by Sridhar Mahankali

The Background

The world has been going through a lot of turmoil due to the incompetence and unscrupulousness of China. Chinese Wuhan virus has been a bane for economies, businesses and political parties around the world including those in China despite the fact that it was their own doing. The Chinese communist party works more like an organised mafia than a political party with absolute power resting with their president. Most of the large business houses are being controlled by Chinese communist party leadership, their family and/or their loyalists mostly from Han Chinese ethnicity. Their biggest driving force is greed making them cheap opportunists and ruthless negotiators. The problem with such a power centred environment is that they surround themselves with sycophants, live and grow in an environment of cheap political bickering, vendetta, treachery and deceit. This mind-set is visible in every transaction/ agreement/negotiation that they do with other nations.

The way Chinese have thoroughly mismanaged the pandemic issue has been quite appalling to say the least. By hiding more than sharing, even though they have contentiously claimed that it was not an engineered virus. There seem to be very few takers of this argument as they have hardly shown any remorse or even plausible explanations to their mismanagement. Their utter lack of respect for order, with their diplomats behaving like drunk street brawlers, their total lack of transparency in case of a global pandemic and the news by conspiracy theorists that they had greased the palms of the WHO leaders to speak their language for long enough to turn this into a pandemic of diabolic proportions has not gone very well for them and their attitude has only made matters worse for them.

To add to their complications they seem to have gotten out of this mess way before some of the more medically advanced countries may have and not having the pandemic spread to every corner of China but the same virus spreading to every nook and corner of the world has only lent more strength to the claims of these so called conspiracy theorists. The Chinese have done themselves a lot of dis-service and this has also worsened the situation for them within and outside their country.

Given the global pandemic chaos created by Chinese, the Chinese desperately needed to divert the world’s attention from the issues they had created or at the least thoroughly mismanaged. Moreover, they had miserably failed to take advantage of the situation despite allegedly keeping a $3 trillion war chest ready to take over ailing companies all over the world in the shadow of the global pandemic. This had obviously caused more furore in china as there possibly was no agreement on the handling of the pandemic issue in the first place. In addition to this China had seen the worst Industrial slump in over 3 decades. This only complicated the matters as there was possibly no consensus around the pandemic’s creation, handling, impact and how it could benefit china.

No wonder then that the Chinese have believed that this was a right time for a show of strength or so it seems that they thought that they can get away from the current problem by creating a bigger problem for the world to worry about than the Chinese virus. It had to be a problem that the world would sit up and take notice of, something like the clouds of war with a nuclear armed neighbour at the same time something that had a lower risk of blowing out into a full scale war. Alternatively, since India was to be found at the helm of affairs of the WHO they probably wanted to do a hard bargain by expecting India not pin them down for their sins of the pandemic. It may have also been that they were unnerved by India’s fast paced build-up of Border Road infrastructure in the past few years or possibly spooked with the talk of POK takeover by India and abolition of Article 370 seeing this as a direct threat to China Pakistan Economic Corridor. May be they wanted to have Karakoram pass to have an easier access to Pakistan or they just wanted to take advantage of the pandemic that they have created but failed to take advantage of it economically as earlier envisioned, or that they wanted to prevent India from taking advantage of the situation economically by attracting a lot of companies in China to India, whatever the thought process, or the lack of it, this approach was quite naïve. May be one, more or all of the above mentioned issues might have prompted them and with the opaque Chinese communist party you will never know for sure.

The challenge for the communist party was that they think through only the macro aspects of any strategy and are not too good at the painfully large number of details and most of their institutions including their army have their party members/ loyalists rather than any real professionals who could question and challenge such lopsided thinking. In essence, the environment is also not conducive to such reasoning and absolute power without accountability did corrupt the system.

