Every Indian dreams that our country and its armed forces would one day liberate Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) called Azad Kashmir, by the Pakistanis.
While Pakistan demands Kashmir over its majority Muslim population, India claims it legally, ethically, constitutionally and emotionally as its integral part of India as at the time of independence of India and Pakistan, the then Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu & Kashmir signed an instrument of Accession with India as the Pakistani tribal militias duly supported by the Pakistani Army invaded Kashmir and the United Nations mediated ceasefire along the line called as the Line of Control (LoC). Ever since, both countries have fought wars in 1947-48, 1965, and 1971 that led to the liberation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh and, consequentially signing of the Shimla Accord and sorting out disputes between both countries bilaterally. But besides skirmishes now and then, in 1999, the Kargil War was fought between the countries. Eventually, Indian forces re-captured the heights in this region of Ladakh, surreptitiously occupied by the Pakistani troops left unoccupied during the preceding winter, with both sides suffering heavy casualties.
Vide 1963 Sino-Pakistan Agreement was signed between Pakistan and China. The former gifted large parts of POK adjoining Aksai Chin illegally occupied by China in the 1962 War and part of the disputed Northern Areas of Kashmir and Ladakh, and recognised China’s sovereignty over Aksai Chin, thus worsening further Indo-Pak and Sino-Indian relations once forever. Besides the joint Sino-Pakistani hostilities, India physically has under its control nearly 55% of Kashmir/Ladakh with about 70% of its population, while Pakistan illegally controls approximately 30% of the land area of the POK. In comparison, China has under illegal occupation 15% of regions of Aksai-Chin, including the Gilgit-Baltistan and Demchok sectors. The Sino-Pakistan Agreement was beneficial for Pakistan in economic and military aid it got from China, besides securing its northern borders from any conflict and one-upmanship over India militarily, psychologically and strategically with disadvantageous two front war situation for India, even though during the 1971 War, no Chinese help came to rescue Pakistan. During the cold war period, while Pakistan got closer to China, it got distanced from the US. President Xi also got a boost for his pet strategic and ambitious projects of the USD 147 billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Recently, China has faced serious crises as countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and many other smaller and weaker Afro-Asian countries are drowning deeply under Chinese debts. Rightly, India, the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, EU are against these projects as part of the Chinese hegemony, and India has protested to China over the CPEC as it would pass through the POK.
Liberation of Pakistan Occupied Territories
The liberation of POK and Gilgit-Baltistan has been a political goal of all of our prime ministers, from Nehru to Modi, but achieving this goal militarily is challenging. Changing political goals militarily would need military might to combat both enemies with high costs in personnel, resources, collateral damage, and devastation. While other strategies, such as economic warfare, diplomacy, negotiations, UN pressure, etc., may be helpful, they do not serve as a means of achieving the goal.
Our parliament unanimously passed a resolution on February 22 1994, to liberate Gilgit-Baltistan. Recently, defence minister Raj Nath Singh stated that by retrieving POK, only then can the overall development of J&K be achieved. While politicians have many reasons and political compulsions like elections, to give such statements, militarily liberating enemy-occupied territories is a difficult, if not impossible, task.
Surprisingly, on October 31 2022, the Srinagar based 15 Corps Commander endorsing the Defence Minister’s statement said that the Indian Army was ‘fully prepared for action’ to retrieve (PoK). The Corps Commander ensured the upgraded capacities, capabilities and preparedness of the Indian Army that, when ordered, would be displayed to impact.
Normally, once the government hints of impending national aim to be transformed into the military aim, the top commanders keep their gunpowder dry, carry out tactical exercises with and without troops and related massive logistical built, movement of troops, tanks and guns to achieve their military aim with operations. Any mismatch between political/national aim and military action would be catastrophic, as briefly described below.
