On the Lookout: India must develop infrastructure along the border, re-balance and modernise its forces and increase strike abilities

The ability to stand up to China in Doklam, surgical strikes after Uri and Balakot bombings demonstrate our steely resolve

by Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh (Retd)

Geo-Strategy is an important aspect of relations between countries and has greater relevance when it comes to neighbours. India and Pakistan have fought four wars since Independence. Each of these had been initiated by our adversary in a different manner and area. Pakistan has been handed a crushing defeat in all the contests, even though some analysts feel that the 1965 war had ended in a stalemate. The last war between the two nations was fought on the icy heights of Kargil 20 years ago, soon after both the nations had demonstrated to the world that they were nuclear powers. We have also been involved in an ongoing proxy war with Pakistan as it continues to support terrorist activities on our soil.

We have been building our relationships both in our neighbourhood and across the world based on the issues of convergence and shouldering greater global responsibilities. However, our stand on taking the next step forward in our relations with Pakistan has correctly been linked to its cessation of support to terrorism

After Kargil, Pakistan has had four army chiefs — Gen Pervez Musharraf, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Gen Raheel Sharif and the current chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, with all except one serving extended tenures. India, on the other hand, has had nine Army chiefs in the same period, including the current chief, Gen Bipin Rawat. It shows the influence of army in Pakistan. It was reiterated when Pakistan’s Law Minister recently resigned for a day to represent Gen Bajwa in the Supreme Court for his extension.

India may have had the upper hand in all the conflicts, but have failed as a nation to use this advantage while bargaining for a better deal. This is evident in India agreeing to take the Kashmir dispute to the UN in 1949 and hold an internationally-supervised plebiscite, which is yet to take place. In 1965, we gave up most of the tactical advantages secured after the sacrifice of our valiant soldiers. Also, in the Simla Agreement, we merely agreed to changing the name of the Ceasefire Line to the Line of Control, and leaving ambiguity regarding the area North of Pt 9842, resulting in Operation Meghdoot in Siachen in 1984 and our physical occupation of the Saltoro Ridge. Our troops continue to fight in the highest battlefield of the world.

This is the region where India, Pakistan and China share boundaries, links Pakistan to China and Afghanistan, and overlooks the Silk Route and is the source of immense reserves of water. Three rivers, namely the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab, flow through this region. It also connects the resource-rich region of the Middle East with the manufacturing region of China, and gives China the access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Epicentre of Tension

The location and Geo-Strategic significance of Kashmir is directly linked to the interest taken in it by our neighbours. The Line of Control remains the epicentre of tensions between India and Pakistan. We need to do a quick security scan of this region. The US is in the process of pulling out of Afghanistan. This will create a vacuum for the ISI-backed Taliban reasserting itself. They will, however, have to guard against the rise of Al Qaeda and the ISIS as Pakistan will not want to see the US troops returning. The other danger lies in the rise of militias as was seen during Najibullah's time after the Soviet pullout due to fiscal reasons. The economic sustenance of Afghanistan is important, otherwise the region will again witness instability and the direct fallout will be the increase in foreign terrorists in the Valley.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, it believes nuclear weapons give it the shield to carry out sub-conventional warfare as a tool of its policy. It feels it can carry out its policy of inflicting thousand cuts without evoking a reaction from India owing to its nuclear umbrella. It is continuing with Operation Topac, the brainchild of Gen Zia in 1988, but the fencing post Operation Vijay has helped in reducing infiltration. It feels its strategy of patronising terrorism can result in the breakup of India. Its government continues to be a puppet in the hands of the army and the ISI remains the instrument for all its activities.

Strong Pak-China Ties

The Pakistan-China ties continue to remain as strong as ever and the creation of the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and the development of Gwadar has only deepened the relationship. The CPEC, which runs through this area, not only gives China access to markets and a route for the transportation of resources but can also give it access to the agricultural lands of Pakistan in case there is a grave water crisis.

The other important aspect is water. Tibet is the water reservoir of the area — six of Asia's largest rivers originate here, namely the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Yangste, the Mekong and the Yellow river. Water is the most important resource, and unpolluted waters from the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab flow across the LoC into Pakistan. The 1960 Indus Water Treaty weighs heavily in favour of Pakistan — India can access only 19.48 per cent of this water. Pakistan has the world's largest contiguous canal network, fed by the rivers that flow across Kashmir. Here, the hydro-power generation potential is immense. Pakistan's agriculture and economy is dependent on these rivers, and hence they are of vital importance to our neighbour. However, population growth, urbanisation and climate change are placing increased pressure on water.

China On The Move

This is the only area in the world which is a triangular junction of three nuclear powers. China has developed infrastructure in the region and has the ability to move its troops swiftly. There have been three distinct phases in India-China relationship — bhai-bhai, bye-bye and now buy-buy. Under President Xi Jinping, China is striving to be the most powerful nation and is hardening its engagement terms. It has long-term strategic interests that are clearly defined and pursued. Pakistan continues to remain of great relevance to its strategy.

Today, China is India's biggest trade partner, with the balance of trade tilted heavily in its favour. Our trade has grown from $200 million in 1992 to $94 billion. While we have areas of convergence such as trade, investments and climate change, the major area of disagreement remains the issues of unresolved borders as our perceptions vary. Deep-seated beliefs take time to change. We need to come to an understanding that will elevate our relationship to a different plane and that will overcome the Pakistan-China threat on our northern borders. The recent summits in Wuhan and Chennai are a pointer in this direction. Our borders need to be tranquil and the legacy issues need to be resolved. Both sides must understand each other's concerns and be accommodating. The benefits of two countries, with the largest populations and among the largest economies, narrowing down their differences are immense. It will have global implications.

How should we overcome these challenges? We need to develop our infrastructure in the region, re-balance and modernise our forces based on the emerging threats, increase our strike capability and deal with internal issues. There needs to be greater prosperity for our people living in these areas.

Since the nuclear explosion of 1998, we have defeated Pakistan in 1999, generated enough economic growth to be of global relevance and have worked with multiple countries on different issues. India has grown closer to the US and signed the US-India nuclear deal in 2005. At the same time, we have dealt with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. India’s threats in this region are both internal and external. The removal of Article 370 has helped in integrating this area with the rest of the country; Article 370 gave the feeling to certain elements that the Instrument of Accession gave them a window for independence. While we have been building our relationships both in our neighbourhood and across the world based on the issues of convergence and shouldering greater global responsibilities, our stand on taking the next step forward in our relations with Pakistan has correctly been linked to its cessation of support to terrorism.

Three recent events demonstrate a new resolve with regard to our intentions. The first was our ability to stand up to China in Doklam till the issue was de-escalated, second was the surgical strikes post Uri, and the latest being the air strike at Balakot on February 26. The use of air power has the ability to quickly escalate and de-escalate the situation. We showed we were willing to climb the escalatory ladder and had the capability to do so. We can no longer be seen as a nation reluctant to use hard power.

We need to understand and deal with the new realities of the 21st century. The future lies in our growing strength as a nation, the resolve of our leadership and the public mood. We must continue to focus on greater prosperity, inclusive Socio-economic growth and enhancing the strength and capability of our armed forces in securing our borders. The pursuit of national interests in the changing global dynamics needs to be done. This will no doubt increase our influence not only in the immediate neighbourhood but also in the world.