALATE, with clear signal, that the next event would upscale the same, and that the other side must desist from further escalation – as the subsequence will be their responsibility. Next level of military targeting against known military bases/ depth areas of the adversary utilizing focused precision, long range indirect fire, and the like, in a concerted manner, must get noticed. At each time the response must be different, confusing, unconventional and perplexing. As a strategy it should be outside the experience of Pakistan Army on the LoC.
To take a cue, there is a need to make military signaling and psychological addressal of events a systemic. We must address the border population of Pakistan in POK and Punjab, electronically, to impress upon their uniformed forces to desist from fanning terror in J&K and on LoC, as the response may be many levels higher. The international opinion should also be intimated that Indian uniformed forces are not war-mongers, and wish for peace – however, henceforth the answer to major event as have happened recently, will not be routine. Indeed, the likelihood of escalation and fool-hardiness may exist. However, the doctrine of ESCALATE to DE-ESCALATE would aim at a strong immediate message, though the attempt thereinafter would be to downscale. The cost of inciting terror in India, for Pakistan must be heightened, to hurt, forcing their population and polity to take the matter in their hands and push the Pakistan military and their jehadi factories to put clamps.

Ideating Force Management: Specialisation of Units

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

Warfare is currently in transformative phase – akin to the two military technological revolutions of the 21st century – the mechanisation of war and the advent of nuclear weapons. The first defined the current conventional forces based on mechanised forces and the second determined why such forces cannot be effectively used one against the other, by the philosophies of deterrence. The manoeuvre warfare, however, came about as a mental and physical type of warfare, in desire to mentally trying to engage the enemy commander, as a method of fighting outnumbered and winning.
How has the art and science of warfare advanced since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989? A large body of defence theorists argue that the strategic narrative of the post-Cold War period, is a process of transition from Industrial Age warfare to a new chapter of warfare shaped and driven by the technologies of the Information Age including in its ambit information dominance, or dominant battle-space knowledge and the interneting of forces so as to exploit that information dominance; and of course precision strike. The enlarged influence of insurgencies and terrorism that manifested itself in the last three decades with all its advancements in typology of operations and methodologies to counter them are significant in intensely involving military forces globally and in India.
The Indian sub-continent is a mosaic of enormous diversity – in terrain from super high altitude desert to the astronomically opposite Thar, from glaciated regions to riverine and water-obstacled countryside, from very dense jungles and rain forests to peninsular India. The unresolved borders, the spread of terrorism and the intransigent attitude of militarily advanced adversaries, cumulate into a heady concoction. To match conflicting requirements of this diversity, the transformative changes in technology by leaps and bounds, and adapting to the contradictory pulls and pressures of the force management are indeed Herculean. The Force too has social underpinnings that demand constant consideration, and hence, any major upheaval was considered singularly avoidable and was avoided.
It is however axiomatic that the Force or its sub-components cannot be created and treated as ‘jack of all’; it is humanly not feasible to learn, unlearn, relearn and onwards, with movements from one pattern of warfare to another, form one typology of equipment to another. It would invariably lead to loss of efficiency and effectiveness, operational preparedness and readiness. It does also have attendant issues like data-bases or data management, incessant movement of units year-long and loss of functional time.
The moot question is that, is time ripe to consider specialisation of a higher order at unit levels, under the overall constraints of social requirements of personnel, human resource issues, and the imperatives of unit cohesiveness. Taking a step back, the spread of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir led to creation of the Rashtriya Rifles units and formations – which have proved their mettle in an extraordinary manner. It is imperative to quote on the performance of RR units. One of the high achieving units, 36 RR, is organised with a little over 50 per cent manpower from The Garhwal Rifles, 30 per cent from the Artillery and rest of the elements coming from Engineers (one Engineer platoon), Signals (a communication platoon), EME (one Field Repair Increment – FRI), ASC (one Mechanical Transport Platoon), Ordnance (storemen) and AMC (medical personnel). The total manpower comes to about 1,200 all ranks (against 840 of an Infantry unit) but the capability to have six RR companies is a definite plus. In many ways an RR represents a battalion group which can be reorganised for tailor made tasks because of the inherent flexibility. An RR unit turns over almost 50 per cent of its manpower every year, which means 600 men come and 600 go, making it an average of 50 a month.[1]
Then there are units with larger manpower from specialist units like from the mechanised infantry, for example 21 Rashtriya Rifles from the Brigade of GUARDS that has performed brilliantly over the years in North Kashmir. Carrying forward, similar specialised units like the dozen odd SCOUTS units all deployed in high altitude areas, the Home and Hearth Territorial Army Units or the ASSAM RIFLES (a Para-military force operating in the North East). It is apparent that the efficiency of these units comes from retention of their gridded deployment (or set operational parameters) in near permanence, which provides for an intrinsic, informational and operational environment – a kind of specialisation that has given great dividends.
There is need to move this era of specialisation forward, understandably within the ambit of social requirements of the personnel, but to best operational advantage to the Force. Back to the technological transformation based on information happening globally and among our adversaries, permanence on information handling and management units – the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) establishments, sectorally, is getting imperative. It is a great loss of efficiency for Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Units to lift up as proverbially lock, stock and barrel from say Jodhpur to say Leh, and vice versa! Both terrains and operational environs have nothing by distance in common (except some semblance of desert). With the typology of unmanned aerial systems, weapon locating radars and other equipment and the proposed induction of gridded Battlefield Surveillance Systems, it would be best to place such assets on sectoral basis (and not units), in permanence, affiliated to regional formations. In time, with information warfare gaining traction, these units will provide a backbone infrastructure and expertise. Similar consideration can be considered for Air Defence units, units trained in marine warfare or air-transported ones. Management of personnel turnover can be undertaken as is being explained above in Rashtriya Rifles, or in Services units based on Corps rosters, without any loss of efficiency.
Understandably, any such idea is bound to be considered disruptive or turbulent, or shunned on the altar of officer-management. And that this may lead to effect on cohesion in the units. However, if in 24×7 combat units like Rashtriya Rifles, unit commanders have been ensuring cohesion even at sub-sub unit levels, and achieving credible outcomes, the issue cannot be taken as rationale for deniability. As regards other issues, these must outweigh and adapt to operational imperatives. The schema for future warfare is transiting at a very fast clip, the era demands and dictates agility of mind – a kind of manoeuvre warfare. Specialisation of units will ensure best performance, even if it comes with some minimal turbulence.

