Kaalkut. Chapter 19

2 January 2020

New Delhi.

CDS Rajinder Singh spoke, “I don’t believe that Chinese are very interested in a full fledged war right now. Some of their leadership is aggressive, yet the overall mood is against starting a major conflict right now .”

The emergency meeting was called in after reports of three nearly simultaneous incursions by PLA troops in Laddakh and Sikkim. When challenged by ITBP troops in SIkkim, Chinese had turned belligerent and tried to use their vehicle to run over the Indian soldiers. This had led to an ugly brawl between the two parties with multiple injuries on both sides. News channels in India were already hyper-ventilating with every news anchor and random panelist picked from Facebook and Twitter turning defence and strategy experts overnight.  

DM had been surfing through a few such shows on his way to the meeting and asked  “What do you think they want?”  

“They have multiple reasons for land grabs in Indian territories. Major one is ofcourse creating and maintaining tactical superiority by capturing strategically favourable locations all along the border. They hope to neutralise threats of our land and air invasion by this. They have already more or less succeeded by capturing all of Tibet. Now most of these incursions are meant to consolidate their positions.

It also puts military and economic pressure on us all along the border.  For example, if China or Pakistan manage to wrest control of Siachen and nearby areas from us, they have a virtually free run in to our territories up to Srinagar. From there, it’s just a matter of weeks, till they can reach Indian plains. We not only lose strategically vital territory, but also major sources of  quite a few important rivers. 

We need to defend our positions in all these sectors, for more than one reason. Not just for defence of border areas of J&K itself.

Additionally, with their expansion of their China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), they feel that it’s important that we can’t interfere. We’ve tried playing nice, but just like Pakistanis only language they understand is that of force. If we concede these unpopulated areas now, they will feel emboldened to grab our towns after a few years. We can’t allow that.

They are trying to grab as many territories as possible in multiple sectors for numerous reasons including their concept of national pride and historical boundaries. But one of the main strategic reasons is their desire to keep the Han homeland safe from a future conflict. Most of their population centers and economic strongholds are near their eastern shores. By grabbing islands in South China sea and beyond, they are consolidating their defences against their neighbours as well as NATO. 

In case of a naval or air conflict, their enemies will have to deal with dozens of their defences on the islands before they can reach the Chinese mainland. There’s also the issue of security of sea lanes, natural resources etc, but you know about it as well as I do.

There is another factor which we need to pay attention to and that’s Chinese internal politics. Zheng Jun has declared himself president for life, a dictator for all intents and purposes. This hasn’t gone well with a fairly powerful faction in CCP. Some members in Politburo (group of 25 most powerful members of CCP) were against this move but were overruled, some by bribery, blackmail and threats. He has filled Central Military Commission and  Standing Committee with his loyalists and expelled a most of dissenters. He control all aspects of Chinese armed forces directly through his title as Commander-in-Chief as well as numerous ‘committees’ he has created to overlook the different commands. Even the Chinese PM has been divested of whatever little powers he had and he has been increasingly sidelined from most of decision making So in order to look strong internally, he is picking up fights to divert attention from his internal political problems.”

“What can we do about it?”

“All along the border there are some sectors where they are in stronger positions and some where we are. If we want to defend our sovereignty, we can’t let them do whatever they want at our borders. One plan of action we have wargamed with some success is that if push comes to shove, we capture some of Tibetan territories where we are stronger and use it as a bargaining chip to get Chinese to vacate our lands.“

“Are you sure that it will work?”

“If we want to deter them for this kind of land grabbing, this is the only possible choice which can work without assurance of a full fledged war. We’ve tried almost everything else apart from force till now and this is the way of application of least amount of force.”

“What if they refuse to vacate our land and escalate the conflict?

“There is a fair chance of it happening.”CDS conceded. “That’s why we have deterrence of conventional and nuclear forces of our own. If they escalate, then we fight back.”

“Do we have enough weapons and resources for it?”

“We’ll have to fight with what we have. Like I’ve said before, we lack enough fighters, a proper Mountain Corps and not enough cruise missiles. But there have been some improvements since last few months.  In any case, we have a good bit of buffer for most of our ammunition, fuel and most other needs. If we can keep Pakistan from interfering,then our job will be a lot easier.  Without them trying to run interference, we can concentrate most of our forces on the Chinese border.“ 

DM shook his head, “Fat chance of that happening! Pakistan now is all but a Chinese colony for all intents and purposes. If Chinese ask them to jump, only question they’ll ask is how high. It’s just my personal opinion, but we should be preparing to fight war on both fronts. China will not let all it’s money, weapons and diplomatic capital it has invested in Pakistan stay idle in case of a war.”

“There is no certain way of avoiding Pakistani interference, we can only try to reduce it. Like if we take advantage of terrain and weather. Most of our possible land conflicts with China can happen only in summers when those zones are not covered in snow. If we can find a way to nuetralise Pakistani threat in winters, there’s not much that China can do to help them. With assurance of Paki support on western front gone, PLA will be in a comparatively weaker position.”  COAS General Gurunath added.