Therefore, by putting such a thought process into action, no matter how naïve it was or how much it lacked in the details, under the garb of a military exercise they chose build up military presence and to unilaterally change the border situation by coming into some of the disputed areas. They had aggressive posturing and they tried their best to escalate the issue without breaching the war threshold and risking a full scale war in such a precarious situation. Like I have said earlier, they have a good understanding of the macro implications but goof up on the details. The obvious question then is how am I sure of their not wanting to breach the war threshold and go for an all-out war. With the Chinese we are never quite sure of anything as there is a lack of transparency and disconnect between their leadership and the ground realities. If we look at the options that they chose to enforce in Galwan valley and how they responded immediately post Galwan we can fairly assume that they were not looking for a war. They had pre-planned the attack and chose not to use guns, bullets, bombs or even bayonets but spiked rods to seriously injure and kill our soldiers. However, we lost more brave brothers to the landslide than to the competence of Chinese army in fighting, so much for the years of martial arts movies. They have for sure lost no less than 43 soldiers and as per latest reports by retired Chinese army veterans the number of causalities is close to 100 and the number dead was more than 75. This was thanks to the sheer brute force of our valiant army who killed the enemy quite barbarically by breaking their necks and spines as easily as the Chinese broke the rules. This should have left no doubt in their mind that Indian army is one of the most professional, competent and aggressive armies of the world. After the fight unlike the moral Indian army who chose to return their dead and the prisoners, the Chinese held back 10 of our boys who had crossed over while chasing the retreating enemy in the heat of the battle just as a bargaining chip to ensure that we wouldn’t have launched a full-fledged attack on them causing escalation. The events in Galwan didn’t really turn out as the Chinese had planned. What were they even thinking!!! Were they even thinking???

Way Forward

Clearly, the mind-set today in India, more than ever, is that China must pay and it needs to pay dearly. To achieve this, most experts have believed that we should de-recognise one china policy and allow, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Uighurs of East Turkestan to set up their governments in exile in India and arm China’s neighbours like Philippines, Vietnam and Japan with our weapons like BrahMos, Pinaka, Aakash, QRSAM and others. While this will be the right thing to do this is not necessarily a right time to implement these steps in their entirety. Firstly, this will hardly matter to China as it doesn’t think much of India today. It is frightened of India’s potential and what it could become in future but not the India of today. The first job of India therefore is to create a wider spread fear factor in China. Let us be very clear, like I said the Chinese work like an organised mafia and they don’t care about what India thinks about them or what someone else thinks so long as they are achieving their objectives of profit & land grab. The only way to ensure that they listen and respect you is that we bring to bear much higher conventional strength than they can possible muster in the mountains. Mafia minded Chinese will only respect brute strength and ruthlessness. The don’t even care about their own country, so it is silly to think that they care about our country.

Further, we have had a Tibetan government in exile in India for a very long time with their head being one of the most respected individuals of the world, namely, his Excellency, Dalai Lama. While this has irked them a little and some might argue that 1962 war happened due to this, it is silly to do these when they can do similar things to India. If we are looking for war there are better and cheaper ways of doing that. Instead we should work towards closing our strategic gaps at the earliest possible and then get extremely aggressive with China. It should also be noted that US recognises Taiwan as a nation and will go to its aid if attacked by China but it doesn’t do enough to change their mafia mind-set as undue risk taking is foundation of such mind-set. No wonder most Chinese love gambling.

However, to make myself clear again, I am not saying that these should never be done but this will be more like step #9 in the larger scheme of things. I believe that while deciding what we should do, we should always take cognisance of the options that the enemy would have at his disposal in case of our move.

Forming Strategic Alliances:

A few years back China has made a plan to fight 6 wars with its neighbours including with Russia, Japan, Taiwan and India in by 2050. China today isn’t so strong that it cannot be pounded to dust by India alone even if it comes with its unscrupulous and immoral friend, Pakistan in an all-out war. There is also no doubt that India and China will cross paths again and again due to the over ambitious and greedy nature of China. India has the capability to give China and Pakistan more than a bloody nose and China knows it quite well. However, the only question today is the level of sacrifice that India will have to make in achieving this victory. If India picks a time and place of its choosing then it will send shivers down China’s spine like it did in 1967 and the sacrifice that it will have to make for a certain victory will be much lower and the negotiating leverage that India will have will also be much greater. Indian defence forces are some of the most professional defence forces in the World and unlike Chinese PLA they are a voluntary force. Indian defence forces’ commitment, passion for their Nation and their professionalism are of the highest order.

However, the best way to deter China till we decide a time and place of our choice is to create what I would call as a Quad+ military alliance. This is both a short term and a long term military solution and it takes away the option of war for China’s over ambitious generals unless they are feeling suicidal.