[1]Syed Ata Hasnain, Rashtriya Rifles: The Story Of Independent India’s Finest Military Experiment, 23 Jul , 2017, accessed at

Ocean’s eleven

Gautam Bambawale

Indian ForeignService (Retd.)

At the 34th ASEAN summit in Bangkok, the leaders of the 10-nation grouping finally came out with their positions on the Indo-Pacific region in a document titled ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’. While ASEAN has not spelt out what it considers to geographically constitute the region, there appear to be several similarities between the Indian and ASEAN approaches to this critical subject.
Acknowledging that this is a very important part of the globe from both a geo-political as well as geo-economic perspective, the group clearly wants developments here to be ASEAN-centric and even ASEAN-led. The Outlook “envisages ASEAN Centrality as the underlying principle for promoting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, with ASEAN-led mechanisms… as platforms for dialogue and implementation of the Indo-Pacific cooperation”. This approach of ASEAN heaves closely to the Indian position, which was best articulated by PM Narendra Modi in his Shangrila dialogue address on June 1, 2018, where, in reference to the Indo-Pacific region he had stated, “Southeast Asia is at its centre. And, ASEAN has been and will be central to its future. That is the vision that will always guide India…”. This similarity of approach works well for both sides, since we already have sizeable areas of cooperation within the “ASEAN Plus India” and the East Asia Summit frameworks, and we already work together in many of the ASEAN-led platforms and vehicles of cooperation.
A second objective of the ASEAN group, as far as the Indo-Pacific is concerned, is to promote an enabling environment for peace, stability and prosperity by upholding a “rules-based regional architecture”. India, too, seeks such an order which must equally apply to all individually as well as to the global commons. The new ASEAN Outlook specifically refers to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) while talking of peaceful resolution of disputes, which can be interpreted as being squarely aimed at China and its aggressive actions in the South China Sea. India too believes that when “nations make international commitments, they must uphold them” including in freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and settlement of disputes. Once again, there is a close harmony of views between India and ASEAN.
The ASEAN Outlook clearly has an inclusive approach to the region as it visualises “avoiding the deepening of mistrust, miscalculation and patterns of behavior based on a zero-sum game”. India has also stated that the Indo-Pacific region is not an exclusive club aimed at any country but must be inclusive, aiming at security and prosperity for all in the region. This is none other than PM Modi’s idea of SAGAR, which he has elaborated extensively in his many visits within the region, including recently at the Majlis of the Maldives. Once again, we see the similarities between India and ASEAN which are starkly different from the idea of a waning power taking on an emerging one in its backyard.
Finally, the Outlook makes it amply clear that the objective of security and stability is the continued growth and development of all countries in the region through greater connectivity, more trade and higher investment. Here too, free, fair and balanced trade by sticking to the rules of the game will be very important, so that extreme imbalances can be cut out and prosperity shared by all — not confined to the few. Whether ASEAN and others in the region can ensure such fair behaviour is something which we will have to work towards. ASEAN pressure on India to ensure completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of 2019 is a case in point. Obviously, India will sign on only when it believes it has got as much in return for what it gives.
Strikingly, no countries have been named in the ASEAN Outlook. It is not being positioned as a new strategy of ASEAN, but a continuation of what have been ASEAN goals and objectives for decades. It is clearly mentioned that no new structures will be created, but that existing ones will be optimally utilised for achieving some of the goals stated in the Outlook. The East Asia Summit (EAS) will be one such platform where not only are China and Japan present, but also Russia and the United States. The ADMM (ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting) Plus framework will also come in handy on defence and security matters.
There is great similarity and parallel in both thought and approach between the Indian and ASEAN positions on the Indo-Pacific Region. As middle or balancing powers that do not want to be in a position to have to choose sides between the big players, there is common ground between the two. This, in turn, dictates our positions on this very topical issue. As we all know and realise, it is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate on a trapeze string without falling off. Individual countries or groups of nations are now being called upon to back one side against the other. This is difficult for both ASEAN as well as India.
A concert between the balancing powers is, therefore, the requirement of the day. India should quickly seize the moment of the announcement of the ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific Region’, and institute a new dialogue with the 10-member grouping so that we can both further calibrate our approaches in this very important matter. Together, we shall have more say on this subject than we have individually, and that will stand us in good stead. A Track-1 India-ASEAN Indo-Pacific dialogue should be instituted at the earliest.

