Brig N K Bhatia
India since its independence have been rattled with the question that can its strategic culture be defined as pacifist? India thus continues to grapple with the evolving geo-political development that have rattled it from time to time. The very fact that the successful freedom struggle, though ignited through a violent and bloody mutiny, was ultimately an outcome of a non-violent movement achieved through pacifist means probably laid roots for our pacifist and fallacious mind set.
Post-independence Mind Set (1947-62)
The policy of “Panchsheel”-The five principles of peaceful coexistence came to define India’s strategic vision post-independence. Ironically, these principles, were first formally articulated in the “Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India”, signed on April 29, 1954. This signified and articulated mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference, equality, mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.
The “Panchsheel” became the cornerstone of the Indo-China relations just two months later, during the visit of the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai to India – a utopian ideal to be extended globally. The principles of “Panchsheel” later also laid the foundations for the 1955 Bangdung Conference of Afro-Asian countries and Non-Aligned movement.
It was both imperative and justified for India to adopt such a policy that only propounded peace, equality, non-aggression, and co- existence since the world had seen the catastrophe of a great war just a decade earlier. Although India in addition had also suffered the consequences of violent raids across its non-defined borders immediately after independence and wanted peaceful co-existence.
India’s desire for an idealist world order coupled with a docile strategic outlook failed to foresee the dangers of a Chinese expansionist mind set despite the developing situation in Tibet. The subsequent fall-out and disastrous consequences invariably led to a conflict with China resulting in loss of territory, a blunted self-esteem, and a good measure of humiliation.
Change in Strategic Mind Set (1962 to 1971)
Although “Panchsheel” continued to define Indian strategic outlook, it did embark on a path to defence modernisation post 1962 and overcame its reservations about forging close cooperation with likeminded countries to acquire modern weapons. By setting on the path of quick modernisation India was able to thwart the Pakistani aggression in 1965.
In the real sense, modern Indian strategic mind-set started to evolve prior to the Bangladesh Freedom struggle and Indo-Pak war of 1971. India focussed on military preparedness and overcame its reservations about the use of military for achieving its strategic goals - in the instant case, of dismembering Pakistan. It realised the importance of global geo-politics and forged an alliance through a security pact with the then Soviet Union to thwart possible threats from China to the north and other imperialist and expansionist global powers through sea routes.
Post 1971, India embarked upon a new path to realise its potential to be a dominant power. The singular nuclear test conducted in 1974, did bring India into international prominence. But beyond that the nuclear tests failed to propel it into the elite club that it desired and India remained restricted to only South Asia due to lack of military muscle and poor economic conditions. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and emergence of a new global world order, India shed its non-aligned policy made moves to come closer to the United States – The leader of the free world.
A pragmatic approach to engage with China resulted in signing of two major confidence building measures; Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control signed on September 7, 1993 and Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas signed on November 29, 1996. These till date define the framework of relations between the two nuclear armed neighbours, although it is any one’s guess as to how much these have helped thwart China from flexing its muscles in bilateral relations. Whenever faced with the dilemma whether to challenge the Chinese belligerence or maintain status quo, unfortunately India always opted the easier path of status quo in sync with its post-Independence pacifist mindset.
Kargil and After (2000 – Present day)
Lost amidst the labyrinthine lanes of the vicious cycle of tackling cross-border insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, India suddenly found herself facing a full-blown crisis in Kargil, when Pakistan surprised India by occupying the frosty heights. This resulted in a full-blown war which ended in a decisive and crushing defeat faced by Pakistani insurgents aided by ISI. They were pushed back after considerable Indian resolve with our Jawans reclaiming our land through sheer grit and glory. The turn of the century and an authoritative victory in Kargil led to unveiling of major reforms relating to our security and strategic landscape.
The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) report brought out the deficiencies of India’s security management system. It mentioned that little had changed since independence and asked for an overhaul of the security management system. Among a series of far reaching recommendations across a spectrum of security related issues it asked for appointment of a full time National Security Advisor and a National Security Council under him to advise the Cabinet Committee on Security. It also called for revamping management of national security and inclusion of armed forces in apex decision-making.
As follow up of KRC government set up four task forces one of which related to sweeping reforms to the national security management system. Sadly one of the recommendation of the task force relating to appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDC) was fulfilled after a long delay in the beginning of this year. Other issues have also remained on paper and successive governments continued to drag feet in implementing the same.
The revamping of national security structure in 2018 and streamlining of its functioning under the National Security Advisor was primarily meant to articulate our strategic landscape in a more profound manner, give a clear vision of our threat perceptions and streamlining the working of national security apparatus.
Status and symbolism matter greatly in Indian social strata. Heavy reliance on traditional bureaucrats steeped deep in traditions of respective service and lacking strategic innovative ideas made the revamp look like a mere lip service with hardly any changes at the ground level.
The cornerstone of a stable strategic outlook is a strong military capability to be buttressed by diplomatic influences. This coupled with economic strength and a self-reliant industrial apparatus is the basis for strength of a nation. Unfortunately we sent very conflicting signals on this score with half-hearted projection of our military capabilities and lack of a military industrial empire. Although lately some strides have been made towards this end, much more needs to be done.
Latest Developments and Indian Dilemma
The recent developments on our borders have exposed how India has failed to read the situation against China. This also shows the lack of pre-emptive strategic planning, a lack of seasoned strategic outlook. This showcased India’s indifferent attitude and complacent approach to believe that the border dispute - a long legacy of past, would resolve itself under the existing mechanisms. This was a horrid reminder of the situation in Doklum forgetting that both sides had faced just two years back. The situation since has only escalated with China continuing to show its fangs and refusing back out. Indian strategic community should have anticipated the consequences of our own actions and should have been prepared for the uphill task. China’s continued support to our neighbours on matters that are totally bilateral should have been a clear indicator.
Long-term security strategy is an outcome of long-term vision drawn by the government. It calls for clear thinking and discussion amongst various organs of the government. The strategy so formulated calls for a structured approach in the form of design, Build, Test, Deploy and Implement. All necessary stakeholders should be ready for execution. A statement by Richard M Kovacevich a business tycoon is as applicable to security as business and states, “A vision and strategy aren’t enough. The long-term key to success is execution. Each day. Every day.
But the dilemma seems to lie in our inability to articulate our strengths and communicate the message of our intentions to friends and foes alike. As Indian Defence Minister in a speech on 14 June stated, “India is no longer a weak nation”. It is a message that needs to be conveyed through actions and not words for the whole world to take note of.
*Author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed here are personal.