The 1971 War
The hostilities between West Pakistan and East Pakistan were on the increase as Mujibur Rehman, who had won the majority in the general elections, was not allowed to form the government, thus increasing the voices of dissent in East Pakistan and orders were given to Pakistani Army to clamp down the rebellions. It led to the influx of large-scale refugees from East Pakistan to India became a sign of worry for Indira Gandhi. During 1971 summers, the situation was alarming, and PM Gandhi wanted General Sam Bahadur to go to war, who refused, stating the unfavourable climatic conditions and the likelihood of the Chinese support to Pakistan in the event of war with Pakistan in the summer season. He warned the PM that during Mansoon season, the massive rivers in East Pakistan would be flooded, making movement difficult, the time needed for mobilisation and training and orientation of troops to impending operations and colossal logistics built up required for operations of that magnitude. Sam told PM bluntly that a defeat was guaranteed if India went to war under those hostile conditions. Mrs Gandhi agreed and told Chief to tell her when he was ready. The war commenced on December 3 1971, and Bangladesh was liberated in the following two weeks.
IPKF in Sri Lanka
In contrast, the intervention of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in the Sri Lankan Civil War in a hurry without even proper grid maps of Sri Lanka, intelligence and military preparations and signing an Accord on July 29 1987, to broker a political settlement between Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE and Sri Lankan Government were catastrophic as the Army Chief Gen Sundarji failed to convince PM Rajiv Gandhi hurriedly getting embroiled in other country’s dirty war against Tamil Tigers. The initial euphoria with which the IPKF was received in Sri Lanka soon faded away because of the reluctance of the LTTE to lay down arms and the hesitation of the Sri Lankan forces to comply with the terms of the accord. The 32-month presence of the IPKF in the country resulted in the deaths of 1100 Indian soldiers while many more were wounded. The cost for the Indian government was estimated at over ₹10.3 billion. Sadly later, the LTTE assassinated the former PM Rajiv Gandhi and at what horrific costs to our country?
Also, technology, armaments, and the geo-political and strategic environment have changed with time. The Soviet Union has disintegrated, and with eclipsing of Russia’s power, China has emerged as a stronger ruthless economic, military and technological power. Yet, President Xi though very keen to annex Taiwan, dared not do so. Still, our political masters go hoarse, saying retrieving POK against heavy odds from the nexus of our worst enemies and bosom friends, Pakistan-China operating in treacherous high altitude terrain with poor communication lines, and the worst part is the Corps Commander endorsing the political views overshadowing the military option of immense death, destruction and economic losses. I am in no way pulverised with a defensive mindset. Still, we need to learn lessons from the prohibitive costs in men and materials caused by the Ukraine invasion by Russia launched on February 22 2022, entering a stalemate after nine months of death and destruction and escalation in inflation world over amidst nuclear threats. I wonder if Raj Nath Singh and the Chinar Corps commander are aware of these harsh and stark realities.
Two & a Half Front Concept
Late General Bipin Rawat (COAS/CDS) had reiterated the capability of the Indian Army to fight a war at two and a half front signifying our Army’s combat power to fight both Pakistan and China externally and the Maoists and other anti-national elements (ANEs) who have the tacit support of either Pakistan or China or both internally as the other half front. He also said that the modernisation of the armed forces was being undertaken in a big way, obviously keeping the future, the geo-strategic scenario and the threats to our national security.
The Indian Ocean bounds India in the south, the Arabian Sea on the west, the Bay of Bengal in the east with a 7,516.6 km long coastline sharing maritime boundaries with Pakistan in the west, Sri Lanka in the south, Bangladesh in the east and its islands of Andaman and Nicobar share it with Thailand and Indonesia and shares land borders with Pakistan on the west, China, Nepal and Bhutan in the north and the northeast, and Bangladesh and Burma in the east. Our 15106.7 km land borders run through 18 states and 92 districts across7 different countries. Since Nepal and Bhutan, with modest military capabilities, are two small countries as a buffer between India and the big bully China, their northern borders geo-strategically add to India’s defensive vulnerabilities to a great extent. Over the border dispute, both India and China had fought an ignominious 1962 War, and lately, India has accused China of constructing a road in the Doklam plateau (Bhutan), incursions in Barahoti, and the situation has not returned to normalcy in eastern Ladakh even after endless Corps Commanders’ level talks. The Sino-Pak nexus dove-tail the external and internal security threats to India simultaneously. Of late, there has been an appreciable rise in the Pakistani Army and ISI-sponsored militancy in J&K, focusing attacks on political activists, counter-insurgency groups PMFs and the Security Forces. There is an immense increase in the infiltration and local recruitment, usage of explosives, up-gradation of weaponry, terrorist training, hardware, ideological motivation and sustained inter-tanzeem cooperation, hawala funding from Arab