by Lt. General Kamal Davar (Retd)

With Pakistan becoming a near-vassal state of China and considering the strategic congruence between the two nations, a credible collusion between them during a major conflict with India is the future cannot be ruled out. China has viewed India as its primary geo-strategic and economic rival and as it desires to attain total pre-eminence in the region, has a clear strategy to keep India pre-occupied regionally.

Overall, for China, Pakistan is a low-cost proxy for the former’s machinations in South Asia whilst for Pakistan, China remains a low-cost, albeit high value, guarantor of its security vis-à-vis India. 

Importantly, to “influence” the agitating Muslim Uighurs in its Xinjiang province, China needs Pakistan’s assistance in ensuring that its own terror groups and even those of the Afghan Taliban, do not reinforce the Uighurs in their fight agitation against the Chinese and must be suitably leveraged. 

Such strategic China-Pakistan cooperation which began is the 1960s has, particularly over the past 30th years expanded into multiple domains including the political, diplomatic, military, economic, technical and cultural fields. Very recently, after India abrogated Articles 370 and 35A from its state of J&K, it was China that requested a special closed-door meeting of the UNSC members on the issue.

Thus, critically, apart from myriad aspects of military cooperation with Pakistan, China has accorded substantial assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear programme, as also development of satellites and assistance in cyber technologies. Pakistan’s missile programmes including the Ghaznavi, Shaheen and Nasr series of ballistic missiles owe their development to China. Importantly, China has massively assisted Pakistan in the transfer of technology and joint production of fighter aircraft, particularly the JF-17 Thunder, a range of UAVs and other systems.

Ominous Future

Notwithstanding several rounds of dialogue between India and China over the last many years on many vexed issues between the two countries – including the contentious border matter – Chinese actions towards India are hardly encouraging. China appears to be still living in the ‘Middle Kingdom’ syndrome and resents Indian aspirations as a second Asian power. Its ‘string of pearls’ stratagem dearly aims at the strategic encirclement of India, confining it to the backwaters of the Indian Ocean and restricting India to merely southern Asia. 

China’s nuclear weapons-cum missiles relationship with Pakistan and modernisation of the Pakistani Armed Forces, is clearly aimed against India. Since the last few years, the Chinese footprint in the disputed POK region has grown under the garb of road construction engineers being stationed in the region (approximately 7,000 to 10,000 personnel already), Media reports suggest that portions of Pakistan occupied Kashmir have been leased to China for 50 years or more, converting POK as Pakistani territory and in doing so, legitimising the 5180 sq km ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963. This is now referred to as ‘Chinese sovereign territory’ and India thus faces yet another front.

China has also made inroads into India’s immediate neighbourhood through Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, providing them weaponry and military training facilities besides constructing strategic infrastructure.

Prognosis And The Indian Response

Thus, the not-so-peaceful rise of China and its provocative actions as concerns India and already stated in this article, portends more competition than cooperation between the two Asian giants. China’s stated reunification policies make it clear In order to do this, India needs to firstly correctly assess likely Chinese threats, both in the short-term and long term. The Indian government must not play down Chinese challenges in any form. Secondly, we must address with determination the present military asymmetry to counter threats from China and ensure no bureaucratic sluggishness or procedural shortcomings come in the way of the identification and procurement of military hardware for all the three services, within a speedy time-frame. The three Services must became capable of offensive operations and not just remain on the defensive.

Thirdly, India must pay adequate attention in further developing its strategic infrastructure along the Indo-China border, which the govt has earnestly started. Nuclear and space assets require to be vastly improved as well as electronic and cyber warfare wherewithal. Fourthly, under an international umbrella, we need to formalise either bilateral or regional river water management treaties between India and China and other Asian lower riparian states. Finally, India needs to take the lead to energise all Asian groupings such as ASEAN to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region – with active cooperation of the USA, Japan and Australia. The QUAD formulation, needed for ensuring a rules-based maritime order for the entire Indo-Pacific sea-lanes, must be taken to its logical conclusion.

It is about time that India carries out a reality check of its overall capabilities vis-à-vis China. It now needs to upgrade its military strategy from dissuasion to deterrence. For effective deterrence, India needs to enhance the capabilities of its nuclear forces by fielding long range Agni-IV and V Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles and sea- launched long range missiles by nuclear submarines to complete the nuclear TRIAD.

Synergy of the three Services and India’s future military build-up to deter the formidable Chinese will only be effective if the country goes in for long awaited defence reforms in India’s higher defence management structure.

The 2019 Independence Day announcement by PM Narendra Modi on instituting appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for the Indian Armed Forces and the consequent appointment of General Bipin Rawat is a welcome step but we now also need to establish Theatre Commands to optimally synergise functioning of the three Services. In this context, the Andaman & Nicobar Command must be given far more strategic muscle to adequately thwart Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean region.

It must be reiterated that India will only be able to occupy its rightful place on the global high table, if it accords adequate attention to enhancing its combat preparedness. Even as India rightly endeavours to nurture peaceful relations with China, it must never forget the simple truism that China really respects strength even as it feverishly prepares for regional and global dominance. Diplomatic niceties have little place in China’s statecraft.

Lt. General Kamal Davar (Retd) was the first DG, Defence Intelligence Agency and Deputy Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff. Views expressed are personal