The Mumbai fiasco revealed how unreliable Indian security really is. It was embarrassing to see the outdated weaponry and tactics being used against a group of terrorists by the Indian forces. Not to mention the fact that the attackers were allowed to enter the city with such ease and cause so much chaos, destruction and death before they were confronted.
So how would India fare in a real war?
The greatest threat to Indian security is supposed to be posed by Pakistan. Or is it really? Is China not a much greater threat to India than Pakistan? A nightmare scenario for India would be a war on two fronts against both of its northern neighbours.
Last month the head of the Indian Air Force visited Beijing and the commander-in-chief of the Chinese navy paid a visit to New Delhi. Military contacts seem to be defusing potential conflicts along India’s northern borders.
There is a long history of military skirmishes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in December 1988 promised to usher in a rapprochement between the two powers. This was followed by the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the LAC in September 1993. Then came the Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC in 1996. These provided for regular meetings between the military commanders of the two countries, including cultural and sporting events involving the armed forces.
The two navies engaged in a joint exercise for the first time off the Shanghai coast in 2003. Joint navy exercises now take place every two years off their respective coastlines.
Traditionally India has been wary of foreign military commitments. True, there are about 9,000 Indian soldiers deployed as UN peacekeepers around the globe. During most of the Cold War India was regarded as a friend and ally of the Soviet Union. This counter balanced Pakistan’s close relations with China.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian military now engage in annual joint exercises and there is also a constant dialogue going on between two armed forces.
Tension has declined substantially along the LAC, in marked contrast to the Line of Control on the Indo-Pakistani border. This has permitted India to deploy more troops in Jammu and Kashmir for counter-insurgency operations.
There are registered cases of PLA troops crossing into India but New Delhi puts this down to general confusion about where the actual border runs. When the Chinese enter India they do not come into contact with armed separatist groups or dig in anywhere for long.
The Indian military know very little about the PLA and its operational capabilities. It relies heavily on Western intelligence assessments of Chinese military power. China does not side with Pakistan when incidents occur on the Indo-Pakistani border.
The two countries have identified common threats to their security: terrorism, maritime piracy, drug trafficking and the illegal arms trade. But they are not saying anything about a potential conflict between them.
While China has established military relations with practically every major neighbour, India has only just begun to escape from its traditional isolation. New Delhi is alarmed by the repeated incursions of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean. The PLA is being rapidly modernised on land, sea, air and in space. India is not able to keeping up the pace.
China has many options if it ever decides to take on India military, ranging from the border with Bangladesh to the Malacca Straits. Beijing does not need to declare war to achieve its objectives. The Chinese Navy had appeared off the Myanmar (Burmese) coast during the recent political tension there. Beijing was clearly out to ensure that no foreign navy came to the aid of dissidents in Myanmar. Hence India was helpless to influence events there.
Many analysts think that Beijing’s ultimate goal is to dominate the Asia-Pacific region. In so doing, it has to reduce American influence there. US President-elect Barack Obama will concentrate his energies on the domestic front and will have little time to devote to containing the rising Chinese influence in Asia. It appears that India has already reluctantly conceded China’s primacy in the Asia-Pacific region.
By Martin McCauley