In the longer run this strategic alliance should include, Quad (India, USA, Australia, Japan) + ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) + Burma + Bhutan + Bangladesh + Israel + Taiwan + South Korea and some central Asian countries. China today has border conflicts with 21 neighbouring countries and its growth has certainly not been very humble. We need to bring as many of these neighbours into this alliance as possible. This will be our very own string of pearls or more of a suicidal rope around Chinese neck ready to tighten as soon as they choose kick the stool of balance.

It has territorial disputes with its so called friends like Russia, therefore it would help India to bridge the gap between Russia and America and get them talking again with a view at getting Russia into the alliance. However, it will be best to start off with Quad+ Taiwan at the least, immediately.

This will bring all the nations suffering from the Chinese hegemony together for a common purpose. This will also create a ready-made market for Indian defence goods produced under ‘Make in India’ and support the high research and development costs of cutting edge technology as well as help in technology sharing amongst the alliance partners. It will also give India access to various airports and seaports in these countries under logistics sharing agreement and help counter Chinese pearl of strings strategy. India should play a lead role in the formation of this Strategic Alliance and emerge as a Net security provider in the region against the hegemony of China. This will not only help India improve its clout in International politics but also help its economy as ASEAN countries themselves have $2.8 trillion GDP which is close to India’s GDP not considering purchasing power parity. Add to this the economies of US, Japan and Australia and it will give India and member countries a strong economic platform as well.

Understanding The Enemy

It is a matter of common knowledge in defence and strategic circles that knowing the enemy as well as ourselves is critical for winning the war. Sun Tsu’s art of war has only made it a matter of common man’s knowledge. Most of what Chinese do in their military and their business is based on Sun Tsu’s half-baked treatise of war. Hence the moment we start to demonstrate that we can speak to them in their language and understand them well, they will be quite uncomfortable if not unnerved.

Having had the highest risk from china amongst our neighbours it is quite disappointing that we have not made any meaningful effort to address these issues. It is only natural that we are circumspect if not afraid of things that we don’t understand including countries or cultures. We will have to agree that we don’t understand China very well and take their super power propaganda a little too seriously in the political circles if not military circles and despite the years of need we have neither made any substantial progress in setting up strong strategic study groups in understanding china nor have we made any effort to teach Chinese language to the strategic groups. Most of our understanding of China has been through the western lens and truth be said, the west is highly ill-equipped to understand eastern cultures, values and societies. The western understanding therefore, ranges from utter contempt to misconceptions or notions driven by hearsay. Unfortunately, that is the best that we have today. While there are some study groups set up and there is some effort being made it is quite inadequate considering the magnitude of our challenge. We will gain global respect when we start to understand china better and demonstrate our expertise on China. Today Israel is a highly valuable asset for America in the middle-east not just for its military capabilities but also for it intelligence capabilities.

When we reach out to the west for inputs we lose our respect as China is our enemy and we usually seem to have no clue about them. India will be in the best position to understand their society and culture because of our historical ties and similar societies. China has over the centuries learnt a lot from India including our martial arts (while we seem to have conveniently forgotten them) and we could relate to their thinking more than any other country ever could.

While we can say that China also doesn’t understand us well enough but they definitely understand us better than we understand them and further they can rely on Pakistan which has a far better understanding of India. Taiwan could have played the same role for us in understanding China as Pakistanis do for China in understanding India but we have not invested enough or should we say that we have not had the foresight to use their inputs. Better late than never, we should quickly make amends.

Building Robust Intelligence Capabilities

In addition to our lack of understanding of China, we have very poor intelligence capabilities despite our inherent advantages in Tibet and Taiwan which only complicates our matters. When compared to any other country of the world, Taiwan has the best understanding of China and having them on our side will help us catalyse the growth of our intelligence capabilities. Similarly, Tibetans had been demonstrating a lot of guts by requesting us to support them even militarily but we are not doing enough to build our intelligence and covert ops capabilities in Tibet. In the long run India needs to take over Tibet and establish strong governance of law and democracy over there and put an end to the years of anarchy by China, we owe it to the Tibetans for having given undue support to china during our first PM and in a way having caused their misadventure.

