India a mere spectator in the Great Game!


The Great Game or the Geo Strategic power play, in Afghanistan, started somewhere in 1813, post Russo-Persian treaty. Since then over the two centuries, this region has witnessed varied players; however centrality of this area to their changing interest has remained unaffected.  The great powers of their times, The British Empire, Czar Russia and Soviet Union have jostled over supremacy in pre WW II era.  Even in the post WW II in the periods of cold war and there on, this quest has continued. The region has seen conflict between the Soviet Union, NATO and allies, The United States of America, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and India from the late 1970s till date. They have all contributed directly or indirectly towards gaining control of the Central Asian region. The end game to the existing phase of dominance of Afghanistan by the western powers has begun; simultaneously the new rules and new players are set to enter the fray. The Americans are working hard on their planned exit from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and Pakistan is playing real politic by trying to establish its hegemony behind the shield of its all-weather friend China. The strategic wisdom reflected by the rulers of Pakistan in handing over Gawadar port to the Chinese has not augured well in its neighbourhood. This development may not prove good to long term stability in the region which will not go unchallenged by both India and the US.

With the Chinese feet getting washed by the warm waters of Arabian Sea, they are likely to be seen as posing a threat to the American and Indian interests and upset the strategic balance of the region …

Post American withdrawal from Afghanistan, The Chinese want to establish strong influence in this region as it is important for them in achieving long term energy security that they are aggressively pursuing. China wants to transport oil and gas imported from Africa, Middle East and Iran through transnational pipeline, rail and road network that it proposes to construct from Baluchistan in Pakistan and connect to the existing network running from Russia into China through Kazakistan.  With the Chinese feet getting washed by the warm waters of Arabian Sea, they are likely to be seen as posing a threat to the American and Indian interests and upset the strategic balance of the region who will not relent it so easily and are likely to leave no stone unturned to up stick the Chinese. Baluchistan’s insurgency which Pakistan always alleges to be aided and supported by the Indians is likely to come in the forefront with USA actively supporting it, thus riding the popular Baluchi sentiment of hatred towards the colonial attitude of Pakistan as referred by their leaders, thus challenging the Chinese dreams.

The issue of energy security is of utmost importance to China, considering the fact that majority of its oil reserves and upstream infrastructure is located in vicinity to, or on the Eastern sea board, leaving them highly vulnerable to Taiwanese missiles.  In order to secure and diversify energy supplies, the Chinese have launched an offensive oil acquisition programme. Today China’s import from the Middle East and Africa accounts for 51% and 24% respectively of their total oil import. Gawadar port and Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline are being developed to transport this very oil to avoid the choke point of the Strait of Malacca and a potential flash point in the South China Sea (SCS), considerably reducing the risk of supply disruptions.

China is the world’s most populous country that has a rapidly growing economy. This has driven the country’s energy demand steeply upwards and hence its quest for securing more and more energy resources is being perused on a war footing. The Chinese assertive claims in SCS are part of this policy. Today China accounts for a total of 10% of the total world consumption of crude oil. According to estimates China holds 20.4 billion barrels of proven reserves which is highest in the Asia Pacific region and it is estimated that SCS by itself holds anywhere from 27 billion barrels to 210 billion barrels making it potentially the largest known oil reserve in the world.

Though China has objected to India’s co-operation with Vietnam in SCS however on its part it continues to meddle in POK despite Indian protests and concerns.

ASEAN countries, India and the United States have very large stakes in the region. India’s ONGC is exploring off shore oil along with the Vietnamese which is very important in securing a long term energy security.  Beijing has indirectly warned India to refrain from dealing with Vietnam and stop exploration activities in SCS. It has cautioned the concerned parties not to “play with fire”. Indian Naval Chief on its part has reassured the country that the Indian Navy is capable of defending its strategic assets in the region without directly naming China.  Though China has objected to India’s co-operation with Vietnam in SCS however on its part it continues to meddle in POK despite Indian protests and concerns. The Chinese in the name of development in POK have stationed their troops which deciphered as threat the other side.

For India SCS is of strategic importance not only in terms of oil exploration but also by the fact that 50–60% of its trade passes through this vital shipping Gate Way, into the Asia Pacific region. Indian security is challenged by assertive China posing risk to its shipping, mining, and trade apart from threatening security of the friendly littoral countries. This has drawn in the USA into this regional arena resulting in a heightened global confrontation and has succeeded in creating two poles namely pro-China and pro-USA.

