“Unfortunately, India has no Joseph Stalin, admired and respected as war leader by the illustrious military commanders of the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War. . . . Nor does India have a Winston Churchill, capable of inspiring the nation to fight on when all seemed lost. Without decisive political leadership the most valiant armies are condemned to defeat because policy drift and disarray in decision-making are fatal for it.” – Dr. Gautam Sen
There is no guarantee that India will continue to exist within its current borders. The historical record suggests the sizeable continental span of India today has not been the norm in the past. A relatively uncontested substantial expanse of territory was held together for the longest period in history, approximately the mid-nineteenth century till independence, by British military and diplomatic prowess. Of course it almost ended in 1857 and stirrings of nationalist unease began within a generation following the Mutiny. But for much of the period, the majority of Indians mostly acquiesced in British rule and the possibility of any sectarian Islamic upsurge was held in check until Britain cynically decided to inflame it in response to what it deemed Hindu nationalism.
Partition altered the situation dramatically for India, by creating two militarised Ghazi entities along its borders, with threats against the Indian Union emanating from both of them. In the period since Partition, an ostensibly unified Indian State has had little meaningful control of Kashmir and the Northeast and its sovereign prerogatives in them would cease without the unbroken military presence obligated by constant local insurgencies. This is not customarily the indefinite state of affairs within a country. In addition, the cultural association of these territories with the rest of India, characterised by religious estrangement, is minimal and routine access into them for Indian citizens circumscribed in varying degree. Elsewhere, over two misguided and self-destructive generations, citizens of Assam and West Bengal also contrived to diminish their affiliation with the rest of India. They managed to weaken it by altering the demography of their States, implanting large numbers of foreigners on their own soil. And the political loyalties of a significant number of alleged Indian citizens of these States are suspect and their net annual tax contribution to the Indian central exchequer usually negative.
The views of India’s contemporary elites on the future of their country, who inherited a truncated country in 1947, can be dismissed outright. Their socio-political hallmarks, with few exceptions, have been lack of historical perspective, astounding greed, cowardice and complacency masquerading as political sagacity. Their political impulse has usually been to follow the path of least resistance and bury their heads in the sand and surrender meekly when overwhelmed by circumstances. The twin goals of India’s political elites are likely to remain wealth and political power to attain it. Virtually everything else positive in India is a product of enervated inertia and the genius of exceptional individuals, who achieve extraordinary goals. Some of these accidental attainments, like nuclear fission and India’s missile programme, are of lasting significance, but primarily issuing from their innate technological dynamism and only secondarily owing to any considered political wishes of the Indian State to take advantage of them purposefully.
In contemporary India, major elements of its political class are precipitating conditions likely to destroy the Indian Union in its present form. Despite spending untold sums on acquiring military hardware India’s politicians and bureaucrats are manipulating venally to foster a pliant senior officer corps, which could have potentially disastrous consequences in the event of a major war. It must be surmised that treasonous corruption over defence purchases is the underlying reason why it is necessary to subvert the senior corps and install obliging officers. The appointment of a supposedly upright politician to head the Defence Ministry is presumably designed to contrive a misleading aura of probity, which makes the Minister personally culpable for any crimes being committed. It is simply not credible to imply that the minister would have acted differently had he been aware of the lethal misconduct, since the family of his own patrons is evidently involved in the scandals. All those implicated should face summary wartime sanctions if India’s military forces suffer major reverses in the field of battle owing to the intolerable conduct of politicians and officers appointed by them. It might be recalled that the late Lt. General J. N. Chaudhuri threatened to impose the ultimate sanction against the cowardly mediocrity favoured by Jawaharlal Nehru for the post of chief of staff during the 1962 debacle, when the prime minister appointed him to reform the Indian armed forces.
