Are India’s borders under renewed threat?

By Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

Last week the Indian public was jolted by a cascading set of events in some of India’s border regions. These are related to the borders in J&K, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, and Arunachal Pradesh.

The 13th Corps Commander level talks at Ladakh’s Moldo-Chushul between senior military commanders of the Indian Army and the PLA ended in an unexpected impasse.

On the geopolitical side, the 180 degrees turn of the situation in Afghanistan has created uncertainty as none other in the last 30 years after the Cold War. Post-pandemic and after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the strategic picture has changed substantially, which has probably forced China to hold its horses on decisions regarding the Sino-Indian border.

Recent meetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington continue to project India as aligning with forces inimical to China. Instead of de-escalation, China has increased the coercion along the border by limited activation of two more pressure points in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh.

In Uttarakhand the PLA chose to enter the Barahoti bowl to test India’s preparedness and response. A few weeks later it crossed the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh.

With the Army Chief Gen MM Naravane repeatedly emphasizing the PLA build-up in the theatre and the huge strides being made in infrastructure on the other side of the LAC, it was obvious that China was into the strategy of obfuscation.

On the other hand, J&K came alive last week with a series of targeted minority killings in Kashmir and unconnected contacts between troops and the terrorists south of the Pir Panjal.

Pakistan is strategizing with two factors in mind. First, the need to once again gain traction in Kashmir after the severe loss that has come its way after 5 August 2019, and initiate this before the coming winter. The second is to exploit the inspirational, ideological winds flowing from the events in Afghanistan.

There is no doubt that China and Pakistan have succeeded in creating a degree of uncertainty about the security of some of our most important borders, but this is transitional and should be expected.

For Pakistan, war on its own is not an option; yet hybrid events in the political, social, and military domains are of advantage.

The LAC in Ladakh and elsewhere is not detached or in isolation. The adversaries are broadly in sync and the creation of uncertainty at the borders helps them achieve the obfuscation that they seek.

Our emerging commitment to the Indo-US strategic partnership provides insufficient support for our dilemma in dealing with both China and Pakistan at the land borders. That is what both adversaries wish to exploit by keeping the borders so active.

(The writer is former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps and is now Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir | The New Indian Express.)

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