In Focus

India’s Military Modernization and Its Regional Hegemonic Designs

The evolution of Indian strategic thought over the time period from Chanakya Kautilya to Jawaharlal Nehru, its manifestation through doctrinal shift and foreign policy and the resultant aggressive posture poses a serious threat to South Asia.


India had never been a single entity as it is in its existing form till the independence from the British in 1947. Indian strategic thought as anchored on the vision and six-pronged policy of Chanakya Kautilya is ancient as well as full of hegemonic intrigue. In his famous writing, Arthashastra, Kautilya provided six policy folds that have an enormous impact on Indian strategic thought. Some of them are relevant to Indian military and foreign policy transformation such as Vigrah (War), Yana (Marching/military transformation against a presumable threat), and Samsrya (Alliances). All of them are visible in Indian exhibition of its military modernization strides as well as its global aspirations to be the ‘net security provider’ for the Indian Ocean.
After independence in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru focused on the concept of turning India into a hegemonic power in its immediate neighbourhood at first. Kautilya’s concept of geography as the main element of security of state seemed central in Nehru’s approach to India’s policies. Where Nehru concentrated on gathering international clout for India while advocating non-alliance in the world, he ensured that India does not deplete its military resources on other states or groups of states, building and securing sufficient military power to exercise hegemony in the region. He placed more focus on turning India into a regional hegemon to supplement its strategic choices. The same was manifested in its forceful military annexations of princely states of Kashmir, Junagadh, Manavadar and Hyderabad Deccan. However, the main failure he faced was on the Kashmir front against Pakistan and the Indo-China border.
India also forced numerous bilateral agreements on its neighboring states which included treaties with Bhutan (1949), Sikkim (1950), Nepal (1950), Burma (1951) and Ceylon (1954). These treaties imposed conditions on these neighboring states to consider India’s concerns before joining any major international or bilateral agreement with an external power which questions their strategic autonomy in foreign and security policy. 


After independence in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru focused on the concept of turning India into a hegemonic power in its immediate neighbourhood at first. Kautilya’s concept of geography as the main element of security of state seemed central in Nehru’s approach to India’s policies.


However, in the military domain, India continued to follow a conventional pattern. They faced embarrassment in the wars of 1962 and 1965. Thus, they seriously started thinking of modernization of their military doctrines as well as capabilities.
Sundarji Doctrine
Sundarji served as Chief of the Army Staff of India from 1985 to 1988. He was the main influence during Indira Gandhi’s regime who advocated conventional military build-up strategy along with the modernization of strategic forces. The doctrine proposed by him is known as Sundarji Doctrine. This doctrine was imitation of German Blitzkrieg strategy that focuses on conduct of offensive attacks with tanks, air force and artillery. Following this geo-centric conventional military strategy, the doctrine advocated integrated use of well-crafted columns of infantry, artillery and armour exploiting the existing land army structure in a better way. The Indian Army manifested this doctrine via Operation Brasstacks in 1986-87 along Pakistan-India border in Rajasthan and Operation Falcon along the India-China border. These operations were aimed at projecting India’s conventional military muscle and wargaming.
However, Operation Brasstacks failed due to cricket diplomacy. Later, measuring up to the threat by Indian military modernization, Pakistan rehashed its response and exhibited the same through Exercise Zarb-e-Momin. The success of this exercise gave a clear signal to Indian military that Pakistan will smartly respond to Indian military misadventures without indulging into arms race of any kind.
The last manifestation of Sundarji Doctrine was in the form of Operation Parakaram (2001-02) in the wake of stage-managed attack on Indian Parliament. India immediately alleged Pakistan of its involvement without any evidence and announced that Kashmiri freedom fighters supported by Pakistan were behind this attack. The operation failed due to mobilization differential which was identified as a great challenge for the implementation of Sundarji Doctrine. Although, India moved its forces on Pakistan’s border, they could not achieve the desired policy objectives. It led them to great men and material losses as their units had to stay at the border for about ten months. Another doctrinal twist came when both countries became nuclear powers in 1998, after which Pakistan reiterated that there was no space for war between India and Pakistan, however, India still strived to craft that space even through a limited war under a nuclear overhang. 
Cold Start Doctrine
Searching for answers to the ‘mobilization differential’ and ‘nuclear overhang’, India came up with another military doctrine known as Cold Start Doctrine (CSD), which on seeing lesser chances of success was renamed as ‘Proactive Operations’ (PAOs). The lessons learnt during the 1999 Kargil conflict and Operation Parakram (2001-2002 mobilization) and the 2008 Mumbai crisis apparently steered Indian strategic planners towards options for waging limited conventional war below Pakistan’s perceived nuclear threshold.