Building Very High Conventional Warfare Capabilities

There cannot be a bigger shame and contradiction for our Nation that while India sends 103 satellites to space at once or successfully completes a Mars mission at the cheapest cost and plans the next manned moon mission, its soldiers have to struggle with the basics like Indian made assault rifle, pistols, bayonets and world class bullet-proof jackets. While many small, medium and some large companies have forayed into this area, the army as recently as June 2020 chose to buy around 1000 foreign made assault rifles for its special forces under the garb of Chinese aggression and it is only fair to assume that none of them will be made in India. While we may agree that it might be a critical requirement in the current scenario, they could have also placed a similar order for small arms manufacturers in India and could have tested them in real world conditions. In fact Indian Army, Navy and Air Force should have a process of testing various equipment and providing feedback to the small and medium manufacturers like SSS Defence, Astr Defence etc., so that these is an opportunity to constantly improve their products. WE as a country should respect all the private Industry players who have chosen to put their own money into weapons development without any firm orders from the Defence or Home Ministry. Providing they basic orders and all the support and feedback is the least that we can do. They should also provide various testing facilities for use to larger defence conglomerates like Larsen and Tubro, TATA Strategic, Bharat Forge etc. who have built weapons but struggled to test their platforms or had to send their platforms abroad for testing. Even if the defence ministry charged the private participants for weapons that they have not requested, they will still be able to test them at a cheaper price than sending the equipment abroad.

Nuclear weapons are critical strategic weapons but they cannot be a deterrent if the enemy chooses to operate under the nuclear threshold. What’s worse, India’s nuclear threshold is perceived to be much higher due to its self- proclaimed ‘No First Use’ of nuclear weapons policy. Using nuclear weapons in the early stages of an escalation will also not be prudent as it has a risk of escalating the conflict out of control. The fact that Indian soldier has to fight two or more enemies together in a two front war the best deterrent at a conventional or sub-conventional level is for the army, Navy and Air Force to be given the teeth and provide them the best force multipliers in case of a conventional warfare. Giving high fire power at a section level and upwards and evolving the battle tactics to use this substantially enhanced firepower lethality will help us blunt the enemy’s superiority of numbers in both men and equipment. Our soldiers are our biggest asset and it is the duty of every Indian citizen to give them the best equipment so that they have the best chance to win and to survive the odds. This will in turn help keep their morale high and ready for any eventualities.

Through the years thanks to the apathy and incompetence of our politicians and bureaucrats, India has not fully evolved it’s mountain warfare capabilities with men and equipment. It is a high time that we started work on specialised mountain warfare equipment so that in case of another Kargil like situation, we will be extremely well equipped and prepared to take back what is rightfully ours with the lowest possible causalities on our side. Our wars of future will definitely have many tough mountain battles and it is only prudent to make it tougher for the enemy. Contrary to the perception worldwide that future wars will be equipment intensive and not human intensive is a misnomer for mountain specific warfare, as it seems today. While a lot of countries are working on robots of various kinds, it will be tough to deploy them in a mountainous terrain. The two robots that come to mind with immediate and effective warfare in the mountains are quadcopters with automatic weapons and a four legged dog like robot by Boston dynamics. The weapons loaded quad copters will also be a quite handy for attacking enemy troops in high and entrenched positions from a safe distance. India is today struggling to get its conventional strength up to the approved levels so for a lot of people it will be silly to expect us to think futuristic let alone get imaginary or creative with potential war scenarios but that is the need of the hour as a lot of these equipment will take years of development, integration into services and operationalization.

The other challenge with our forces has been that they have for a long time not established a strategic research division which could evolve newer concepts of fighting wars within our diverse terrains. Only Navy had realised this earlier and has a plan in place to define future wars and indigenization. The other two forces are usually chasing their tails when under hammer.

The best thing is that thinking doesn’t even cost us any money. Ideally there should be a contest within each of the armed forces every quarter to float newer fighting techniques/ concepts/ ideologies and most senior veterans will be more than happy to evaluate these concept papers and provide feedback. Much like body, mind also becomes stronger only when challenged, however, there is much to be desired.

Continue To Chapter II>>