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On February 25, in a joint statement, India and Pakistan agreed to strictly observe “all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 (February) 2021.” This came as a wonderful surprise to all. The joint statement was made two weeks after the India and China agreement on phased disengagement in the Pangong Lake areas of Ladakh.
India’s relation with its western neighbour is at all times low after September 18, 2016, Uri terror attack which claimed the lives of 19 Indian soldiers. India responded by striking at terror launch pads across the LoC at various locations. Since then, LoC has witnessed a war-like situation claiming many civilian and military lives on both sides.
The year-long stand-off in a geographically challenging area of Ladakh must have sent the right message across to Beijing. This was the second stand-off between the two nations. The first one was at Doklam at the India-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction. One can expect China to learn its lesson and stop undermining Indian resolve to face it. There are many lessons in it for India too. One can hope, Indian strategic community will learn the right lessons to avoid repetition of similar events.
In the last 1000 years, India has reacted in self-defence only when an enemy was at its gates. On the other hand, first Britain and later its successor the United States of America ensured no adversary force set foot on their mainlands. During World War 2, Germans bombed British cities and that was the end of Britain’s global supremacy. A nation that does not have impenetrable borders, loses the moral authority and strategic might to rule distant lands. And the British Empire collapsed in the next few years. This is the reason why the 9/11 attacks and earlier the Cuban Missile crisis jolted the USA.
Soon after independence, India was challenged by the Nizam of Hyderabad in his State and by Pakistan in Kashmir. The country at that time was witnessing the worst riots and violence. India claims to have achieved its independence through Mahatma Gandhi’s method of non-violence. Ironically, independence was heralded by some of the worst human tragedies ever documented.
The partition of India in itself was the last act of violence by its colonial rulers. This was the worst example of betrayal of the 20th century. But instead of punishing Britain, Indians expressed their dismay through a civil war with supporters of partition. While northern India was witnessing mass slaughter and exchange of population, in February 1948 the last British army unit was accorded a ceremonial send off at the Bombay Harbour. Instead of expressing anger against the enemy, Indians turned it against each other. This is the perfect example of the internalisation of violence.
The world was observing how vulnerable India is and three years later, China annexed Tibet in 1951. It was a bold act of aggression. India watched and did nothing. The 1962 war woke up India from its slumber. Since then, Pakistan and China are maintaining the policy of aggression towards India. In the last seven decades, besides military confrontation, they have expanded their activities which include supporting insurgencies, terrorism, armed rebellion and civil unrest. As a nation, India has failed to discourage its adversaries from executing their nefarious plans.
The unilateral ceasefire declaration in 1948 by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru halted the Indian army and gave birth to LoC which has never seen peace since then. Unfortunately, this became our standard policy. India often stopped its military after a few tactical successes, much before any strategic victory. A defensive military strategy is a strategic manifestation of weakness. The internalisation of violence has created a mindset of sacrifice, not of pursuing victory. This has created a lack of self-confidence and sown distrust amongst the Indian population. This internalisation process has hampered the country’s efforts for coming together as a nation. It has created a market for gloom. This is one of the reasons why failed economic policies still find favour with many Indians. Nothing brings society together like military successes.
It seems India accepts being in a permanent state of warfare. It claims to love peace but never completes its endeavour to achieve it. This has created a whole set of policies, procedures and an ecosystem which benefits media, politicians, think tanks and commentators.
What is the way out of this vicious cycle of maintaining the status quo?
Whatever is established by force can be dismantled by force only. This is more of a rule than an exception. The ability to wage war is one of the main (and most unfortunate) differences between humans and animals. The history of humankind is essentially a history of war and peace. All great civilizations have been good at using organised force. The greatest achievement of Rome, Islam and Western Civilization lay in their ability to use organised force better than their adversaries. Western global dominance began when some European nations became the most efficient and dynamic military powers, setting up colonies and acquiring wealth which spawned cultural and scientific development.
Military thinkers have often argued that India lacks a strategic culture. It is not that Indians don’t understand what is in their long-term and short-term strategic interest. In a multi-polar world, if India desires to dominate its part of the world (Indian Ocean Region and the sub-continent) then it must master the art of organising and using force, else it could become a mere frontline ally of Anglo-Saxon western powers against China (possibly against Russia too). This is a tricky situation as the nation doesn’t have much time on its side. Turkey has begun to carve out its own area of influence in a multi-polar world by helping in the success of Azerbaijan against Armenia.
Moreover, we can all witness the accelerated obsolescence of most of the existing weaponry and standard military tactics and the emergence of new technologies of warfare. India will have to get on top of this game before the end of this decade or else it will have to wait for another generation to become a credible power.