India supplemented this hybrid warfare by maligning Pakistan through the use of fake news, propaganda and their deceptive foreign policy.


This doctrine was based on the conduct of offensive attacks against Pakistan through Defensive Corps to curtail the mobilization time. It emphasized on creating eight integrated battle groups (IBGs) of division size and their deployment alongside Pakistan's border to save time for military mobilization. The Offensive Corps was to continue its buildup and ensure timely arrival to supplement the proactive maneuvers unleashed by Defensive Corps, but this highlighted a vulnerability in Indian defenses which could be exploited by Pakistani forces. Pakistan’s response to CSD was folded in two layers: conventional as well as nuclear. During 2009 to 2013, Pakistan Army conducted several military exercises named Sabit Qadam and Azam-e-Nau. Azam-e-Nau III was the biggest military exercise in which 20,000 troops from all over Pakistan took part. Besides this response, there was Pakistan Air Force exercise as well that was a great response in the conventional domain. The synchronized air force response with army's maneuvering was a counterresponse to CSD.
Hybrid Warfare Doctrine
The term Hybrid Warfare was first introduced by Lieutenant Colonel Frank G. Hoffman (R) of US Marine Corps in 2006-07, “Hybrid wars incorporate a range of different modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder to achieve political ends".
India, seeing its military doctrines flop and the efficacy of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence, started thinking of Hoffman’s hybrid solution. India focused on harming Pakistan through the synchronization of both conventional and sub-conventional means. To that end in 2008, hybrid warfare doctrine was introduced. Though, India has always been creating sociopolitical vulnerabilities in Pakistan and subsequently exploiting them, yet it decided to make it a part of its military doctrine and synching it with their military operations on land and sea. India pledges to cause unaffordable losses to the potential adversaries in a multi-front scenario, which includes non-contact domains of conflict including cyber, space, and information. 
The same is being manifested through targeting Pakistan’s socioeconomic disparities, sponsoring militant organizations against Pakistan, Pakistan’s international standing, attempted disruption of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and use of Afghan soil against Pakistan. This doctrine has led to various implications for Pakistan.
India supplemented this hybrid warfare by maligning Pakistan through the use of fake news, propaganda and their deceptive foreign policy. India also reshaped its foreign policy by forming global strategic alliances to harm Pakistan and counter China’s threat. 
Dawn of Ajit Doval: Renewed Hybrid Warfare
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi picked an ex-Intelligence Bureau officer Ajit Doval as his National Security Advisor in 2014. On assumption of his appointment, he clearly indicated his intent towards Pakistan, when he stated that India needs to find a wholesome and long-term plan to subdue Pakistan. It looked as a continuation of Hybrid Warfare Doctrine of 2008, however, Doval Doctrine looked beyond conventional asymmetries to be balanced, nuclear factor, and Kautilya’s Mandala of statecraft. Doval’s era has been more destructive as Pakistan has faced several internal challenges such as Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). He proposed to engage Pakistan on three domains which are listed as under: 
▪ Defensive Approach: Prevent Pakistan from launching any attack.
▪ Defense-Offense Military Response: To defend on land, and launch military offensive to the place where the offence is coming from.
▪ Offensive Mode: Work on the vulnerabilities of Pakistan and exploit them. It can be economic, internal, political and social; forcing international isolation; defeating their policies in Afghanistan; or making it difficult for them to manage the security balance. It can be anything.
Doctrine of Surgical Strikes
Focused on both Pakistan and China, it also emphasized on surgical strikes with proactive diplomacy. The idea of surgical strike was coined by Indian Air Force (IAF) in 2012. India also tried to project and sell to the world its ‘phantom surgical strikes’ in Pakistan after the attack on Uri airbase in 2016. But, it didn’t have any proof in order to legalize its surgical strikes on the international forum. Indian authors wrote books on it, and produced movies to sell the idea to its public, yet they couldn’t provide any evidence of their claimed strikes in Azad Kashmir. 