To maintain economic growth and regional supremacy, India has to aggressively venture into conflict zones of East Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and the South China Sea

If, these are the initial signatures of a Great Game, that will be played over the next century in SCS. Then it mandatory for India to take lessons from the Afghanistan, a country that is in its near neighbourhood, having close cultural and historical links, yet India has failed to influence the turn of event standing as a mere spectator despite its size and potential. This role has been attributed to it by its weak strategic vision, impractical economic and foreign policy. The result is a slower economic growth rate, poor international standing and wavering national will to meet up various challenges. This has adversely impacted in management of internal security as well as the external security environment.

If India wants to defend its energy interests, that are necessary for meeting its large and growing requirements, it has no other option but to largely depend upon fossil fuels to propel the GDP of some US $ 1.85 trillion dollars in the years ahead. To maintain economic growth and regional supremacy, India has to aggressively venture into conflict zones of East Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and the South China Sea.

It can be easily be said that the Indian establishment has no strategic roll-on plan which is evident from the reduced Defence Budget 2013-14. In order to be a country in reckoning, India has to undergo transformation, starting from a strong and stable leadership, capable of taking harsh decisions in the national interest. Only the strong economic fundamentals, complimented by visionary and a strong leadership will enable the countries strategists to lay the foundation for radical changes that are needed in the overall security revamp. It is the right time to restructure and realign the Indian Armed Forces from being Pakistan centric, in to a more assertive and a potent expeditionary force, desired by an aspiring super power in defending its strategic interests.

Crystal ball gazing tells that the next India Pakistan round will be played in Baluchistan and not in the plains of Punjab and deserts of Rajasthan.

General Sunderji’s vision to dissect Pakistan into two, by driving a wedge through the Cholistan desert is no more a possibility in the present nuclear backdrop of India and Pakistan. The space to manoeuvre by Indian conventional forces is highly restricted before a radicalised Pakistan triggers the nuclear button. Crystal ball gazing tells that the next India Pakistan round will be played in Baluchistan and not in the plains of Punjab and deserts of Rajasthan. India along with the USA and the UAE should support the Baluchistan Liberation army in defeating the Pakistani and Chinese alliance in the region.

If this is going to be the future conflict scenario between the two neighbours, than there is a strong case for Indian Army to rethink on maintaining mammoth Strike Corps formations, an out dated concept of the 60s and 70s which have been rendered impotent by the turn of events over the past decades.

Out of India’s five combat capable commands i.e. Northern, Western, South Western, Southern and the Eastern Command, four are biased  towards Pakistan whereas the next century conflicts are destined to take place with the Chinese, fought over securing trade and energy supply.

To step out of the stereo type, India needs to free its Infantry formations and battalions embroiled in the internal armed conflict as well as Line of Control (LOC) management in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir.

To step out of the stereo type, India needs to free its Infantry formations and battalions embroiled in the internal armed conflict as well as Line of Control (LOC) management in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir. A competent border management force on the lines of Border Security Force or the Indo Tibetan Border Police be raised and enshrined with the task to maintain the sanctity of the LOC under the overall control of the army. The relieved Army units should be reorganised into strong Mountain Strike reserves positioned accordingly to cater for contingencies and threats emanating from the Chinese or the Pakistanis. The counter insurgency could well be handed over to the state and the paramilitary forces. A similar model would be needed in the India’s troubled North East and in any case mountain strike corps is proposed to be raised in near future to counter the looming Chinese threat from across the Himalayas.

In countering the threat of Pakistan in the plains of Punjab, Rajasthan and the Thar desert, Indian Army’s strike corps need to be downsized both in task and capability and in turn enhance the capability of defensive formations providing them with inherent ability to undertake limited offensive across the IB against Pakistan if need arises. By carrying out these changes India will be able to prune its army and equip the lean and mean force with high end technologies capable of enforcing quick resolution on the adversary.

The Southern Command which largely looks at Pakistan also needs to be realigned and restructured in giving India an expeditionary capability by converting it into a tri services command. For such futuristic roles on both, the Eastern as well as the Western sea board of India, this command will have to be provided with strong blue water naval assets complimented with an Air Force with strategic reach. There may be a necessity of raising, training and equipping two corps size forces on the lines of US marines that are trained in undertaking joint operations in India’s Strategic arc stretching from the Eastern Africa to South China Sea.

If India wants to realise the dream of becoming an economic super power, the military powers need to be enhanced and realigned. When the lines are still being drawn for the great game on the high seas of South China, India has to rise and measure up or else the next century may be lost to another hundred years an opportunity that India cannot afford to slip.

 

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