countries and the increasing role of foreign mercenaries. There are fervent attempts to reunify various militant groups and induct ISIS, escalate militancy arc to Jammu and Ladakh regions, create communal divide by targeting the ethnic minorities like the Hindus, Sikhs and Ladakhis and attempt to internationalise the Kashmir issue. With open support from China, Pakistan has ceded large chunks of the illegally occupied POK territories to China for the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). To ensure it does not construct the corridor in any disputed territory as POK and the northern areas are claimed by India to be part of J&K, China has dwelt over Pakistan to constitutionally declare the Gilgit-Baltistan and the Northern Areas as the 5th province of Pakistan. According to an article by Syed Irfan Raza on October 18 2016, in the Pakistani newspaper the Dawn, the upper house of Pakistan’s National assembly had expressed the fear that the China-Pakistan 3,200 km long CPEC could turn into another East India Company if the country’s interests were not actively protected. According to the Financial Express, dated July 22 2017, CPEC represents the colonisation of Pakistan for the enrichment of China as it will give it and Central Asia access to Africa, Europe and America through the deep sea southernmost Gwadar Port in Baluchistan and let China exploit natural gas, copper and other mineral resources at the cost of exploitation of Baluchis to whom these legitimately belong. Only the Chinese technicians, equipment and security personnel, are being deployed for the construction and security of the entire project, and no jobs have been created for locals, much to their discontentment. There is too much secrecy on the project, and not much is in the public domain, and many in Pakistan fear its heavy burden will eventually fall on poor Pakistani citizenry as not many jobs or tariffs for locals are being generated. Many feel more than economic considerations, and the CPEC has greater geo-strategic advantages for the emerging superpower China in deployment and logistics support of troops in future warfare. Many fear the bonhomie between the superpower China and the weaker Pakistan may eventually lead to the unification of Pakistan as the 24th province of China! The Mail Today, dated August 1 2017, stated that POK is turning into COK (China Occupied Kashmir), while the same paper, dated July 25 2017, reported that Lashkar’s co-founder Amir Haza has been instigating his outfit to spread violence in the Northeastern Indian states thereby confirming the linkages between Pakistan operated terror groups and China jointly as one common enemy of India.
India’s vast coastline in close proximity to Pakistan as a virtual province of China would almost get encircled in the north by both Pakistani-Chinese Armies and the south blue sea capabilities of the expanding Chinese naval flotilla along with the modest Pakistani Navy in support in the Arabian Sea. Further, China is ambitiously manoeuvring to acquire naval bases/logistics and maintenance facilities in the Indian Ocean Rim extending from the Chinese mainland to Sudan, thus encircling India to dominate east-west sea lanes in the Indian Ocean. Due to India’s geo-strategic location in the Indian Ocean, the world’s powerful navies have major roles to play in the security of the region. China has territorial disputes with all the 14 nations it shares a border with and eight other countries besides its claims on the entire South China Sea for its hydrocarbon potential, the exception being Pakistan, which is on its payroll.
And then what about the role of the air forces on both sides of the international borders in an all-out or limited war with our adversaries? In all our wars with Pakistan, the Indian Air Force (IAF) played a pivotal role in winning the wars though in the 1962 fiasco, neither China nor India used respective air forces for the best reasons known to them.
One can imagine the bleak geo-strategic scenario and threat to world peace with BIG BULLY CHINA in the middle, flanked in the west by the terrorist-sponsoring state Pakistan and in the east by the belligerent and rouge North Korea designing and developing intercontinental nuclear missiles that can strike the US.
With Pakistan and China becoming one entity, the other half of the front, reiterated by the late General Rawat, is the various internal security threats faced by India. Besides the regional movements like Gorkha Land, Vidarbha, Saurashtra, Harit Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal, Mahakoshal Kamtapur, Bodoland and Kuki Homeland, India suffers from the Maoist and Northeast insurgencies, terrorism, communalism, fundamentalism, caste conflicts, fragmented polity, the rise of sub-nationalism, espionage, sabotage and subversion, poor governance, corruption, fake Indian currency notes (FICN), weaker intelligence management, economic and white collar crimes, cyber terrorism, AIDS/HIV and other deadly diseases, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) and ecological disasters, drugs menace and poverty. While Pakistan has been involved in spreading the Khalistan movement in Punjab, in the Northeast, China has supported all the insurgencies in the Northeast and Maoists and the Naxalites in the hinterland. In most of the incidents of the Hindu-Muslim communal riots or Shia-Sunni sectarian violence. However, this other half of the internal front quoted by late General Rawat can be cured largely by good governance, financial management, meeting aspirations of the sons of the soil, judicial, police and administrative reforms, creation of jobs, health services and so on.