According to a SIPRI report: India’s military spending of $76.6 billion ranked third highest in the world. This was up by 0.9 per cent from 2020 and by 33 per cent from 2012.


In 2019, India again created a ground to carry out surgical strikes after Pulwama attack. The purpose was to divert attention of the Indian public from internal issues under Prime Minister Modi’s regime. It was an election winning tactic. On the other hand, Indian military commanders also assured their prime minister that they possessed enough capabilities to carry out deep surgical strikes inside Pakistan on alleged terrorist hideouts. But they failed to take Pakistan’s readiness and capabilities into the account. IAF rushed into Azad Kashmir area, dropped payloads in a forest that damaged only the trees. Pakistan’s response to IAF’s violation of territorial sovereignty was apt and surprising for India; Pakistan downed two of IAF’s fighter jets and also captured an Indian pilot.
During an interview with Dr. Masood Khattak, General Ehsan Ullah (R) said that the slogan of surgical strikes is more for domestic electoral politics, “In my view Indian military leadership categorically knows this if they were to carry out surgical strike or any incursion across the LOC or across the international border or Working Boundary, Pakistan will retaliate, they are clear on this”.
Blue Waters Navy?
Though, India has never been a naval force – even Kautilya did not urge them to be so – in the wake of U.S. rebranding their ‘Pacific Command’ as ‘Indo-Pacific Command’, India started envisioning the Indian Ocean as ‘India’s ocean’. On U.S.’ approval, India also assumed the role of a ‘regional policeman’ to counter Chinese interests in the Indian Ocean. India joined QUAD and is hoping to be accepted as the net security provider, and has thus modernized its bases in Andaman and Nicobar islands, which are in proximity of Malacca strait, besides propagating its Necklace of Diamonds policy in the Indian Ocean. India has also modernized its naval capabilities by its Sub Surface Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN) Submarine, Arihant, which is operational since 2018. Although, India claims to have its naval and nuclear responses to be China-centric, yet it impacts the stability equation of South Asia. 
Indian Military Spending
According to a SIPRI report: India’s military spending of $76.6 billion ranked third highest in the world. This was up by 0.9 per cent from 2020 and by 33 per cent from 2012. It focused on indigenous production of Indian technology and seeking help of foreign powers to modernize its military, e.g., spy satellites from Israel, apache helicopter, and Rafale, etc. In a push to strengthen the indigenous arms industry, 64 per cent of capital outlays in the military budget of 2021 were earmarked for the acquisition of domestically produced arms. 
It also focused on development/transformation of the land forces through their warfighting capabilities, e.g., T-90 tanks, and Agni missiles are the main developments. For India’s military modernization, it is also working on equipping the military with emerging technologies, enhancing the existing cyber warfare capabilities, and developing electronic warfare capabilities.
To extend military capabilities, India is focusing on having good multilateral ties with the outside world. It has imported several weapons from Russia, Israel and USA. Top armaments include Apache helicopters from USA, Rafale jets from France, Air Defense systems and T-90 tanks from Russia, long range bombers, spy satellites, and UAVs etc.
Conclusion
Indian strategic and military thought is hinged upon hegemony and intrigue. It is manifested through its military modernization, global strategic alliances, fake news and Bollywood impressions. Being realistic, Pakistan also has a variety of options to match up to such hybrid threats. It has successfully countered Indian conventional and non-conventional military disparities without resorting to arms race. However, a lot more is to be done in sub-conventional domain where due to a host of sociopolitical vulnerabilities, India succeeds in exploiting some of them from time to time. Pakistan is modifying its strategic thinking and it has the capability to further decode Indian transformations and in the future, Pakistan will remain fully capable and prepared to answer any hostility emanating from its eastern neighbor.


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