Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Chinese incursion into the Galwan Valley earlier this year was but a-matter-of-routine. Nothing new, that’s something China had been doing for decades––entering Indian territory; sometimes withdrawing, but occasionally occupying pockets, and presenting them as ‘disputed areas’ at subsequent talks.

Salami slicing!

India’s response to that provocation surprised the world to no end. Among other options, a tough stance was the least expected, because until then people had judged India on the basis of its meek response to similar incidents in the past. The response dazed even the Indian public who had been in some kind of unspoken or grudgingly spoken awe of the dragon ever since the 1962 debacle.

India’s reaction was a Black Swan Event––unprecedented in its nature, spectacular in its impact. Now, military pundits and strategists are scratching their heads analysing, explaining and justifying the behaviour. The outcomes and the spinoffs of the transaction have been meaningful, and many. Importantly, it has raised the bar on the quality of India’s retaliation to Chinese military adventurism. That India will be even more assertive in such situations in the future is the new ‘expected’ norm. China will do well to take this change into account in its future calculations.

The talks at the diplomatic and the military levels to de-escalate tensions and to restore peace in the region have not made much headway. There is a definite dearth of points of convergence and trust has been conspicuously absent from the scene. A word about the complexity of the Sino-Indian border issue would be in order. Decades of diplomatic foot-dragging have complicated the already complex matter. Now, to resolve the issue appears to be as difficult as untangling a plateful of spaghetti or unscrambling an egg. Both, China and India have taken rigid stances and are unwilling to relent. It is anybody’s guess that the prevailing uneasy calm will end either in peace or will escalate into greater hostility. There’s however, an ominous tilt towards the possibility of the latter. Presently, both sides are trying hard to be in a situation wherein they can negotiate from a position of greater strength.

Meanwhile, General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Defence Staff of India has declared that India is prepared for a military option, if the talks fail. In making such a provocative statement, the General might have only carried out the orders of the political leadership, because ‘good’ Indian generals do not normally air provocative views against a neighbour unless we are already at war. So, let the General roar and let the countrymen rest assured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will give a clarion call through his ‘Man ki Baat‘ when the time is ripe. Period.

In a recently recorded video message, Mr Pravin Sawhney, Editor, Force Magazine dissects General Rawat’s words and iterates that unless backed by military power, warnings mean little; he’s so right on that count. He goes on to project India’s extreme vulnerabilities and concludes that it would take at least six months to prove the General’s claim of preparedness. After eulogising China for its varied capabilities––conventional warfare, cyber warfare, anti satellite (ASAT) capabilities, artificial intelligence capability, the capability to disrupt communication networks of India, its nexus with Pakistan et al.––he concludes that a war between China and India, if it were to take place, would be like the First Gulf War between the US and Iraq respectively, implying that India would be routed technologically even before the troops engage in land battle. At the end of a 20 plus-minute video in which he paints a dismal picture of India’s war preparedness and petrifies Indian viewers, he urges that the clip be circulated. For me, a replay of the video led to the distillation of the man’s suggestion, which to my mind conditioned by years of rigorous military life sounded somewhat like this:

“SURRENDER TO CHINA WITHOUT FIRING A BULLET!”

Echo of that implied suggestion so ‘F-O-R-C-E-fully’ made by Mr Pravin Sawhney rings menacingly in the mind until long after one turns off the video. Another look exposes the sense of insecurity of the presenter and the shallowness of his arguments. The naysayer and the pessimist in him, finds India’s faults and deficiencies well nigh infinite. If only he could realise, China is not the US; India, not Iraq. Unwarranted anxieties of the timid will only prove to be countervailing factors in India’s efforts to deal with that country. That said, there is good reason to listen carefully to the meaningful signals, if any, in the cacophony of deafening alarm bells that the paranoid Mr Sawhney rings.

Introspection!

Today, when India and China are at daggers drawn, the chunks of information on military capabilities of the two countries that are available in the open domain, rather ‘fed’ to the public, could be quite inaccurate. Under the circumstances, a SWOT analysis could go awry; it could be an exercise in futility. Therefore, more prudent and fruitful approach to deal with the darned dragon at this moment would be to focus on exploiting all available means and resources to bolster the existing military capacity and capabilities. Therein is the genesis of this five-part blog post––this part being the Preface. The posts that follow will discuss issues related to boosting military manpower, bolstering border infrastructure and military capability, refining military thinking on the use of nuclear weapons and the idea of mustering external influence to bear on the adversary and more.

Following posts in this series are now available:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

A Black Swan at Balakot

Black Swan: Rarity, impact & predictability

A Black Swan event has three attributes. First, it is (most) unexpected; cognition excludes any likelihood (at all) of its occurrence. Second, its outcome is spectacular. And the third, despite its unexpectedness, people get down to concocting explanations to justify its occurrence. These can be summed as rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective predictability. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book, The Black Swan explains the concept.

Air raid on the terror camps in Balakot (Pakistan) by IAF fighters in the wee hours of February 26, 2019 displays these three attributes of a Black Swan event. The event was unexpected, keeping the feeble Indian response to similar provocations in the past: the Parliament Attack (2001), the Mumbai Terror Attack (2008), and the Pathankot Terror Strike (2016)… the list is long. And, even after the recent terror attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama, there was a view that India lacked the will to respond to such provocations. On that occasion, as always, whether India had a Strategic Culture to respond to provocations became a point of intellectual debate. I too had contributed my anna bit to the discourse (Read Rummaging Pulwama for India’s Strategic Culture).

The Balakot Air Strike

Let alone the outcome, which is being questioned by Pakistan, the very act of the IAF fighters crossing the border and releasing ordnance over the terror camps is a spectacular act. It was unimaginable until it happened; how it stunned everyone needs no further elucidation.

Volumes can be written on the third attribute––on the retrospective predictability. People attribute the happening of Balakot Air Strike to so many reasons: The political will, the pressure from the people, the moral high ground, the economic and military power that India wields today, and its recent diplomatic achievement in isolating Pakistan…. There are as many explanations as the number of armchair strategists.

In retrospect, the surgical strike by the Indian Army after the Uri Attack was a Black Swan event too.  

In the immediate present and now, Uri and Balakot are a thing of the past. The success of those raids/ attacks has raised the bar for India––several notches in one go. Now, a stage has been reached when perhaps even a Neptune Spear type raid (killing of Osama Bin Laden) by the Indian Special Forces to eliminate any of the terror leaders hiding in Pakistan will not come as a surprise, not even for the Pakistan’s military. Thus, even if it were to come to pass, a raid to eliminate the terror leaders, it would not qualify to be a Black Swan event. By implication, its success might be iffy.

For sure, Uri and Balakot are a thing of the past. The return gift from Pakistan for India’s Black Swan––another Black Swan––is a much anticipated and awaited thing. And, for sure, no amount of preparedness would be enough to fully absorb a true Black Swan event.

So?

Let the political and the military leadership and the diplomatic corps of the day have their way. They have pulled it this far; they definitely have plans for the future. While they are doing their bit to restore some semblance of normalcy in the region, they are also prepared, to the extent possible, to meet the retaliation on all fronts. The noise and din in the streets and in the media can only distract them.

Prudence demands that they be allowed to concentrate.