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India’s changing security threats The Statesman 14 Feb 2023
There is a belief that a weak Pakistan is not good for India. As Pakistan weakens, its ability to contain growth of terrorist groups would also diminish, converting the region, spreading from the Indian border to Afghanistan, into a hotbed of terrorism. Pakistan currently faces much more than just an economic collapse. Its security scenario is growing worse by the day, especially along its western periphery, as also is political instability.
As Pakistan weakens, so do its institutions, as also its ability to be a threat to India. Its reserves of war waging material would be insufficient to sustain a conflict. It would always be concerned about Indian retaliation to its misadventures for which it would have limited options. It will continue to support anti-India terrorist groups but would keep them contained to Indian levels of tolerance.
To prevent its financial collapse Pak is forced to accept harsh terms and conditions placed by those who provide it with aid. There are reports that the IMF is insisting Pak reduce its defence expenditure as also commensurately downsize its armed forces as these are unsustainable in its present economic predicament. In the current budget the defence component is second to debt servicing and is 17.5% of the total expenditure. This is just the declared portion of the defence budget.
Other nations which are funding Pak, including Saudi Arabia and UAE are insisting that Pak seek better terms with India and stop playing the Kashmir card. It was on their prodding that Shehbaz Sharif offered an olive branch to India. However, domestically no political party in Pakistan can ignore the Kashmir issue nor avoid raising redundant UN resolutions.
Hence, Pakistan continues with its so-called ‘solidarity days,’ and regular harping in global circles about human rights violations and adherence to UN resolutions. It is aware that Kashmir is a lost cause. Most of its pro-Kashmir howling are more for domestic consumption rather than global audiences.
China had always banked on a Pakistan threat keeping India on its toes. A two-front war was always a concern for the Indian government. Of the two, India considered operations with Pak as a greater possibility, especially since the advent of terrorism and the fact that the nations have been to war on multiple occasions. Hence, a larger force level was deployed along the Pak border. Indian strategy towards Pak changed with the arrival of nuclear weapons in the subcontinent.
With China, India adopted a deterrence by denial strategy. There were no strike elements deployed against our northern adversary. Indian thinkers believed that China could be contained by diplomacy and economic integration. Imports from China continued to rise, with it having a favourable balance of payments. Investments from China were welcomed. India avoided taking any step which could anger the Chinese. One of the first actions taken by the government post Galwan was blocking Chinese apps as also restricting its investments in the country.
It was wooing China policy which led to annual leadership summits between the two nations, hoping it would keep China engaged. China’s anti-India stance including preventing its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, placing blocks on nominating known Pak terrorists as global terrorists as also refusing to accept India as a permanent member of the UNSC were construed to be appeasing Pak. China rightly judged Indian approach as a sign of weakness, aware it could exploit it when needed.
Warnings on Chinese intent and exploiting India’s Pak fixation have flowed over time but ignored. George Fernandes as the defence minister had stated as far back as 1998 that China was India’s ‘potential threat No 1.’ In an interview George Fernandes rued India’s ‘reluctance to face the reality that China’s intentions need to be questioned.’ He was shot down by his own government as also other political parties, apart from the Chinese embassy which stated, ‘remarks by Fernandes have seriously sabotaged the favourable atmosphere for improving bilateral relations.’
Bipin Rawat as the army chief had made a near similar comment post Doklam. Addressing a seminar in Delhi, Bipin Rawat had stated, ‘As far as northern adversary is concerned, the flexing of muscle has started. Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of threshold is something we have to be wary about and remain prepared for situations emerging which could gradually emerge into conflict.’ China again attempted to downplay his comments.
The government, ignoring multiple warnings, continued to block funds for raising a mountain strike corps against China. India reacted and upgraded China as the most potent threat only after Galwan. The China strike corps was raised as also a strike corps facing Pak reassigned to the northern borders. Infrastructure development was given a boost and additional troops deployed along the LAC including in Ladakh. India finally accepted that threat from Pak has diminished while from China is alive and growing.
Simultaneously, India commenced partnering like-minded nations aimed at countering China. India’s global partners believe that Delhi challenges China as the global supplier and hence back movement of industry from China to India.
For China, the degradation of Pakistan’s military capability as a result of its depleting economy is a matter of concern, while for India, it has enabled it to shift emphasis to its northern adversary. China had assumed that the Pak threat would keep Indian planners occupied allowing it to develop its infrastructure in Tibet enabling it to plan and launch an offensive at the time of its choosing.
Further, with Pak poised along India’s western borders, waiting to take advantage of an India-China conflict, India would hesitate to move additional troops towards its northern borders. Currently, Pakistan is no longer a threat as it seeks to survive as a nation and avoid default. Thus India is able to concentrate its force development to handle challenges emerging on its northern borders.
Emphasis on infrastructure and habitat development has shifted towards the LAC strengthening India’s defensive capabilities. India’s budget focuses towards containing China. Each year India gains in strength and capability enhancement. By the time Pak recovers India will be way ahead and possibly beyond the reach of China to subdue.