There is a series of steps that the new Indian govt should take to cement ties with China

Gautam Bambawale

Indian ForeignService (Retd.)

Even as India heads into a general election, it is important to keep focus on and not lose track of how the country must shape its foreign policy over the coming five years. Suggestions, inputs, advice on these issues will be valuable to whichever government is formed. Within our larger foreign policy matrix, there is no denying the fact that India’s relations with China constitute one of our most important challenges in the national security arena. Thus, even while attention is currently on the election schedule, thinkers, analysts, academicians and observers in western India have been giving a lot of thought to the next steps in India-China ties. Since these plans and ideas have been sharpened, fleshed out and given final shape through debate and discussion in the city of Pune, it would be appropriate to call it the “Pune Action Plan on India-China Relations”.
First, given the nature of China’s polity, which is highly centralised, it will continue to remain important to drive the relationship from the top down. Therefore, we agree that there should be intense political interaction, starting with the top leadership and filtering down to the ministerial level and then senior official level. It will be essential to have an early visit to India by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the second half of 2019 to keep up the momentum from the Wuhan Informal Summit of April 2018 as well as to impart new impulses with the formation in office in India as a result of our elections. Whether the interaction between Xi and the Indian prime minister continues to be of the informal variant we experienced at Wuhan will be for the two sides to decide.
The positive aspect of the informal summit format is that it permits just the two leaders of the most populous nations on the globe to interact with each other over significant amounts of time, thereby enabling the two to indulge in strategic communication on each country’s hopes and fears, their assessments and calculations, their dreams and their goals. Such an exchange of views is indeed of significant value, especially amongst nations which need to build upon mutual trust.
Second, it will be important to enhance military-to-military interaction and cooperation between India and China. Currently, the exchanges are mainly between the armies of the two countries. It will be essential to expand this to the navies, which are meeting on the high seas more often. Such exchanges should not merely be limited to study visits, attending courses in the military schools of the other side and perfunctory port calls by naval ships. They need to go beyond such symbolism and aim at getting a better understanding of the doctrines, practices and assessments of the other side. Naturally, this will not be immediately possible but a start has to be made somewhere. On the border itself, there is a need for new confidence-building measures, which will aim at defusing the increasing close proximity situations that have been witnessed in the recent past. Additional Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) may also have to be put into place.
Third, to address the increasingly adverse balance of trade India experiences with China, it is essential to work with the Chinese government to ensure greater market access in China for Indian pharmaceutical products, particularly our cheap formulations. Also, we must look at the “invisible” part of our payment balance with China and make a focused effort at attracting more Chinese tourists. Marketing Incredible India in China will be a first step, but we shall also have to work with Chinese travel agents, the various airlines which fly between our countries, the new online agencies as well as the social media methodology to popularise India as a tourism destination. Naturally, we will also have to ensure facilities in India for Chinese tourists who have very special needs. If such an effort is indeed made, our mountains and our beaches, our temples and our heritage sites, our Buddhist trail as well as our wildlife sanctuaries are likely to be hugely popular with the Chinese — one estimate states that we can expect 1.5 million tourists to visit India by 2020.
Fourth, it is important to acknowledge that China has rediscovered Bollywood. The success of relatively recent offerings such as Dangal, Secret Superstar and Hindi Medium indicates that the Chinese audience will flock to movies which have a strong theme, an excellent script and good acting. While Bollywood will continue to tap the Chinese market on its own, since the government is important in China, India should offer whatever assistance may be required by our filmmakers in marketing their ware in China. Films are important since they are a vehicle for promoting mutual trust and understanding between societies and peoples, while at the same time helping earn our movie-makers important markets and foreign exchange.
In addition to films, India’s other export which is reaching out to millions of ordinary Chinese folk is yoga. We must continue to promote yoga in China and, once again, this is best done through the private sector, but the government could consider effecting policies which promote this “soft power” export. It is significant that in order to celebrate International Yoga Day in China on June 21 each year, our official outposts in that country are able to bring in as many as 8,000 to 10,000 people at each of the many events in China.
Sixth, it will be essential to engage China in the field of sports, where they are extremely strong. While Vivo and Oppo will continue to sponsor the Indian Premier League in cricket, we can encourage Chinese coaches in table tennis, gymnastics, track and field, as well as shooting, archery and swimming to come to India and train our youngsters. We shall benefit from such assistance.
On global issues, India has established the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in partnership with France with its headquarters in India. China, which is an important manufacturer of solar panels and other related equipment, must join the ISA at an early date. This would be a win-win proposition for both countries and will provide an excellent example of how the two can work together in international organisations. Now that Japan and Saudi Arabia have joined the ISA, it is time to step up our encouragement to China to participate in this important area of environmental policy where we have no fundamental differences.
We shall have to continue working with China to convince them that they must remove their hold at the UN Security Council on the listing of Masood Azhar under the 1267 sanctions. We are confident our diplomats must be on the job even as we speak.
Eighth, the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are now mainly between India and China. We must ensure that RCEP has a strong commitment with respect to services and the movement of natural persons which is important for India. Perhaps, side letters between India and China on bringing the lower tariffs into effect at later dates may be the way to resolve the current impasse.
Ninth, it is important to understand that better relations with China do not mean we have to go slow in our relations with other countries — whether the ASEAN or Australia, Japan or the US. Putting our links with China on a firmer footing can be done simultaneously with stronger ties with other players in the region. Indian diplomacy is nimble enough to face this challenge.
Looked at holistically, the Pune Action Plan provides a comprehensive methodology for the soon to be newly-elected Government of India to proceed fast forward in its relationship with China in the second half of 2019.
This article first appeared in the print edition on April 9, 2019 under the title ‘The Pune plan for China’. Bambawale, a former Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Pakistan and China, is currently a distinguished professor at Symbiosis International (Deemed University), Pune

