For over a year now, a strategic debate has been going on in Delhi on future threat scenarios relating to state and non-state actors.
Our preoccupation till now has been with the continuing threats from the state of Pakistan and from the jihadi terrorist organisations nursed by it. It has also been with China’s continuing collusion with Pakistan and the dangers of a two-front war arising therefrom.
The debate has been between a group of classical thinkers and a new generation of thinkers who perceive themselves to be forward-looking and visionary.
The classical thinkers do not underestimate the implications of increasing Chinese military and cyber activism. They are worried over the sustained pace of modernisation of the Chinese armed forces and Bejing’s economic clout which enables it to pursue its agenda of power projection.
They are equally worried over the increasing Chinese military capabilities in the outer and cyber space . They are, therefore, all for paying additional attention to measures required for strengthening our capabilities vis-à-vis China—by way of infrastructure development, modernisation of our Armed Forces, intelligence agencies and cyber capabilities and revamping our diplomatic skills required to deal with a rising China.
To some measure, there is a convergence of thinking between the classical thinkers and the forward-looking. The forward-looking thinkers are even more worried about China than about Pakistan and want India to take not only the conventional measures outlined above, but even go far ahead by way of building up strategic convergences and co-ordinated thinking with other powers such as the US, Japan. South Korea and Australia.
The new generation of strategic thinkers looks upon our present focus on Pakistan to be over-done and advocate mid-course corrections in order to be able to divert more resources for coping with China.
Both the classical and new generation thinkers are agreed that “how to cope with the rising China—politically, economically and militarily” should be the central question in our strategic debates. However, whereas the new generation of thinkers tends to take a more relaxed attitude towards Pakistan without letting an obsession with Pakistan distort our strategic thinking, the classical thinkers keep cautioning that in our anxiety over the implications of a rising China, we should not forget our painful historical experiences because of the compulsive hostility of the Pakistani state and non-state actors towards India.
According to the classical thinkers, there has been no historical enmity between India and China. China’s interests are limited to asserting what it claims to be its sovereignty over certain border areas as in Arunachal Pradesh. It also wants to ensure that no threats could arise to its control over Tibet from the Tibetan diaspora in India. Beyond that, they feel, it has no objective of wanting to keep India weak and divided by adding to its internal security problems.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s hostility to India is historical and multi-dimensional relating to Jammu & Kashmir and its objective of keeping India weak and divided by constantly adding to its internal security problems.
Whoever may be the ruler of Pakistan and whatever may be the overtures and concessions made by India, the “go for India’s jugular” instinct of Pakistan should remain the constant worrisome factor in India’s strategic thinking and planning. So, the classical thinkers feel. That is what an operational and intellectual giant of the R&AW whom I worship told me during a chat.
By all means, we should be able to cope with China better so that we don’t become a second rate power of Asia, but in our anxiety on this count, we should not let our capability to protect our jugular from Pakistan be weakened.
It is a timely and healthy debate. It is hoped it will lead to a healthy mix of our strategic priorities.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies