NEW DELHI: 2016 has seen an expanding China-Pakistan nexus resulting in a heightening proxy war against India.

China has made strategic lodgment in POK’s Gilgit-Baltistan and in Pakistan with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Gwadar port.

China openly supports Pakistani radicals at the UN and the NASA photograph of Chinese nuclear attack submarine docked at Karachi during May 2016 indicates the growing China-Pakistan collaboration at sea. China has announced her naval vessels and submarines will be guarding Gwadar port.

China plans to bring its railway inside Nepal and is stoking the fires in Shan State of Myamnar through her proxies, while making major investments in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Chinese media says India’s actions in Kashmir can stir up Muslim organization in northeast, even as Pakistani terror attacks in Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Pampore, Uri, Nagrota, Samba drew no comments from China.

Three defence-related news items of recent past are significant. First, new Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat while telling the media that a two-front war is possible, lamented that of the 73 all-weather roads along the border with China and 14 strategic railways needed along the two-fronts, railway lines exist on paper and only 22 of the 73 roads have been completed over a decade after they were identified;

Second, the government has deferred the long pending demand of the armed forces to create three new commands (Cyber, Space and Special Forces) while asking them to first create capabilities and structures for such operations before going for such expansion, and;

Third, through the Shekatkhar Panel report,the government plans for reforms to turn the Army into one of the finest fighting units in the world with infrastructure and manpower to match. Initiatives include outsourcing few major services to private sector in order to cut costs and use the money better. Major reforms are expected to apply to all levels of the forces. The initiative is also expected to tackle perpetual shortage of manpower, especially in higher ranks.

With respect to border infrastructure, the state remains pathetic, for which the Ministry of Defence can’t absolve itself of blame. Last year saw protests with the Indian Army objecting to alignment of the 2,000-kilometer long road approved along the McMohan Line connecting Mago-Thingbu in Tawang (western extremity of Arunachal Pradesh), to Vijaynagar in the eastern extremity of the state.

The Army’s concern was to link this proposed strategic road to existing road heads south of it. In May 2015, then Minister of State (Defence) had stated that MoD has set itself a deadline of 2017 to complete infrastructure projects in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, and by 2018 put the infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh and the Northeast in place. But not much has progressed.

The logic to defer creation of the Cyber, Space and Special Forces Commands on grounds of “first create capabilities and structures for such operations before going for such expansion” is weird to say the least. If capabilities and structures already existed, these commands would not be required.

The least the pundits of MoD could do is learn how the Chinese military is being re-organized. To refer to these commands as “long-standing demand of armed forces” alone is fooling the public as their establishment was strongly recommended by the Naresh Chandra Committee appointed by GoI.

From public utterances of the political hierarchy, the belief that we have not fought a war since long and are not likely to be fight one is quite apparent. This shows complete misunderstanding of the fact that we are at war and will continue to be so, considering that conventional wars have been overtaken by hybrid warfare, in which cyber, aerospace and special operations have vital roles.

There is urgent need to establish a special forces command under the Prime Minister if we are to bridge the gaping strategic asymmetry vis-à-vis China and Pakistan in terms of sub-conventional capability.

As regards the Shekatkhar Panel, when and how the recommendations will be recommended are anyone’s guess. Suffice to stay for now that there have been umpteen studies in the past that have addressed teeth to tail ratio, cutting army manpower and outsourcing major services to private sector.

Where the hierarchy has always failed is implementation of these studies. In this context, the biggest failing of the government, as all previous governments, is not reorganizing higher defence structures, appointing a Chief of Defence Staff and replacing MoD bureaucrats with military professionals.

Both the K Subrahmanyam headed Kargil Review Committee and the follow up Group of Ministers headed by the then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister LK Advani strongly recommended appointing a CDS and reorganizing higher defence structures.

HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) did come up because of one such recommendation but not as part of MoD (as was intended) but as separate HQ. The indications now are that should the CDS or Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee come up, he would be without operational powers; implying another puppet appointment for the bureaucracy to play around with.

Sure the ‘surgical strikes’ were executed and may be repeated too. But they are no panacea for subduing the aggressive China-Pakistan strategic nexus unless sustained covert operations are launched at strategic level.

Aside from bridging gaping strategic voids in equipping, major effort has to be made towards ensuring the security of our installations. Findings of the study post the terror attack on IAF’s Pathankot base will need urgent follow up.

The army post at Uri had just a cattle fence and no thermal imager when attacked. There is plenty of noise about ‘Make in India’ but in terms of actual equipping and modernization of the military not much has happened on ground.

In 1995, a Review Committee headed by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam had set the goal of 70% self reliance in defence sector by 2005 but in 2014 (19 years later) the state was: only 30% self reliant; as per CAG, indigenous defence equipment was either sub-standard or overpriced; defence equipment held by military was 50% obsolete; proportion of state-of-the-art equipment needed to grow from current level of 15% to 30%, and current cycle including acquisitions drafted under LTIPP) was expected to include procurements worth US$ 100 billion by 2022.

With this backdrop, the fresh goal stated by the government of attaining 70% self-sufficiency in defence requirements by 2027 is more of utopia.

The anti-military constituency has prospered, even hitting consistently at the prestige and emoluments of soldiers, adverse effects of which on national security will emerge in due course.

Unfortunately the government remains intransigent to such issues. The bureaucracy remains all powerful, yet unaccountable; under British era Rules of Business of the government, the defence secretary, not the defence minister, is tasked with the defence of India and the services headquarters continue as “attached offices”.

MoD has no institutionalized set up for strategic thinking and policy formulation. Resultantly, we are without a National Security Strategy which should be the basis of a Comprehensive Defence Review.

It is these two essentials on which our defence procurement in short, medium and long term should be based.

The lack of required focus on R&D, military modernization, management of border defence, poor border defence infrastructure, poor defence-industrial complex and most importantly the un-strategic culture are apparent.

Government would do well to address these issues, to include:

-appoint CDS with full operational powers;

-induct military professionals in MoD and the defence-industrial complex;

-define National Security Strategy and undertake Comprehensive Defence Review headed by the CDS, and;

-CDS to oversee and implement such Revolution in Military Affairs under directions of the Prime Minister, initiation of which may need enactment of an Act of Parliament on lines of the Goldwater Nichols Act and the Berlin Decree that transformed the US and German defence forces respectively.

(Lt General P.C.Katoch (retired) is a veteran officer of the Special Forces)