India’s maritime and other challenges in the Indo-Pacific region


Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council
Until very recently we would be talking only about India’s challenges, maritime and others, in the Indian Ocean region and not the Indo-Pacific region. The concept of the Indo-Pacific is a very new one; it did not figure in geopolitical analyses in government, think-tank or academic circles that I know of until Shinzo Abe, during his first term as Prime Minister, sowed the seeds of this concept at political level during his speech in our parliament in August 2007 on the “Confluence of the Two Seas”. In it he spoke of a broader Asia encompassing the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, stretching from the United States to Australia and India in an Arc of Freedom and Prosperity.
The Indo-Pacific concept has quite clearly roots in the new challenges that Japan is confronted with in the East and South China Seas, to meet which it has enlarged the political and security canvas to include the Indian Ocean, which means reaching out to India as a security partner, whereas traditionally Japan has focused on the economic dimension of its relationship with us.
The Indo-Pacific concept addresses the limitations of the Asia-Pacific geopolitical construct that we have been familiar with, one which has excluded India. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) launched in 1989 did not include India, as did the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) launched in 1996, though India was admitted into ASEM in 2006. India still remains outside APEC despite stated US support for its inclusion.
It is anomalous that any forum that purports to cover Asia should exclude India, which is the continent’s second largest country and the only power in a position to rival China. India’s reputation of being a relatively closed economy and a difficult economic partner would explain its exclusion, apart from political factors. This exclusion has meant the lowering of India’s regional profile and greater centrality of China in Asian affairs. With India’s economic rise and the growth of its international stature, the circumstances have been evolving in favour of integrating India into the political and security dimensions of the Asia-Pacific region, and this through the Indo-Pacific concept.
This concept has found political support in India because the source of Japan’s concerns in the western Pacific has been a source of India’s concerns too. By accepting this concept we have come a long way from the time when we politically opposed the presence of foreign powers in the Indian Ocean, saw them as endangering peace and stability there, viewed Diego Garcia as a threat to our security, and strongly backed the concept of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace.
With changes in the international situation, our relationship with the United States has been visibly transformed, and especially so after the India-US nuclear deal in 2005 which removed a critical strategic impediment in an all-round improvement of ties. This is reflected in an unprecedented expansion of the defence relationship. The capacity of the Indian Navy for ocean surveillance has been greatly enhanced by the acquisition of the P8I maritime patrol aircraft from the United States. After protracted negotiations India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in August 2016 which gives the armed forces of the two countries access to their respective military facilities for logistic support. This agreement would be most relevant to the two Navies. We have also signed a Maritime Domain Awareness agreement with the US.
The LEMOA was a major departure from our past policies of shying away from any arrangement that could be misconstrued as edging towards a military alliance. India has been declared a Major Defence Partner of the United States by Congressional legislation. The Pentagon initiated Defence Trade and Technology Agreement (DTTI) continues to examine joint development and production projects with easier transfer of technology to India, amongst which some advanced naval technologies are involved, including aircraft carrier design.
Even before this all-round progress in India-United States ties, the Indian Navy had begun to open the doors of a positive engagement with the United States at sea with the commencement of the Malabar exercise in 1992. At that time the new challenges that are today emerging in the Indian Ocean had not appeared, and the concept of the Indo-Pacific had not been even imagined.
The Malabar exercise, as I see it, was more in the nature of confidence building at bilateral level, to overcome the legacy of the past- the entry of the USS Enterprise in the Bay of Bengal in 1971, for example- besides, for us, the learning process involved at the operational level by exercising with the world’s most advanced naval power. For the United States the consideration would also have been to gain political acceptance as an Indian Ocean power and be able to make a continuing assessment of the growing capabilities of our Navy.
The Malabar exercise was suspended after our 1998 nuclear tests, resumed in 2002 and has been held regularly since. The scope of this exercise has been progressively enlarged over the years covering, amongst others, anti-submarine warfare tactics and “war at sea” simulation, and has involved warships, submarines, aircraft carriers, guided missile frigates, destroyers, amphibious ships, carrier-launched aircraft, helicopters, maritime surveillance aircraft, Coast Guard vessels and so on. In 2007, the exercise was held for the first time outside the Indian Ocean, off Okinawa.
The declared purpose of the Malabar exercise is to enhance interoperability for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, as well as issues of maritime security and piracy. Maritime security would include the vital responsibility of safeguarding the sea lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean whose geo-strategic importance cannot be over-emphasised. Its four key choke-points- the Strait of Hormuz, the Straits of Malacca, and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the Suez Canal- if closed for any reason can play havoc with global trade and energy flows.