Though desirable, if not impossible, the liberation of POK, Gilgit & Baltistan and Aksai Chin from the Sino-Pak nexus is the most difficult to accomplish. If wars could always liberate allegedly occupied territories by adversaries, then China would have liberated Taiwan a long time back with both its military, technological and economic power and Russia would not have struggled and suffered such heavy casualties in the Ukraine war and there would have been peace in Koreas, Afghanistan, Middle East and Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
China is indeed a global economy, but its 6% GDP growth needs to be better for economic reforms and employment generation for its poor masses. It may be on the verge of becoming a superpower. But it is still an emerging country with many hundred million on the survival line, which can lead to political unrest. China has a global market, and India is one of the largest customers. In social media, it is crucial to stress that if India temporarily stops buying Chinese goods, China’s economy will collapse, making it impossible for China to attack India. In addition to maintaining our sense of national pride, we must raise our own standards of production and quality in every sector and move toward economic independence. The recently revived mantra to destroy the Chinese economy is “GO Swadeshi.” Will that be achievable given how China dominates the production of everything from needles to the goods used in every household in our nation? India also has to keep its growth rate high to guarantee macroeconomic stability. Can China be bold against India to resist the trade and economic war initiated by India with a $51 billion trade surplus this year?
While serving senior officers in the peacetime army look for lucrative ambassadorial or gubernatorial appointments after retirement, our armed forces remain under the bureaucratic control of the babus who lack basic knowledge of military matters. As a result, they end up more as “yes men” than military commanders with integrity and vision. This mentality needs to change.
While the Indian Navy is the fifth-strongest Navy in the world, the Indian Army and Indian Air Force (IAF) are the world’s fourth and fifth-most powerful forces, respectively. Amazingly, India did not have a full-time defence minister in its cabinet until the cabinet was reshuffled on September 3, 2017, when Nirmala Sitharaman was appointed defence minister against the backdrop of the standoff between China and India over Dokhlam. This was despite tensions along its borders and the presence of the big power’s submarines and warships. We appointed CDS after a long gap after the first incumbent died in a tragic helicopter crash.
India needs to strengthen its military capacity. India has to mould its combat forces, looking to Israel as a model rather than creating additional poorly equipped formations and troops. Due to the Ordnance Factory Board’s failure to deliver ammunition, the Indian Army is currently experiencing severe ammunition shortages that could last barely ten days. Additionally, all of our DRDO/HAL initiatives may create military hardware like tanks, weapons, combat planes, ammo, and explosives more quickly. To improve our combat capabilities, IT, cyber security, and drones must be incorporated, and initiatives like “Agniveer” require in-depth examination.
Since significant amounts of oil have been discovered in the South China Sea, China has asserted territorial and legal claims there that have been disputed by neighbouring nations, particularly Vietnam, which is backed by the US, Korea, Japan, Australia, and India. A Chinese submarine and three warships were reportedly lurking in the Bay of Bengal, posing a threat to our east coast, in an effort to thwart India’s drilling ambitions in the area. To counter the Chinese naval threat in the Bay of Bengal, the trilateral India-US-Japan Malabar naval exercise was the right dig at China. Other nations, including Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Korea, may also participate in these efforts to isolate and impede the Chinese strategy. The formation of the Quad Alliance—Japan, India, and the United States—to control China is the right step in this direction. Importantly, the Straits of Malacca, which are very close to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, where our tri-service Andaman & Nicobar Theatre Command is located, choke points through which China’s main oil supplies from the Middle East pass. If these supplies are cut off, our adversaries would be brought to their knees.
