Deconstructing India’s two-front Mantra
ACCORDING to the international security expert Barry Buzan, nation states construct threats through framing, speech acts and referent objects.
One of the central concepts in securitization theory is ‘showing the rhetorical structure of decision-makers when framing an issue and attempting to convince an audience to lift the issue above politics’.
India’s much trumpeted mantra of fighting a two-front war fits into Professor Buzan’s argument and reflects the subjective construction of a collusive threat from Pakistan and China.
The smokescreen of a two-front challenge has been constructed by New Delhi for multiple self-serving purposes.
In essence, India uses this mantra as a ploy to extract political and military concessions from the West.
Internally, the Indian military amplifies the threat to secure more funding under the guise of combat readiness.
This façade also serves to hide India’s own follies under the Modi government.
In actual fact, India’s unilateral measures of 5August 2019 to revoke the special status of Kashmir and incorporate occupied Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as Union exacerbated tensions with China over the status of Ladakh.
Modi’s political blunder also stoked anti-India sentiment in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).
Both Pakistanand China rejected Indian illegal actions.In public pronouncements, senior Indian military officials such as the late General Bipin Rawat and former Indian Air Chief R K S Bhadauria have called for operational readiness using the two-front mantra.
This has been packaged as a collusive threat and propagated through a compliant media.
Academic discourse from within India, however, testifies to the reality that India’s two-front narrative is fallacious and politically motivated.
Evidence for this comes from saner voices such as that of Sushant Singh, a retired military official who has served as Deputy Editor of the Indian Express.
In an April 2021 Stimson issue brief, Singh explains how India has concocted the two-front challenge and its military command has amplified it in order to ‘provide an unambiguous political and military focus on strategic and operational initiatives to ensure readiness’.
India’s Cold Start Doctrine against Pakistan has been formulated using the same language of combat readiness and troop mobility.
In India’s strategic calculus, there is realization that a two-front war might never materialize.
Indian generals recognize that the People’s Liberation Army of China is a vastly superior fighting force that is rapidly building capabilities in artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles and electronic warfare.
China’s formidable military modernization has raised alarm bells even in Western capitals, suggesting that New Delhi is no match for China.
Questions can and have been raised on the capability of the Indian military to fight even on a single front.
India’s array of weapon systems lacks interoperability which reduces their effectiveness at the operational level.
Late General Bipin Rawat during his tenure as Army Chief in 2019 acknowledged that for intense war fighting with China, the Indian military would require 30 days of ammunition stock, which it did not possess.
War on two fronts would also involve the ‘separation of forces’ as it would be difficult to move troops from one theatre to another, thereby reducing inter-theatre mobility.
The Stimson report therefore recommends that the ‘smartest choice for New Delhi is to neither fight nor prepare to fight a two front-war’.
It belies logic that a ‘resource constrained, overstretched and vulnerable’ military can sustain combat on two fronts.
As a matter of fact, India has recently faced humiliation at the hands of both Pakistan and China.
Pakistan shot down two intruding Indian Air Force aircraft on 27 February 2019 and captured one of the pilots Wing Commander Abhinandanin response to Indian aggression against Pakistan. India lost 20 soldiers in skirmishes with China in the Galwan Valley in June 2020.
Pakistan itself faced a two-front war scenario over the last two decades. Pakistan’s Eastern border with India has remained a permanent front since independence.
India opened another front for Pakistan by using Afghan soil to foment terrorism in Pakistan.
Additionally, the conflict in Afghanistan over the last two decades has had devastating spill over effects into Pakistan.
Despite the dual challenge of Indian state-sponsored terrorism and tensions on the Loc, Pakistani Armed Forces have been able to effectively counter these threats.
It is globally recognized that through sustained diplomacy, engagement with all stakeholders and dialogue, Pakistan was successful in promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan by working closely with interested countries, in particular the United States, China and Russia.
Pakistan’s participation in the Moscow Format of Consultations and the extended troika meeting son Afghanistan have been instrumental in this regard.
Pakistan’s support for Doha Peace Talks enabled the US and Taliban to sign a landmark agreement on peace and reconciliation and withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s peace-oriented approach was thus able to transform a security threat into an opportunity for win-win cooperation.
Pakistan has been consistent in its desire to engage with India on all outstanding disputes including Kashmir.
The tendency on the Indian side has been to construe Pakistan’s desire for peace as a weakness.
However, Pakistan has time and again demonstrated its capability and resolve to respond effectively to any Indian misadventure.
The Balakot incident is a case in point.Given these ground realities, India’s counterforce temptations towards Pakistan and talk of so-called surgical strikes inside Pakistani territory can only be explained through the prism of political opportunism, hegemonic designs and brinkmanship.
Modi’s warmongering and temptation to seek electoral gains through false flag operations in IIOJK have undermined prospects for regional peace and stability.
Needless to say, in a nuclear Southern Asia, talk of a two-front war is fraught with danger.
Given the monumental challenges of poverty alleviation, sanitation, COVID-19 pandemic and development facing India, it would be prudent if New Delhi were to resolve disputes with its nuclear neighbours peacefully through dialogue and join connectivity projects that hold the promise of promoting regional and global prosperity.
—The writer is Research Officer at Centre for International Strategic Studies Sindh (CISSS).