The shipping activity across the Indian Ocean is enormous. According to an Indian Maritime Foundation paper, nearly 100,000 vessels transit through it carrying bulk cargo, oil and gas, grain and containers. Nearly 120,000 ships pass through the Straits of Malacca annually. Over 17,000 ships transited through the Suez Canal in 2015. In 2013, the Strait of Hormuz recorded an oil flow of 17 million barrels per day, which is nearly 30 per cent of all seaborne-traded oil. The Persian Gulf is estimated to contain about 40 per cent of global oil and 35 per cent of global gas. Five major Asian economies- Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea- are dependent on the Persian Gulf and Africa for meeting their energy needs, and a large part is carried in tankers through the Indian Ocean. China is the second largest oil consumer in the world, primarily sourced from the Persian Gulf region. 84% of Japan fossil fuel needs are sourced from the Persian Gulf and so is the case with South Korea. India relies on the Persian Gulf for nearly 58 per cent of its energy imports.
The development of a robust defence relationship with the United States and the practice of holding an elaborate joint naval exercise with that country set the stage for an India-United States Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Regions announced during former president Obama’s visit to India in January 2015. For India to accept a security linkage between these two regions constituted a huge jump in geo-strategic thinking.
We have, of course, important political and economic interests in East and Southeast Asia. Our Look East Policy encompasses this region, though China looks askance at any Indian activism within it. China is very active in India’s maritime space but takes a different view when it comes to the South China Sea. If Japan is against the South China Sea becoming a “Beijing Lake”, India, as well as the international community in general, would not want it to become a Chinese lake either.
China’s sovereignty claims over the South China Sea based on past history have no legal basis. Its nine-dash line has been judged without any legal foundation by the Permanent Arbitration Tribunal set up under the UN Convention on the the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In this context, India has repeatedly supported freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with the UNCLOS and international law. India and others have to take cognisance of the fact that China has reclaimed seven islands in the South China Sea and militarised them without opposition other than verbal and freedom of navigation operations by the US.
The Malacca Straits connect the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea, and it is through these Straits that over 40% of our sea-borne trade passes. ASEAN is one of India’s largest trade partners, with the total two way trade valued at $ 71 billion in 2016-17. India has energy interests in this region as signified by its involvement in oil exploration in the South China Sea in off-shore blocks in Vietnam’s EEZ, which one of our former naval chiefs expressed readiness to defend against any threat.
The presence of all the Heads of ASEAN countries at our 2018 R-Day celebrations testifies to the deepening of India-ASEAN ties. It is no secret that the ASEAN countries want India to play a larger role in Southeast Asia in order to balance the increasing weight of China. Apart from the political and economic instruments in India’s hands to strengthen ties with ASEAN, there is also the military dimension, and this includes the Indian Navy not only for building maritime bridges through joint naval exercises with these countries but also to protect the sea lanes as well as India’s assets in this broad region. The location of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the mouth of the Malacca Straits devolves on the Indian Navy a vital strategic role in the maritime domain.
Having noted India’s major interest in the western Pacific, it should be underlined that India is primarily an Indian Ocean power, with enormous responsibilities for safeguarding its long coast line, its island territories, its off-shore economic assets and its EEZ. The two vital choke points in the Indian Ocean region- the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca- which are critical for unimpeded international energy and trade flows are of operational concern to the Indian Navy. We have had experience of sea-borne terrorist threats which requires our coast guard and our navy to remain geared up to address them. Piracy has surfaced as a serious threat to commercial shipping in the Indian Ocean, and though controlled as of now it still requires continued attention. Merchant vessels of many countries passing through piracy infested waters in the western Indian Ocean have Indian sea men and rescuing them becomes a task for the India Navy.
The Indian Ocean has its share of natural disasters, as was saw in the case of the tsunami in 2004, and we have seen how rapid and effective the Indian Navy has been in HADR operations. The consequences of Climate Change are likely to increase the frequency and size of such disasters, with that much more responsibility devolving on our Navy. The role of the Indian Navy in evacuating Indian and other nationals from conflict zones far and near has earned plaudits in recent operations. Unfortunately, with conflicts still raging in West Asia and the likelihood of their worsening could put a lot of burden on the Indian Navy by way of such operations in the future. Last but not least, illegal fishing in our waters is a serious issue that our maritime forces have to tackle.
There is much talk of India as a net security provider and of burden sharing, overlooking the fact that the Indian Navy has been playing this role, as partly outlined above, flowing from its own responsibilities and not in response to demands from outside powers. India, to my mind, has an independent responsibility in the maritime domain and will continue to do so in its own interests and as situations develop.
