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China Needles, India Responds (Page 2 of 2)

The Army, too, wants to gradually raise a mountain strike corps, which would be deployed closer to India’s vast mountainous border with China, either in the east or the north. The fact is that although no one in India’s military establishment wants to spell it out, China is at the centre of future strategic planning in the Indian armed forces as a whole, not just for the Army.

The Navy, meanwhile, is now driven by a conceptual shift from an emphasis on ‘numbers’ of platforms — that is, from the old bean-counting philosophy — to one that concentrates upon capabilities. Among its near-term plans is the acquisition of ships in accordance with the Navy’s current Maritime Capability Perspective Plan. There are presently 40 ships and submarines on order, meaning that by 2013, the Indian Navy will have two aircraft carriers and several spanking new stealth destroyers, frigates and Boeing P-8i long-range maritime reconnaissance planes, among other platforms.

All these plans are in keeping with a broader military philosophy toward China that can best be described as ‘trust but verify, and keep your powder dry.’ Last October, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony told the Unified Commanders conference that they should be prepared to meet the twin threats posed by Pakistan and China, which are increasingly seen as acting in concert to keep India under strategic pressure.

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Over the past two years, fChina has shifted from its earlier position of calling Kashmir a bilateral issue between New Delhi and Islamabad, to terming it a disputed area. It also started issuing loose leaf visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir. More ominously for India, Chinese footprints in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and the northern areas have increased dramatically over the past couple years, under guise of helping out flood-hit areas and repairing the Karakoram Highway linking China and Pakistan.

The unprecedented chill that had set in between the two countries was compounded by China’s refusal to issue a visa to a senior Indian Army Commander on the grounds that he commanded troops in the ‘disputed’ Kashmir region. India’s tough stance since has forced the Chinese to alter course somewhat, but New Delhi’s military establishment is under no illusions that China will continue to pursue a policy of strategic stability and tactical uncertainty with India.

In a way, all this might seem surprising. After all, Sino-India bilateral trade is set to touch $60 billion over the next year, and is expected to cross the $100 billion mark in the next five. But with Beijing’s insistence on needling New Delhi through small border intrusions along its undefined frontier, India’s defence planners feel they have little choice but to constantly reinvent policy. 

Nitin Gokhale is Defence & Strategic Affairs Editor with Indian broadcaster, NDTV 24×7

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