“Excuse me for the stupid question, but what does nuetralising Pakistani threat mean? Are we talking about a surgical strike kind of thing, full scale war or some diplomatic or economic measures?” DM seemed confused.

CDS took this question, “Ideally it should be a bit of everything. They can fully rely on only China for weapons, ammunition and some money. Rest of the things like fuel, majority of the finances required to run the country and foreign investments come from US and Saudis. They may get some weapon systems, new and second hand from Turkey and 2-3 other muslim countries, but that’s it. If we can convince their main financiers to put a squeeze on them, restrict fuel supplies, decrease subsidies for their industry, put them on a few watchlists for supporting terrorism and so on, their war fighting capability will be severely affected without us firing a bullet.

As far as military action is concerned, we have a few battle plans ready which can be executed at the right time to curtail their war fighting capability without crossing the nuclear threshold.”

“Yes, of course! We are already doing that for quite some time now and results are starting to show. US senate is likely to pass a bill restricting supplies of spares and support for their F-16 fleet. We have convinced Saudis to go slow on their cheap loans for oil too. Pakis are not going to get anymore oil from them on deferred payments unless they pay off pending amounts first. World Bank is going to announce the same thing next month citing their support of islamic terrorist agencies. They need 4-5 billion USD by end of next month to prevent defaulting on two major loans. Their economy is going the drain slowly but gradually.“

NSA Dhumal had been reading the intelligence reports coming in from China desk for better part of the week, “We’ll still have to take care of People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) from coming to aid of Pakistanis. Even if their air force is not fully combat ready due to lack of proper airfields, weather etc, they can still cause serious damage with their cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. It seems like they are not short on them.”

ACM Maadhav answered the query, “We have some new batteries of Akash, S-400 and local Anti Ballistic Missile System (ABM)  coming online soon. It’s next to impossible to defend against a saturation strike or sneak attacks, some missiles will inevitably pass through the strongest of defences.  But China cannot perform multiple such strikes without running out of their missiles meant for their eastern front. Our defences against their cruise missiles are going to be fairly robust once we finish plugging the holes in our air defence net.

As far as ballistic missiles are concerned, S-300, S-400 and ABM used judiciously can provide a fair degree of protection. It’s not perfect by any chance, but they’ll need to launch a lot more missiles to score a hit and they don’t have that high number of them. “   

PM had attended raising of a new LCA squadron in Jodhpur in May and had detailed discussions with Air Marshal Swaroop Shastry  and ACM Maadhav about IAF’s state of preparedness. They had again raised the issue of shortage of fighter jets and a few other items. Lack of good budget, dependence on imports and corruption had taken their toll. Things were improving but war didn’t wait. Indian armed forces suddenly had to face prospect of war at two fronts just when they had begun to get back on track. He was going through the discussion he had in his mind. He addressed  ACM Maadhav “Isn’t it true that we have some advantage over PLAAF due to location of airfields?”

“Yes, the airfields they have in Tibet within operational range of their aircraft are at high altitudes and most of them don’t have hardened shelters. Even in best of conditions, their planes can’t carry their full loads and have a handicap against us.  They certainly have some good fighters in their arsenal like J-10, J-11, Su-30MKK which are not easy to beat. They also have a big lead in heavy bombers, more AWACS and tankers. But most people don’t realise that there are only a handful of bases in Tibet where these platforms can be deployed against us. We certainly need upgrades of our own, but IAF can handle most of what PLAAF can throw at us.”

RAW  had shared reports of increased maritime traffic from Iran to China and people in the room were not very happy about it. India didn’t have that much leverage over Iran as in the past and China didn’t have to try hard to bring the sanctions ridden country under it’s own sphere of influence. They had managed to strike a deal for cheap oil in return for infrastructure projects and favourable payment terms. India had partially vacated that position under sustained US pressure and to get more influence with the Saudis and rest of Arab world..

Every tanker of oil from Iran to China increased their fuel reserves for a war by half a day. Additionally, they were planning for a oil and gas pipeline from Iran through central Asia or Afghanistan and Pakistan. India had abandoned similar plans over security issues of line passing through Pakistan and high cost of undersea pipeline completely scuttled the project.  

He addressed Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Jayant Suman, “Can we do something about Chinese shipping through Malacca Strait.”

CNS Admiral Suman was expecting this question, “With INS Vikramaditya carrier group and 2-3 submarines, we can dominate the region. However, any interference with movement of sea vessels can be taken as declaration of war. Once we attack or interfere with Chinese shipping, we must be ready for a high intensity conflict. Additionally, we also have to consider loyalties of Malaysia and Indonesia along with the effect such a move can have on global economy..”

PM read through the list of possible Chinese naval assets  in the region with a frown on his face. “Admiral, what can we do in case of a full scale naval conflict?”   