When Mozambique hosted the African Union summit in 2003 and the World Economic Forum meeting in 2004, Indian warships provided coastal security. In 2011 India and Mozambique agreed at the level of Defence Ministers to work together to improve maritime security in the Indian Ocean. India began anti-piracy patrols in the Mozambique Channel in 2012. During the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, our Navy kept a watch on the flow of arms to the LTTE by sea. We have maritime security arrangements with Maldives, though the present government there is seeking to whittle away at them contrary to the interests of both countries.
More recently, we have sought to expand our security responsibilities in the Indian Ocean area by jointly developing maritime security facilities in islands belonging to Seychelles and Mauritius, though the agreement with Seychelles has run into difficulty because of internal politics there. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in March 2015 was timely and multi-dimensional. In Mauritius, Modi signed an agreement on the development of Agalega Island. He also attended the commissioning of the Barracuda, a 1300 tonne Indian-built patrol vessel ship for the country’s National Coast Guard, with more such vessels to follow. His visit signified heightened attention to our critical interests in the Indian Ocean area.
Looking ahead at the developing challenges and securing a naval foothold in the vital Gulf region, we reached an agreement in February this year with Oman for naval access to their bases, the first such agreement in a region which already has US, French and UK bases and where China is expanding its presence. In 2018 the first ever naval exercise with UAE is being planned. In February 2018 we announced a Joint Strategic Vision for the Indian Ocean Region with France and signed an agreement on logistics support with it too. France considers itself an Indian Ocean power by virtue of its overseas territories such as Reunion and Comores and has a permanent naval presence in this part of the Indian Ocean. With India and France having a long tradition of close defence ties, including in the naval domain- the Scorpene submarine contract, for instance, and the possibility of other cooperation in the naval domain- civilian nuclear cooperation and the general quality of political ties, the stepped up naval cooperation in the western Indian Ocean makes political and strategic sense.
India has long been active in raising its profile and its responsibilities in the Indian Ocean region as an independent player. We have been holding naval exercise with a host of countries in this region to help create a friendly and tension-free environment. Since 2003 we are holding the joint INDRA bi-annual military exercise with Russia. With France we hold the annual Varuna naval exercise since 2001, either in the Indian Ocean or the Mediterranean sea. The 2015 exercise included a French battle-group led by its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle carrying the naval version of the Rafale. India also carries out the Konkan naval exercise with the British Royal Navy, the Simbex with the Singapore Navy, the Slinex with Sri Lanka, the IBSAMAR exercise with the Brazil and South African navies (in 2008), the AUSINDEX with Australian Navy and the Sahyog-Kaijin, which is a joint exercise of Coast Guards of India and Japan.
Since 1995, the Indian navy conducts the biennial Milan exercise with navies of the Indian Ocean region at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The 10th edition of this exercise was held in March this year with the participation of 28 warships including 17 from India, and 11 from Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand. 39 delegates from 16 countries participated. This was the largest gathering since 1995 when only 5 navies had taken part.
In 2008 India launched the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) with a view to providing a forum for all the littoral nations of the Indian Ocean to co-operate on mutually agreed areas for better regional security. The naval chiefs of 35 members are represented at this forum. The symposium is intended to generate flow of information between naval professionals to develop a common understanding and cooperative solutions in areas of common interest such as HADR, information security, interoperability and maritime security.
As part of its larger Indian Ocean strategy India played a leading role in developing the concept of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in 1997 (then called the IOR-ARC) along with South Africa. The objective was to create a platform for the littoral states of the Indian Ocean to take cognisance of their common interests, including maritime security in the regional context, as well as to meet the many traditional and non-traditional security challenges, including piracy, illegal fishing, human trafficking, drug smuggling, trafficking of weapons, maritime pollution, disaster management and climate change. India as a leading IORA power has an important role to play in this regard. The IORA celebrated its 20th Anniversary when Indonesia, as the current Chair of IORA, hosted the first ever IORA Leaders’ Summit on 7 March 2017 in Jakarta under the theme “Strengthening Maritime Cooperation for a Peaceful, Stable, and Prosperous Indian Ocean”.
Today, the Indian Navy is one of the largest navies in the world. As of 2017, according to available information, it consists of 1 aircraft carrier, 1 amphibious transport dock, 8 Landing ship tanks, 11 destroyers, 14 frigates, 1 nuclear-powered attack submarine,1 Ballistic missile submarine, 13 conventionally-powered attack submarines, 23 corvettes, 6 mine countermeasure vessels, 10 large offshore patrol vessels, 4 fleet tankers and various auxiliary vessels and small patrol boats. The Indian Coast Guard operates around 90 – 100 armed patrol ships of various sizes. The Navy has 41 vessels of various types under construction, including an aircraft carrier, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and conventional-powered and nuclear-powered submarines. The goal is to build a 200 ship navy over a 10-year period. Of all the three armed forces, the Navy has indigenised production the most, with all 41 ships under construction being built in Indian shipyards. But given the challenges that lie ahead the issue of dwindling numbers of our submarine fleet is a matter of concern.
