DETERRING A JOINT CHINA-PAK ATTACK
Strategicstudyindia : Aug 19, 2013
To protect our territorial integrity, we need to change India’s “no first use” (NFU) doctrine to make it similar
to that of Pakistan and China. India should declare that it may use tactical nuclear weapons in case its
“red lines” are crossed.
In 2008, based on my four-decade-long experience in the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, small activities
and border skirmishes caught my attention and, as I began studying them, I saw a diabolic pattern emerging.
Alarmingly, it all added up to Pakistani terrorists getting ready to carry out an attack on India by sea. On May 19, 2008, The Asian Age published my article, The next terror attack could be from the sea. The carnage
of 26/11 took place six months later.
Fifty-one years after the disastrous 1962 war with China, India continues to pay the price for ignoring
its defences, this time in Ladakh, where lack of infrastructure (there is still no road link from Leh to the eastern airstrip at Daulat Beg Oldi, and men need to march for six days across mountainous terrain to cover this distance), and lack of adequate force levels have left a vulnerability which is being exploited skilfully by China. Favourable flat terrain, excellent Chinese infrastructure and force availability means that Chinese troops can reach the disputed territory in eastern Ladakh in 12-24 hours.
The recent change of political leadership in China and Pakistan, along with the impending American withdrawal from Afghanistan, has resulted in more coordinated China-Pak activities along our borders. When Nawaz Sharif came to power on June 5, 2013, he immediately set up the “Kashmir cell”. Less than two months later, on August 2, 2013, bombs went off near our Jalalabad consulate. Now, studying the pattern of activities along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir (the August 6 killing of five jawans, firing along the LoC and the Kishtwar riots) and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh (the April 2013 Depsang area face off, and present probes by the Chinese Army), I am once again worried that a joint China-Pak threat may materialise at very short notice, specially now that we are in “election mode”.
China, worried about the security of its proposed $18 billion “energy corridor” (oil pipeline, road and rail links) from Xinjiang province to Gwadar port via Karakoram mountains, has apparently decided that it needs to grab some disputed territory in eastern Ladakh, close to its proposed energy corridor.
Given the infrastructure and military capability in eastern Ladakh — armed Indian policemen and a few soldiers — the Chinese Army can launch an air-ground offensive with 10-20,000 motorised troops and 100-300 tanks to capture the entire area it claims as its own in north-eastern Ladakh in 48 hours. The border airstrips of Daulat Beg Oldi and Nyoma could be captured by Chinese helicopter-borne forces in a few hours, thus cutting off airborne logistics to eastern Ladakh. Active intervention by the Indian Air Force (IAF), even if approved immediately by the government, may have little impact on the outcome given the current force levels on both sides.
If it seizes about 1,000 sq km in north-eastern Ladakh, China would not only ensure security of its proposed “Karakoram-Gwadar” energy corridor, but also make our positions on the Saltoro ridge untenable — our troops would have the Chinese behind them and the Pakistanis in front.
If this crisis were to erupt, Chinese warships, submarines and aircraft would move to Gwadar port and airfield, thus nullifying peninsular India’s natural geographical advantage of being located astride China’s sea lines of communications, through which it exports goods and imports energy. Gwadar-based Chinese naval units could cut off Indian energy imports from West Asia.
In April 2011, Pakistan signed a contract with China for delivery of six Qing-class conventional submarines, expected to begin entering service by 2014-15. Each of these Qing subs will have the capability to fire three nuclear-tipped CJ-10 cruise missiles with a range of 2,500 km.
India’s leaders need to remember that in the 1998 Pokhran II nuclear tests, India tested four nuclear devices (of 0.2, 0.4, 0.8 kilo and 14 tons each), which would qualify as tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) for delivery against large enemy military formations invading our territory, including in Ladakh. These TNWs would deter a massive Chinese ground assault in eastern Ladakh, as they could decimate the invading force once it crossed into Indian territory. Of course, both China and Pakistan have TNWs, and will not hesitate to use them on India.
To protect our territorial integrity, we need to change India’s “no first use” (NFU) doctrine and make it similar to that of Pakistan and China. India should declare that it may use tactical nuclear weapons in case its “red lines” (eg. unacceptable loss of territory) are crossed. These TNWs must, of course, be inducted under strict control of the Nuclear Command Authority.
A hostile China-Pak adventure can only be deterred by nuclear weapons, political will and a new nuclear doctrine. Our Mandarin-speaking China experts and Punjabi-speaking Pakistani experts need to let professionals advise the government on security matters.
The writer retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam