Context: The possibility of a two-front war with Pakistan and China has been debated in the past. The ongoing standoff with China in eastern Ladakh has brought India closer to that reality.
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- Earlier, India felt that it could avoid any military action from China through political and diplomatic action.
- The threat from China has become more real than it was in the past after the Ladakh clashes.
Some are seeing this as a failure of Indian diplomacy.
Disengagement is not possible because of the Chinese actions. This is also because India has become more assertive and vocal in terms of what it believes to be its own role in the region, how it defines its parameters, the debate on Article 370, Aksai Chin, etc.
It means that both the LoC and the LAC will be equally volatile.
China's regime believes its time has come and that India is taking certain steps that are important to be countered in real time.
- New dynamic on the LAC: There will be a greater militarisation along the LAC.
- The old protocols and agreements that guided the conduct of soldiers on both sides have all broken down.
- So, greater distrust is going to now be the new normal for the next few years
- The size of India's defence budget is decreasing, which is also a challenge.
India’s strengths and weaknesses
In case of a two-front conflict or threat, if the primary threat is from China, that presents a much greater challenge to India.
- Over the years, India has built extremely strong defences along the border. The Air Force has a geographical advantage over the PLA Air Force. Our Navy has a significant edge over the PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean.
- Technological advantage of China: The PLA also has a technology edge in some very critical areas like ballistic missile, electronic warfare, cyber, air defence, etc., which are going to play a significant role in future warfare.
- There are shortfalls in Indian infrastructure along the northern borders.
Strategic significance of Depsang plains
Chinese troops continue to block Indian Army patrols in the Depsang Plains. Siachen is the closest point of ‘collusivity’ between China and Pakistan.
Siachen is important but geographically it is very difficult to carry out major military operations across the Saltoro Ridge in Siachen.
Depsang is strategically important because it gives access to Siachen, it’s an area where we have the DS-DBO road which is a vital link to the northern areas of Ladakh and to the DBO airfield.
China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
The more China feels vulnerable in the CPEC, the more open and explicit its policies have become vis-à-vis India. This has also allowed India to be more open about its policies with China.
In Indian foreign policy Pakistan is seen as part of a larger China problem.
The Indo-Pacific geopolitics
Chinese aggression: However, we are also seeing that China is facing an intense backlash across the world post COVID-19, post the kind of aggressive postures it has adopted.
Now that is a challenge faced by India, Japan, Australia, the U.S. and Europe.
So, the Indo-Pacific is becoming very contested.
So, there are opportunities there as well for India to build relationships with countries, which are threatened by China in the post Covid-19 world.
Significance of increased military cooperation, exercises, logistic agreements
Quad has been revived, the Australians have been invited to Malabar, the U.S.-India relationship has achieved a new dynamic with all the foundation agreements now being signed.
Unlike in the past, where relationships were seen as constraining India’s strategic autonomy, now the argument is that these relationships enhance India’s space to manoeuvre vis-a-vis China in particular.
The Chinese have been very sensitive about the Quad and Indo-Pacific.
Ultimately, India will have to fight its own battles. But with partners it will be a value addition.
- Civil-military dialogue: At the strategic level, there needs to be greater dialogue between the civil and military leaderships to see how this can be bridged.
- Unfortunately, our current state of civil-military relationship and the structures don’t encourage an open dialogue between the military leadership and the political leadership.
- India has to mind that China is now a very important player in the global matrix. Indian diplomacy and military thinking will have to evolve more rapidly.
Image source: https://www.dailyo.in/politics/