Having emphasised that India’s primary concerns are in the Indian Ocean, even though we have vital interest in the security situation in the western Pacific, I should come back to the rationale behind the concept of the Indo-Pacific which has now replaced the Asia-Pacific concept even in the vocabulary of the United States. From the US point of view this would be logical as the US Pacific Command based in Hawaii also covers the Indian Ocean and for the US there is an organic link between these two oceans in terms of security. India and the US have agreed on a road map for implementing this strategic vision. For the United States and India only China can significantly threaten Indo-Pacific security, given its spectacular rise and the unveiling of its maritime ambitions, including in the Indian Ocean. This joint vision document affirms the “importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea”. It envisages extended cooperation amongst regional countries in the form of trilateral arrangements, and potentially even quadrilateral cooperation.
The inclusion of Japan in the Malabar exercise as a permanent participant was a significant development with geopolitical connotations and elicited a negative official comment from China. In October 2015 Japan participated in the trilateral Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal for the first time. The expansion of our naval ties with Japan has arisen from Prime Minister Abe’s decision to bring about changes in the Japanese constitution that would permit Japan to be more active in assuming broader collective defence responsibilities. As part of this new Japanese approach to its defence role, Japan is keen to sell its US- 2 amphibious aircraft to India for use in disaster relief. India and Japan have signed a White Shipping Agreement. Australia has expressed its keen interest to join the Malabar exercise but India remains reticent possibly because of political concerns that this might be construed as India joining a US-led military alliance, as both Japan and Australia are US allies.
The deficiency of the Indo-Pacific concept from our point of view would be that the remit of the US Pacific command is limited to India’s eastern coast and does not cover the Arabian Sea which falls under the jurisdiction of the Africa Command. Our maritime security concerns are not limited to the Bay of Bengal and extend equally importantly to the Arabian Sea in view of threats from the Pakistan navy which is being strengthened by the acquisition of Chinese submarines, critical transfers of technologies from China to Pakistan, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the development of Gwadar port and another in the region as a logistic hub for the Chinese navy after Djibouti. Chinese experts are now talking about acquisition of foreign bases for the Chinese navy for protecting its overseas interests, contrary to China’s earlier discourse that it would not behave as traditional big powers have done and will not seek foreign bases. For the Indo-Pacific concept to reach its potential equal importance has to be accorded to security in both the oceans so that while we engage with others in the Western Pacific we are left relatively exposed in the Indian Ocean. An integrated view of the the China threat has to be taken as it covers both land and sea. The Belt and Road Initiative is an integrated concept, with a land dimension and a sea dimension with the two corridors, one through Myanmar and the other through Pakistan linking the two geo-strategic thrusts of China.
Notwithstanding all the steps India is taking on its own and jointly with others to promote maritime security, our challenges are set to increase. China’s 2015 White Paper on Military Strategy formalised a new maritime strategy encompassing “open seas protection” for which the country’s naval capacity to protect its overseas interests and sea lanes of communication is slated to increase greatly, including in the Indian Ocean.
China has established a naval base at Djibouti. Apart from its strategic location, by maintaining its naval contingent so far away from home for long periods it is obtaining vital experience in blue water operations. It is developing Gwadar, once again located strategically- at the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz- as a commercial port to begin with, but Its evolution as a naval base is a matter of time. The sale of eight submarines to Pakistan will establish the presence of Chinese naval personnel on the Baluchistan coast on a long term basis. A Chinese submarine has already surfaced at Gwadar, and China has supplied two warships to Pakistan for the port’s security. Reports have appeared about China raising the size of its marine corps from about 20,000 to 100,000 personnel to protect the country’s life-lines and its growing interests overseas. Some of them would apparently be stationed at Djibouti and Gwadar. China’s diplomatic strategy is one of camouflaging its intentions; it continually says one thing and then quietly divulges something to the contrary when the time is ripe. It has been denying that it is seeking military bases abroad and claiming that its One Belt One Road initiative is essentially commercial and development oriented in nature, even when its calculations are different and get revealed as in the case of Gwadar at a time of its choosing, and in stages.
China is selling two submarines to Bangladesh, which too will mean a Chinese presence on the Bangladesh coast, albeit limited. As evidence of its increasing naval activity in the Indian Ocean, Chinese submarines have twice surfaced at the Colombo port. China, seeking a foothold in Maldives, has acquired some islands there, ostensibly for the purpose of tourism development. Once it implants itself there more deeply economically, and should Maldives walk into a debt trap as Sri Lanka has slid into, China will make more strategic demands on it. As it is, the conduct of the Maldives government in creating difficulties for India to continue operating under existing agreements is causing concern. It has begun a “go slow” on the Indian radar installation project and is seeking to push Indian entities away from its southern atolls where China is strongly present. China appears to want unfettered access to the 1.5 degree channel and has interest in the 8-degree channel.