The brutal fact of the matter is that India’s semi-literate elites, besotted with shopping sprees broad, Bollywood and absurdities like the IPL tournament, are incapable of fathoming their country is not unique. It happens to be located in the same planetary system as other countries. In this world, mighty states systems regularly fade away, the fate of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians or indeed the Ottomans, Spanish, Austro-Hungarians and the contemporary Soviet Union. Their own country could also become the victim of the inexorable forces of history. Such disintegration is a product of the internal political and economic dynamics of large polities, whether domestic political schisms and economic setback, or how they cope with external political, military and environmental challenges. The question to be pondered is whether India, misgoverned by a profoundly dysfunctional and discredited political order, unable to sustain basic economic and institutional goals, can survive as a united political entity in one of the most hostile political and military environments in the world; perhaps only less demanding than that faced by Israel. In both instances, all their significant neighbours are anxious to do them harm, the lesser ones awaiting action by the stronger, for an opportunity to join the melee to crush them.
What shape could the denouement take for India? Scrutinising India from Beijing, Rawalpindi, which an exultant Indian actress visited recently to entertain Pakistani troops, Dhaka and Kathmandu, it is possible to discern a scenario. National political impasse, resulting in weak leadership, fiscal crisis, limiting the capacity of the government to borrow, falling growth rates and social unrest, as unemployment rises, are inviting conditions for striking a blow against India. It may be surmised that an assault scripted in Beijing would also involve Pakistan, to create a two-front quandary for India. Pakistan may merely need to mobilise its forces to threaten India at several points along the border to compel precautionary diversion of significant Indian troops. The Pakistani ISI will also instigate a bombing campaign across India to panic the civil population, disable some key economic facilities and stretch internal security forces. It will surely paralyse governmental authorities across India, a posture that nowadays comes easily to the Centre in any case. It may be safely predicted that a majority of India’s State governments will baulk at measures that will inevitably require harsh intervention in Muslim-dominated areas and prompt shrill protest from terrorist-sponsored human rights NGOs.
Chinese forces are likely to launch three separate assaults against India along its northern borders, a major one to divert Indian troops, a massive airborne invasion of Arunachal Pradesh, targeting Tawang and a third ground attack to rendezvous with its airborne divisions. Their airborne divisions may need to survive without supply lines for a period or only have access to restricted supplies from the air – hopefully, this math has been worked out carefully by Indian defence planners. India will impose potentially substantial costs on any Chinese ground assault across the Arunachal Pradesh border, but the question is whether Indian resistance can be sustained for several months against better-equipped and vastly superior numbers. China will also launch disabling strikes against the Indian air force, engaging it in aerial combat and destroying airfields and any aircraft vulnerable on the ground; the Indian air force will need to be extremely alert to a surprise strike while still on the ground. What role the Indian navy can play in these specific circumstances is unclear unless China and Pakistan join forces to disrupt India’s international commerce, especially its fuel supply lines. It will probably be a side-show, with even a blockade of Karachi failing to make a significant impact on the ominous challenges on the ground.
If Indian forces suffer major setbacks in the encounter with China, it may prompt Pakistani incursion into J&K and elsewhere along the Indo-Pak border. India could pound Pakistan from the air and make a dash across the border towards Lahore to hold their territory hostage to signal mutual vulnerability. However, Indian fear of escalation to nuclear standoff has become clear to observers and would constrain it from capturing significant Pakistani territory. Nevertheless, if adequate military resources can be mobilised by India, deliberately sacrificing territory and allowing enemy forces to advance into India that may allow Indian forces to surround the invading army in a wide pincer arc to exterminate them altogether. Unfortunately, the idea that the anaemic and self-servingly duplicitous UPA or indeed any dispensation in India’s parliament today would decide to wage a prolonged military struggle, at whatever human and material cost and accept huge territorial losses in the interim to achieve victory, like the Russia of Alexander and the USSR of Stalin, is a forlorn expectation. An Indian government, facing disaster in the north, could easily be tempted to negotiate territorial concessions rather than fight? Of course Pakistan may, instead of initiating combat, wisely await a political settlement between a defeated India and victorious China to have their own territorial claims enshrined in it as well, as their reward.