India should launch a diplomatic offensive against China’s hegemony and its connections to Pakistan and North Korea and join forces with other like-minded nations such as South Korea, Australia, the EU, the US, Central Asia, and Japan. In addition to its more established allies like the US, UK, EU, and Russia, India must cultivate relations with the ASEAN, SAARC, Commonwealth, G20, UNSC, Quad look east, look west, Central Asia, and the Middle East in order to rally support against the belligerence of Pakistan and China. Before the 1971 War to liberate Bangladesh, our Prime Minister, Mrs Gandhi, made a frenzied tour of the globe to inspire unwavering support for the Indian cause. Through assertive diplomacy, it is necessary to discourage the US and other nations from providing military weapons to Pakistan. Canada just ceased providing aid to NGOs supporting terrorism in J&K. Due to the fact that the POK is disputed territory, several nations are reluctant to invest there.
In Baluchistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the POK in Pakistan, as well as in the Chinese autonomous territories of Tibet and Xinjiang, which highlight the repression of Tibetan and Uyghur minorities, India needs to draw attention to human rights abuses and the enslavement of democracy. To help them struggle for their freedom from their repressive overlords, we may covertly train and aid their dissident forces. India ought to consider shifting its position on Tibet and showing the rest of the world how China has repressed its independence and human rights. Additionally, we must draw attention to China’s diplomatic efforts to annex Taiwan and the South China Sea while repressing dissent in Hong Kong.
With the support of the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and ASEAN nations, India must prevail over Sri Lanka in the sale of Hambantota Port to China for $1.12 billion in order to improve relations with its neighbours by providing them with the liberal industrial, military, and economic aid that helps them develop their infrastructure. We must make sure that such Chinese influences are weaned off in the ASEAN nations.
Russia needs to be persuaded diplomatically to reclaim its former superpower status and break ties with China. The former Soviet Union was without a doubt India’s strongest ally during the liberation of Bangladesh in the 1971 War.
To oppose China’s BRI and CPEC programmes and advance trade, transit, and tourism between all allies, we must persuade the US and other strong nations. One such project in the right direction is India’s intention to establish Chabahar Port in Iran to offer direct connectivity with Afghanistan and the CARs.
Hawala and trade across the LoC provide the majority of the financial support for Hurriyat & Lashkar sympathisers in the valley. We must stop such illicit business practices and act swiftly and severely through the legal system.
As a conventional fight with our enemies would be insufficient due to their combined armed forces being twice the size of India, surgical strikes must be carried out resolutely on the identified terrorist camps in the POK and their routes of entry.
For a faster flow of products for the locals and troops deployed, and their logistical support, we need to build road and rail networks that crisscross our whole land border with Pakistan and China.
The most notorious hackers in the world are both Pakistanis and Chinese. To defend against their attacks, thwart them, and sabotage their sensitive sites, we must create countermeasures. Pakistan and China are known for using attractive Urdu/English-speaking girls on social media to lure Indians into sensitive military operations. We must be vigilant against such IT and cybercrimes.
To maximise our fighting efficiency, we must improve proactive strategic, tactical, and battlefield intelligence collection and counterintelligence, as these have been identified as our weak points by several committees established after every conflict. The use of suitable numbers of translators and interpreters of the languages used by our enemies must be coordinated with all information-gathering techniques, including the use of drones and IT/cyber security.
India must tenaciously pursue becoming a permanent member of the UNSC and the NSG in order to reassure China and Pakistan that it is not their enemy but rather another democratic, secular, and progressive state looking to enhance its economy and the standards of life of its population with dignity. Their common foes, poverty, ignorance, and poor healthcare, must be vanquished together and globally.
As the fourth estate, our media must play a crucial role and refrain from constantly demonising and sensationalising ineffective reporting.
Since China, Pakistan, and India all possess nuclear weapons, many military experts believe there is little prospect of a protracted conventional conflict. However, it is possible that there will be brief, quick conflicts and skirmishes to gain a tactical or strategic edge locally.
However, if the Chinese and Pakistani combined land, naval, and air threats are unleashed to undermine and nibble our territorial integrity as stated above, Gilgit and Baltistan would become a multifaceted and fronts war despite the comments made by Defence Minister Singh and GOC 15 Corps to liberate POK. To counter the joint assault from Pakistan and China on our national security, democracy, sovereignty, and dignified way of life, we must be ready, aggressive, and very strong on all fronts—psychologically, politically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily.
And last but not least, ‘why the Defence Minister and Chinar Corps Commander ignored liberating Aksai Chin from China from their ambitious mission?