India shouldn’t go slow on defence modernisation
by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
The Pakistan Defence Minister in a recent statement has acknowledged that his country just cannot match India in defence capabilities. This, it is argued, is due to the vast difference in the GDP and foreign trade of the two countries, etc. But these essential constraints have never held back Pakistan from not only attempting to achieve parity with India in defence capabilities but also to constantly needle this country.
Pakistan, following the policy of beg, borrow and steal, has all along tried to maintain parity in defence capabilities vis-a-vis India. In the 1965 war it fielded larger and the then latest fleet of tanks as compared to India. In infantry and artillery, India’s edge was only marginal and that too because India was able to withdraw troops from the Tibet border due to winter conditions there. India brought about destruction of Pakistan armour and came out on top through some luck and, to an extent, due to superior generalship. In 1971, too, India was able to shift the troops deployed against Tibet to the plains due to the harsh weather conditions, but this is less likely to happen again.
Notwithstanding this statement from the Pakistan minister, recent reports indicate that it is striving hard to acquire parity with India in nuclear weapons capability and missile technology as also in many other defence-related areas. Its attempts to develop tactical nuclear weapons is an area of much concern for India. As long as the Pakistani security establishment retains control over the social and economic fabric of that nation, peace between the two neighbours will be tenuous, and there will be sustained attempts to achieve balance in military capabilities. Therefore, this assertion by a Pakistani political leader, perhaps to lull India to sleep, needs to be taken with more than a pinch of salt, and calls for a closer look and reality check.
This balance which Pakistan continues to strive to achieve is against only those elements of Indian defence forces that get deployed on its Western front. The understanding and some sort of secret defence pact between China and Pakistan gives the latter assurance that India will not be able to shift troops deployed against Tibet to its Western front, even if there are no hostilities across the Himalayas. With Indian defence budget pegged at below 2 per cent of the GDP and Pakistan to contend with only one part of the Indian forces (those deployed on the Western front), there is not much difficulty for Pakistan to achieve near parity with India, especially when China is there to extend all the help. Increasingly Pakistan is becoming a vassal of China. Of the 20 billion dollar aid that Pakistan received from the US during the last 10 years, much of it has been used for acquiring military hardware.
Pakistan continues to acquire sophisticated weaponry from France — notably, eight upgraded Mirage III and Mirage V combat aircraft. France is also supplying Pakistan with new diesel submarines. The first was commissioned in late 1999, with two more being built under licence in Karachi. Over all, Pakistan is making efforts to build a strong navy to interdict the supply of fuel to India from West Asia if such a need arises. Building of a naval base at the mouth of the Straight of Hurmoz (Gwadar naval base) has to be seen towards creating such a capability.
Pakistan manufactures its own tanks and is now trying to upgrade these to the level of tanks recently bought from Ukraine. This is essentially to counter India’s import of T-90 tanks from Russia. In the face of India’s growing military arsenal, Pakistan is seeking to enlarge and modernise its forces too.
Pakistan has been beneficiary of defence largesse from the United States and, of late, from China as well. Because of this there has been less outgo of finances for the purchase of military equipment as compared to India. Import of nuclear and missile technology came free to Pakistan with little or no expenditure on its indigenous development. China has also set up defence units in Pakistan.
Islamabad’s policy now appears to be to have sufficiently strong forces to inflict heavy casualties on any attacker. At the same time, it relies upon its nuclear forces to deter an aggressor in the first place, but would threaten their use to stall the aggressor from bringing about total defeat of its military or a deep thrust into that country. Further, in any future conflict, China may not remain a bystander and vice versa.
Though Pakistan is a factor to be taken into reckoning, India’s chief strategic concern will have to be China. Therefore, unless Pakistan needlessly needles India, it should have no worry about Indian defence forces posing any threat to that country.
As far as India is concerned, in a worst case scenario, it has to contend with hostilities on two fronts, with either both getting activated or active hostilities on one front and ‘stand off’ on the other. The induction of Chinese troops in the Northern Areas of Gilgit and Baltistan is a new factor in this India-China-Pakistan triangle.
While India need not take the statement of Pakistan’s Defence Minister seriously, it has to draw up plans to build adequate military capabilities on the one hand and on the other how best to meet the challenges of a possible war on two fronts.
A conflict on two fronts is easier contemplated than conducted. It was the bane of the German General Staff for half a century across two World Wars with no workable solution in sight. On both occasions the war ended with disastrous consequences for Germany, because it strived for victory on both fronts. In the Indian context, the problems of a war on two fronts is far more complex, even if one is to discount the difficulties in the North east. Here, therefore, lies a major lesson for Indian strategists who talk, rather lightly, of war on two fronts and are striving to work out a strategic concept to meet such a situation.
It would be wrong to examine Indian defence capabilities in relation to Pakistan alone. As an emerging economic power on the world stage, it has to have matching military capabilities whereby it can extend its area of influence over the entire region of its interest and to ensure peace and tranquillity in this space. It should be able to keep the sea-lanes free from interference from hostile navies for free flow of goods and energy needs of the countries in the region and its own. India also has to protect the country’s offshore assets and island territories.
Though it has become fashionable these days to discuss soft power as a stand-alone influential entity which by itself can further national interest, nothing could be more wrong. One of India’s former Ministers of Sate for Foreign Affairs has been advocating that India should project its soft power in the form of Indian food, culture, classical dances, etc, and that by itself should suffice!
Soft power by itself is of no consequence. It becomes valuable only when it forms an extension of the hard power of a country in the projection of a viable policy. This is best explained if we look at the example of the U S; the most successful exponent of soft power.
A strong military capability is needed to ensure that the country’s vital interests are not jeopardized, its area of influence does not shrink, its water resources are not high-jacked, and external powers do not disturb internal peace and tranquillity and gain a foothold in the states on the periphery of India’s borders.
The writer is a former Deputy Chief of Army Staff.
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