In a worst-case scenario, if India is threatened with serious territorial losses and its authorities visibly unnerved, other neighbours may be prompted to press their own territorial claims. Depending on the outcome of these larger military encounters, with an Indian army beleaguered in the north, it is likely that recognition will be accorded to a Khalistan government-in-exile. Some Khalistani terror elements remain ensconced in Britain, enjoying discreet local hospitality and malicious incitement, while also being permitted free rein to engage with their own militant clusters in Pakistan. Assam will be vulnerable to a wave of Bangladeshi migrant infiltration, seeking to occupy territory, without even the need for any formal military sortie, though the migrants are likely to be well-armed on this occasion. And Nepal has territorial claims against India that have been discussed by its political parties lately and could be revived. Its elites harbour venomous animus towards all things Indian and only await an opportunity to repay perceived historic humiliations. And the two hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Sugauli, from which its territorial losses date, is approaching. Perhaps the people of West Bengal, already historically primed by the parochial Bose clan for it, may revive a clamour for Dhaka’s socio-political tutelage over a united Bengal.
Two major issues, the nuclear dimension and international diplomatic reaction to an unfolding war in the Indian subcontinent, will be crucial to outcomes. Indian nuclear weapons, designed to address its two-front dilemma, are unlikely to do anything of the sort. India has already lost the most important asset of nuclear deterrence, which is credibility. By failing to carry out military chastisement several times to punish the most egregious acts of violence against it, including the attempt to decapitate India’s political leadership, which merited an immediate declaration of war and the warlike assault on Mumbai, India conveyed a decisive negative signal. It highlighted the fact India’s nuclear tests were driven by the impetus of scientific advances, having marked time for some time to test a nuclear device, and desire for prestige and only remotely intended for use in dire national crisis. If any further proof was required of Indian qualms and spinelessness, the tortuous endeavours to avoid even accidentally infringing Pakistani airspace during the Kargil War, launched by Pakistan, underlined the fear writ large on the perceptions of Indian decision makers. In any case, the no first-use policy rules out initiating the use of nuclear weapons even if national disaster impends, or pre-emptively, if certain first-use by an enemy portends.
Some additional thoughts on India’s nuclear strategy are merited in the context delineated above. Having lost the advantage of engaging in convincing deterrence that Pakistan has successfully adopted by espousing unbridled brinkmanship, India should consider innovating means of retrieving it by issuing meaningful threats of nuclear retaliation. Pakistani nuclear strategy has espoused the kind of electrifying brinkmanship discussed by strategist Thomas Schelling, which was avoided by both the USA and USSR as potentially too dangerous. It seems likely that although India tested in 1998 its delivery systems were traditional and unreliable while Pakistan acquired tried and tested missile delivery capability off the shelf from North Korea, thanks to Chinese inter-mediation. Pakistani ability to deliver its nuclear weapons with missiles prompted an Indian loss of nerve and insouciance that failed to affirm that it would not succumb to nuclear blackmail for implausible reasons. For example, Pakistan warns of launching a nuclear attack if India blockades Karachi harbour. In addition, there was a catastrophic loss of credibility because India’s anxiety about nuclear deterrence left room for doubt about the circumstances in which it would unfailingly retaliate. It might have even been felt that a solitary nuclear attack on a carefully chosen Indian target would not necessarily elicit retaliation. Indeed, it is possible to infer that India’s political leaders attached a high value to their own safety and should not be targeted because they are the best guarantee that retaliation will not occur.
There are ways of changing Pakistan’s strategic calculus before India’s own unconvincing strategic posture becomes a temptation for a Pakistani nuclear assault in a moment of high tension. In the event of an Indo-Pak nuclear standoff, there needs to be a strategy to affect Pakistani decision-making. There are two countries that have extraordinary influence over Pakistan, the first being the one that largely funded its acquisition of nuclear weapons, as an Islamic asset. And the second is the country that tested Pakistan’s first nuclear device on its own soil and ensured its missile deliver capability and has since helped enlarge the quantity of nuclear warheads in Pakistan’s arsenal. The Indian authorities should discreetly sponsor a discussion in the press, suggesting that in the aftermath of a nuclear strike against India all bets would be off and retaliatory targets will include cities in these two aforesaid countries. A mere public discussion of such a possibility, unconnected to any official insinuation, will suffice to induce an incalculable dose of realism in all three antagonists of India.
