There appears to be no early solution to the ongoing standoff on the Doklam plateau. China’s unilateral action to alter the location of the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and China is unexceptionable and violates the 2012 agreement. There is a deeper move in this attempt to build a road on this plateau. It not only aims at posing a serious threat to the Siliguri corridor by crossing the Torsa Nala and occupying the Jhamperi Ridge, but also wean away the only country left in India’s neighborhood, where it exercises influence and comes in the way of China’s attempt at complete encirclement of India.
China has been assiduously working to encircle India both on land and sea, with the eventual aim of capturing markets and relegating India to a secondary position. Such a move is reminiscent of the gun-boat diplomacy of the seventeen-eighteen centuries by European countries. Building OROB (One Road one Belt) and CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) is in line with the gun-boat diplomacy of that period, though, through a different format, the sole purpose being to capture markets, in the region and beyond.
China has succeeded in gaining influence and foothold in almost all of India’s immediate neighborhood, sans Bhutan. This Doklam effort is to draw Bhutan too out of India’s sphere of influence. India’s inability to counter these moves by China bears on our foreign policy and diplomatic skills.
While China’s media and government have been making every effort to raise the ante, India’s response has been restrained, muted and mature. The issue that one needs to be addressed is as to why China is spoiling for a fight with a large country of India’s size with equally large defense forces for a minor issue, when seen in the larger context of the region! Perhaps, it is somewhat related to the state of the Indian armed forces. There has been no attempt at modernizing the military during the last three decades.
Since the Bofors scandal, deficiencies of ammunition and some other essential equipment have been allowed to pile up. The most unusual step of placing thousands of crores of rupees at the disposal of the Vice Chief of the Army to undertake emergency purchases to meet acute shortages of ammunition, both artillery and armor, and a range of other items points to an alarming situation of shortages with the military. All this leads one to conclude that the state of military’s reserves is critical.
One need raise the issue as to how this critical situation has come about and who is accountable. Who has been sitting on the Army’s demands for ammunition and a range of critical equipment as well as its modernization? According to some press reports, the country is faced with a war-like situation and desperate attempts are afoot to create reserves of ammunition etc. even for a war of duration as short as ten days or so. Though the Army Chief has been talking of a two and a half front war, where is the wherewithal for a conflict of this scale and spread?
China has been threatening to enlarge the scope of conflict and may not confine it to the Doklam area, where it is at some tactical disadvantage. There is an inherent drawback in emergency purchases of ammunition and certain critical equipment. Since none of these are available off the shelf and their supply involves undertaking manufacture on demand, and that takes much time, one may end up picking up substandard or time expired items from the sellers’ military reserves.
While these emergency purchases for the military has in the past resulted in being shortchanged in a number of cases, one need quote just two to highlight the pitfalls in letting a situation develop where there may be no alternative to adopting this course. During the Indian Army’s operations in Sri Lanka, the possibility of employment of parachute brigade came up and it surfaced that while we had a parachute brigade but there were no parachutes!
Defense Finance had been sitting tight on the demand for these parachutes for close to six months. Now such items are not available off the shelf, so our military attaches were tasked to explore the possibility of obtaining these from armies of their accredited country. Our military attache in France was able to get these from the French army’s reserve stocks. We paid the money only to discover that these failed the stress tests in India and turned out to be from the Vietnam war period, where many of these parachutes had blood stains. Thus these could not be put to use. The second case relates to tank ammunition.
Once we took up the project to up-gun the T-55 gun, the Russians, who did not approve of this, for the first time and out of the blue, offered us APFSDS ammunition for the original 100 millimeter gun of this tank. We purchased 20,000 rounds of this ammunition at a huge cost, which failed two separate sets of trial in India, where I conducted one of these two trials. So such emergency purchases of ammunition and other military equipment without proper trials and care have their own pitfalls.
Unfortunately India has never paid much attention to the vital issue of national security. We have had considerable difficulty in finding a suitable Defense Minister. Parrikar would go about inspecting ceremonial guards of honor wearing slippers, with hands in his pockets and went on to inform the nation that since there has been no war for a long time, the public has lost respect for the Army! During his over two years tenure as Defense Minister there is nothing for him to show which can bring him some credit. Now an already over burdened Finance Minister has been given the additional charge of Defense portfolio. In some manner this also points to the fact that national defense holds low priority in this country, even when we are surrounded on two fronts by hostile neighbors, who are in league with each other.
India has never fully understood the inclusive relationship between economics and military power. The country’s long history of subjugation by foreign powers bears testimony to this fact. We do not seem to have learnt much from history and appear to commit the same mistakes related to national security. A strong military is not to wage wars but to secure peace and let conditions prevail where nation building and creating economic muscle can go on unhindered and without outside interference.
This article was first published in The Tribune, India. Click here to go to the original.