“We can handle our own over waters around Indian peninsula, but we are not strong or big enough for expeditionary missions in South China sea. If China dedicates majority of it’s naval forces against us, then we will have a tough fight. Sheer number of ships and submarines that they have will keep us very busy. But if a few other countries like Japan, US, Australia tie up some of their fleet in Pacific and South China sea, they’ll be on backfoot. With all the anger due to Chinese mishandling of Corona virus, territory grabs and belligerent behaviour, they don’t bank on support from any other countries apart from Pakistan and North Korea.”

“A man is known by the company he keeps. In this case, a country.” EAM muttered half to himself.

CNS nodded, “True, they have a lot more enemies than allies around them. We have wargamed this scenario a few times in naval exercises. PLAN is powerful, but quite beatable under right conditions. We’ll be in a much stronger position once INS Vikrant becomes operational.”

“What’s stopping it from being operational?”, PM asked.

 “Sea trials! We are still in testing and troubleshooting phase. Only a few systems on the ship have been cleared for operational use. We have accelerated the pace, but it’ll still take around 9-10 months for it to be ready for deployment.”

“The war maybe over by that time.” DM interjected.

“Perhaps. If we skip some procedures, we may be able to launch the aircraft carrier directly without undergoing extended trials. Air wing, escorts and trained crews are ready. If we are given permission to accelerate and skip some trials, we can  deploy INS Vikrant carrier wing in Lakshdweep Sea or Bay Of Bengal with some restrictions in 5-6 months. Pakistani navy can be handled with our western fleet and maritime Jaguars and Sukhois. “

“Do you think that it’s worth it? What about it’s airwing” PM didn’t seem fully convinced.

Admiral Suman was unfazed, “We have enough air assets for the carrier. Even if the it’s air fleet is working at two-thirds of it’s full capability, I think that having two aircraft carrier groups in the sea instead of just one is worth the risk at these times.

PM looked at CDS who nodded. “All right Admiral. We’ll trust your judgement on this. INS Vikrant will be operationally ready in 5-6 months, right?”

Admiral Suman cracked a rare smile, “Yes sir.”

PM nodded and addressed EAM Vajpayee, “What do you suggest about proposal of Tibetan PM Kalsang Gyatso? I think we should take some steps about it now.”

EAM considered his words for a moment and spoke,”This will be taken as a major provocation by the Chinese, but I am personally completely in favour. Chinese have occupied our lands and are trying to grab even more, they don’t respect sovereignty of any single nation around them. It’s time we return the favour. My only concern is military fallout, but the people in this meeting are better judges of that.”

PM looked at the faces of three service chiefs and saw quizzical expressions. “I am assuming that you are not aware of all the details, right? Vajpayee ji, if you would please give a summary of our discussions with Tibetan leadership.”

“Well, as most of the people present here know that TIbetan leadership has been requesting that we discard the One China policy and give recognition to Tibet as a fully sovereign nation. They also want us to sponsor a motion in United Nations over this. There are a few hurdles but nothing that can’t be handled by us.There’s another reason for the timing of their request and that’s the failing health of Dalai Lama. Chinese have kidnapped and either killed or hidden his successor and things will get complicated when he passes away. So they feel that having a central authority will be important to keep things under control. 

 We wouldn’t know how many countries will support us in UN till we do it. I am assuming that most wouldn’t for fear of upsetting China. And as most of you know that not just CCP, even the majority of Chinese public will be very unhappy over this. We can handle most of political, diplomatic and even  economic fallout of such a move. But we need your opinion and advice whether to go on with it or not?”

All service chiefs considered the words of EAM carefully. Gen Gurunath was first to speak, “This will be good move only if Tibet can back it with some military muscle.  As of now, any independent Tibetan regime doesn’t have any military power to defend itself apart from our troops from Special Frontier Force and a few intelligence personnel operating in Tibet. They too are our men for all intents and purposes. If Tibet has to be an independent nation, just the teachings of inner peace will not be enough.

Before we do anything like that, we should create an army or atleast a guerilla army consisting of Tibetans only. It’ll give some legitimacy to their struggle against the Hans. If we provide political support and also fight the war for them, then it’ll not work out well. What worked against Pakistan in 1971, can also be utilised against CCP with some modifications.    

“That’s a valid point. What do you suggest?”

“In simple terms, help Tibetans create an army for themselves. I’d suggest atleast 2 brigades for starters. It can have a few battalions for special operations and regular infantry and limited anti-air roles if we can spare some resources. We can assign a few operatives from SFF, ITBP and AFSOD in each battalion as advisors and observers. If we start the process right now and enough Tibetans volunteer for this, we can have these two trained brigades ready in around one year.  Chinese are financing and training dozens of terrorist groups against India. This would be a nice enough payback for all the blood they’ve spilled on Indian soil.”

“If we recognise Tibet and discard One China policy, then we might as well do it for Taiwan too. They can be a useful ally for us in many ways.” DM added.

“We’ll consider Taiwan too. But Tibet is our immediate priority and it has to remain top secret till we’re ready.” PM said and then addressed the army chief,  “Can you assign a senior officer to liaison with Tibetans for this? We want him to be a member of our panel during our meeting next week.”     

“Yes sir!”

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