Some naval experts believe that for the present Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean is not a cause for alarm as the assets it is creating are vulnerable, being too far away from the Chinese mainland and lacking air cover. US naval power, it is argued, rests on the vast network of military bases that America has across the world. Simply having access to ports for replenishment of stores, rest and recreation and for doing exercises is not enough to wield naval power. A proper naval base would require the positioning of ordnance, spares and capacity to service vessels. From providing peaceful passage to foreign naval vessels to allowing base facilities is a strategic step that Indian Ocean countries may refuse in view of a strong Indian response. Pakistan is the only exception. Gwadar can become a veritable naval base as it has hinterland access, meaning that the Chinese can position equipment, ammunition, spares etc. there through the illegal China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Given Pakistan’s declared willingness to offer naval rights to China at Gwadar, the threat to Indian Ocean security from Chinese activities there is not to be dismissed.
China is expanding its naval capacities with the construction of additional aircraft carriers and a sizeable nuclear powered submarine fleet. The immediate objective is to challenge US naval power in the western Pacific. China is, like Russia in a sense, substantially “landlocked” as it does not have unfettered access to the open sea and is largely confined to the seas along its coast. From Taiwan to Japan it is ringed by the so-called first island chain, shored up by a powerful US military presence. China’s major strategic objective would be to break out of this throttling island chain and obtain access more freely to the Pacific and Indian Oceans for its navy.
Chinese energy supply chains are vulnerable as it does not have as yet adequate means to protect them on its own. It is seeking access to the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar and to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan so that it can have alternative supply lines to passage through the Malacca Straits. However, in the view of experts, this can only very partially alleviate its Malacca dilemma as the amount of energy that can be transported through these routes is a small proportion of China’s total requirements. We can expect that in the future the PLA Navy will deploy a substantial number of ships in the Indian Ocean to ensure protection of its own SLOCS. The regular presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean will naturally cause us concern because China is seen as a threatening power in view of our outstanding territorial differences and its power projection in our neighbourhood, especially its policy of bolstering Pakistan.
China is increasing its presence in our area, and this will grow as its naval capacities expand and along with it its political ambitions as a rising great power. It is cultivating, and will do so increasingly, those very strategically placed countries in the Indian Ocean that are important for India’s security. Its US $40 billion Maritime Silk Road project, which is economic, political and eventually military in scope, parades its ambitions.
China’s proposition of a maritime silk route connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans is part of its drive to convince the world about the beneficial aspects about its rise as a power.The port facilities China is obtaining or building in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan, while justifiable from the Chinese point of view to buttress its huge external trade flowing in large part through the Indian Ocean, raise concerns about China encircling us physically and politically. While India should keep engaging China, manage the relationship and expand ties in areas of mutual advantage, it has to remain watchful about Chinese declared ambitions that the 2018 US National Security Strategy and National Defence Strategy documents interpret as a will to dominate Asia and eventually replace the US as the world’s leading power.
China’s conduct in the South China Sea and its belligerent reaction to the award by the UNCLOS established Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on its maritime claims in this sea has to be taken into account by India in the context of Indian Ocean security. While there are no maritime territorial disputes involving China in the Indian Ocean and the problem of creating artificial islands and militarising them is absent in these waters, China’s disregard for international law if it works contrary to its interests carries lessons for us.
India, US and Japan, along with Australia, have therefore a shared interest in maintaining a strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific region to ensure peace and stability. Indonesia should be a partner in this because to avoid the Malacca Straits choke point, the Sunda and Lombok Straits passing through the Indonesian archipelago provide a route for Chinese submarines to enter the Indian Ocean. India and the US are already collaborating in tracking the movement of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean, as publicly disclosed by the US Pacific fleet commander in New Delhi in January 2017 in a seminar.
China seems to believe that with its economic success, command of huge financial resources and mounting military capacities, it can flex its muscles, and that other countries, including the US, unwilling to risk a conflict, would be prone to accommodate its conduct. The credibility of US security commitments in the region has therefore become a question, with Taiwan being especially nervous. President Donald Trump’s policy remains unclear as he has blown hot and cold over China. While he is threatening a trade war with China, progress on the North Korean issue could work in favour of accommodation. India’s maritime challenges in the Indo-Pacific region are set to increase in any circumstances. Prime Minister Modi’s recent informal summit with President Xi Jinping will stabilise the relationship at a certain level but the differences with China are structural in nature and therefore as we develop the Indo-Pacific concept in practical terms, the expansion of our naval strength is a strategic necessity.

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