The collapse of the USSR and end of the Cold War enlarged India’s diplomatic options while simultaneously failing to reinstate their previous intrinsic high value. China no longer fears Soviet intervention if it attacks India, a persuasive factor during 1971 and a possible deterrent in 1965 as well. India has no friend or ally in position to offer such a powerful guarantee, especially against a China, with a growing economic reach that has cowed most and rearmament that intimidates even its sworn foes. A setback for India will cause the gravest international alarm and prompt rearmament across Asia. But all the evidence available so far suggests China is prepared to even countenance the prospect of Japanese abrogation of WWII commitments to rearm, the one certain outcome of an Indian military defeat in war with China. The Europeans are proudly inward looking, visibly awed by China and do excellent business with it. Britain has always sympathised with Pakistani truculence, even as it is on the verge of routing NATO in Afghanistan and a perfidious admirer of China. Britain recently mendaciously repudiated Article 9 of the 1914 Simla Convention demarcating the Indo-Tibetan border, apparently to order, despite lacking locus standi in the matter. The US has something to lose from an Indian setback, but one wonders exactly what it would do. It should be borne in mind that when push comes to shove the Anglo-Americans will not abandon Pakistan to its fate and any Indian military action that threatens its vital interests will, in the final analysis, be firmly opposed. The only question for India at present is who will offer military hardware and ordnance in event of a prolonged war.
India needs to make provision for an inestimable supply of trained reservists and the ability to equip them, much as the USSR did during WWII though no country is ever likely to quite approximate that Soviet wartime production effort. India‘s defence industries need to be upgraded on a hitherto unimaginable scale and unprecedented measures taken to accelerate productive capacity. India should immediately embark on collaboration with Vietnam and Israel to design and manufacture a whole range of military hardware and ordnance, establishing collectively owned defence production units on the soil of all three partners. There is already an example in India’s Brahmos missile collaboration with Russia, which might also be encouraged to participate with the three principal partners, India, Israel and Vietnam, whenever politically feasible. Perhaps some other countries may wish to form a relationship with the three collaborators as well. One outcome of such a massive programme of cooperation is that it will make it less likely for India to run out ordnance as it did in 1962 or beg for artillery shells, which were generously supplied by Israel during the Kargil War. Perhaps India can then leverage its manpower assets to continue fighting in the face of any initial military reverses.
The vital ingredients that have virtually disappeared from Indian political life are unwavering commitment to India’s nationhood, courage to defend it at all cost and statesmanship to lead if the survival of the country is at stake. Unfortunately, India has no Joseph Stalin, admired and respected as war leader by the illustrious military commanders of the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War. A solitary speech by Stalin to the people of Moscow of 7th November 1942 is considered to have prevented the city falling to the Nazis. Nor does India have a Winston Churchill, capable of inspiring the nation to fight on when all seemed lost. Without decisive political leadership the most valiant armies are condemned to defeat because policy drift and disarray in decision-making are fatal for it. By contrast, contemporary India is in serious danger of losing its economic momentum, which is sheer tragedy because augmented economic resources would be vital for war and constitute a persuasive signal that affects any decision by an enemy to attack. In the final analysis, the publicly aired, diabolical Sino-Pak goal of an India divided into satellites beholden to them can only be rebuffed by strong political leadership and adequate material resources to combat its enemies. Alas, Indian politics instead suffers from a surfeit of low cunning, colossal avarice and impulse for sell-out if one’s own private interests can somehow be assured. – News Insight, 6 Sept. 2012
» Dr. Gautam Sen taught International Political Economy at the London School of Economics.
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