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August 22, 2017

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War markers missing in China stand-off

As Pakistan's interference in Kashmir and ceasefire violations increase, rhetoric for teaching Pakistan a lesson gain ground. Even veterans on TV discussions resort to warmongering, seemingly to enable channels to enhance TRPs.

The recent standoff at the Doklam plateau resulted in China raising the war cry. Its former Consul-General in Mumbai, Liu Youfa, stated that Indian troops could withdraw, be captured or if the dispute escalates even be killed.

The Chinese foreign office mentioned that Chinese patience may run out and the situation could escalate into open conflict. The Indian Army chief had made a statement that India has the wherewithal to fight a two and a half front war, implying an offensive war with Pakistan, a defensive war with China while controlling the militancy in Kashmir, all simultaneously. The air chief had also asked the air force to be prepared for war on two fronts. The statements by the chiefs were in no way aimed at raising the tempo.

Their statements were intended to send forth messages. Firstly, it was to forces under their command that training should be realistic and oriented towards operations. Secondly, India has the resources to enable it to engage in a conflict, if thrust upon it, despite deficiencies in equipment profile and stores.

As Clausewitz had stated, "war is a continuation of politics by other means" while Georges Clemenceau had said, "war is too serious a business to be entrusted to military men". In a democracy, where the political leadership has complete control, resorting to war would be a political decision and the military would execute the aims set forth by the political leadership.

In a sham democracy like Pakistan, it is the army which would create conditions for war, Kargil and the Parliament attack being examples. The military in a democracy with its existing resources needs to be prepared at all times. Thus, comments by the service chiefs were appropriate. While rhetoric is acceptable, no nation would desire escalation of any situation to a war-like condition.

It is always a measure of last resort. In a nuclear environment, even localised actions, seemingly to prove a point, have the possibility of escalating into full-blown conflicts the impact of which could be devastating for the nations involved. Analysing the prevailing scenario on both our fronts would convey that while rhetoric is the order of the day, war is still miles away.

In the case of the Indo-China standoff at Doklam, any escalation from the Chinese side, warmongering notwithstanding, would involve buildup of war equipment, acclimatisation of soldiers considering the altitudes and movement of additional assets like airpower. While China may seek to keep operations localised, it would need to enhance deployment across the front to deny India an option of expanding the conflict.

This would imply Indian monitoring elements would observe increased Chinese movement and activities in the region. This has not been witnessed, hence the rhetoric for war may be a means of applying pressure. India has also not taken any step to indicate an offensive stance.

When China moved additional troops behind its soldiers deployed in the standoff, India resorted to the same. Indian troops along the Chinese border may have become more vigilant and would have increased their patrols, however these would be within their own areas and without any indication of hostility.

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