Why India can’t defeat Pakistan or China in a war

Published: March 23, 2017
Narendra Modi. PHOTO: REUTERS

Narendra Modi. PHOTO: REUTERS

To provoke a somnolent establishment into action, your message has to be blunt. There cannot be a more blunt warning to India’s political leadership and defence establishment than what Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab have delivered in their admirable and unsparing book Dragon On Our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power (Published by Aleph, Pages 458, Price Rs 799). Let alone China, India cannot even win a war against Pakistan. Yes, you read that right.

Sawhney, an Armyman-turned-journalist, and Wahab, a career journalist, are editors at FORCE magazine which focuses on national security, bring to the book sharp analysis and fresh perspectives to present a new strategy to strengthen India as a nation.

One of their key arguments is that the political leadership has to improve their understanding of military matters and involve the views of defence forces while making critical national security decisions. Another provocative take is that the Indian Army is a bloated force and has to shed flab, by reducing the number of personnel at its disposal. They call for a review of both field force and non-field force in the Army in order to move towards professionalism. The authors also want the Army to disengage itself from counter-insurgency operations, a task at best left to paramilitary forces, and regain its edge to do its primary task- fight the enemy.

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Dragon On Our Doorstep could be a little misleading title since the authors are not only discussing the China threat but India’s defence strategy. In full play is Pakistan, Kashmir and the red menace, the greatest threat India is facing, as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it. Sawhney and Wahab say that in terms of threat, Pakistan is China and China is Pakistan, pointing out especially the ‘inter-operability’ that both military forces have achieved.

So despite the strongman Narendra Modi at the helm, why can’t India defeat Pakistan in a war? Sawhney and Wahab make a critical distinction to win their argument. Pakistan has built military power, India a military force. And they explain: “Military force involves the mere collection of war-withal, that is, building up of troops and war-waging material; military power is about optimal utilization of military force. It entails an understanding of the adversaries and the quantum of threat from each, the nature of warfare, domains of war, how it would be fought, and structural military reforms at various levels to meet these challenges.”

Sawhney and Wahab write that the political leadership which would decide the terms of war engagement understands neither nuclear weapons nor military power. “Its responses would be slow, tardy, ad hoc and piecemeal rather than bold and substantive if the countries were to go to war.”

Pakistan will win any war against India

What else makes Indian defence forces vulnerable? Since the defence forces are outside the government, they have little interaction with the political leadership in peacetime and little say in the acquisition of conventional weapons. The defence services have little knowledge and understanding of their own nuclear weapons and Pakistan’s nuclear redlines. As India does not have an efficient indigenous defence industry, war supplies are not assured. All these, for an average reader, sound pretty scary.

There is more in store. Sawhney and Wahab write that the Indian Air Force has critical deficiencies in combat aircraft, training aircraft, simulators, air defence and network-centricity. “Most of all, the joint-ness in operations between the army and the air force, which is a critical requirement at the operational level for a short and swift, war is absent. This was obvious from the last localized Kargil conflict that the two services fought together. Instead of a single operation, the army’s operation was named Vijay, while the IAF campaign was called Safed Sagar.”

The authors also examine India’s foreign policy in relation to China and Pakistan and criticise Modi for his failure in not rising as a statesman prime minister to transform India into a leading power. Modi’s foreign policy, the authors say, is more optics than substance.

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They say that ‘Act East, Think West’ policy is hampered by the perennial failures in strategic thinking and a lack of appreciation for military power. They pick on India’s foreign aid policy and say that if our neighbours are neither deferential nor deterrent there is something amiss. Sawhaney and Wahab argue that aid is seldom given to fulfill the needs of the recipient. It is given to meet the requirements- strategic in the case of nations- of the giver. And if the requirements are not met, you increase the aid or diversify it. They also say that India is the only country in the world where foreign policy with nations having disputed borders- China and Pakistan- is made with regard to military advice. All these criticisms should rile the defence establishment and the bureaucrats who have straitjacketed India’s foreign policy.

The other strong and significant argument that Sawhney and Wahab put forward is that the government of India should open unconditional talks with everyone alienated from the national mainstream, irrespective of their professed public positions. They caution that even the biggest of powers have not been able to withstand internal discord because they understand that the financial and military effort required to keep it in check debilitates the nation in the long run. Sawhney and Wahab are absolutely justified when the say that if India is able to win over the tribal population of central India and the people from the northeastern states, it will be able to free up a substantive number of its soldiers from internal stability and counter-insurgency operations.

So in the end, the message is that set your home right, the world will follow you. May be Modi can take note.

This article originally appeared on the Times of India.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • scha a
    Mar 23, 2017 - 4:53PM

    People seen in queues to get a Burnol, as demand outstrips supplies in India.Recommend

  • Hard pill
    Mar 23, 2017 - 5:16PM

    Lets agree to disagree and just stay in our bubble of surgical strikes and spy pigeons – indiansRecommend

  • Pak Paragon
    Mar 23, 2017 - 11:40PM

    Well this book seems to be funded by Indian Armed forces. It is a part of the continuing effort by Indian forces to convince the government to increase the already burgeoning defence acquisitions. We have seen such news every year since 2004-5 and every year their defence budget rockets 15-30%.Recommend

  • Komal S
    Mar 24, 2017 - 12:04AM

    India has no indigenous defense industry, not enough planes all of these due many years of neglect from Congress. Modi is doing his best to change that. Recommend

  • hzrr
    Mar 24, 2017 - 2:29AM

    @scha a:
    Burnol is no more available nor is it used,Maybe you are living in lost age like 1971!Recommend

    Mar 24, 2017 - 5:35AM

    Truth is that India has no desire and no reason what so ever to defeat Pakistan as Pakistan was created with our mutual consent and democratically. It is the policy of using terror as an instrument to achieve political goals that is causing all this hysteria. Earlier we realize that we are the same people and will have to coexist with peace and love better it will be. Recommend

  • Alien1
    Mar 24, 2017 - 8:08AM

    One of the tools to win a war is deception, portraying oneself as weak.Recommend

  • Dang
    Mar 24, 2017 - 9:44AM

    That’s what you thought back in 1965 that you will take over Lahore in 30min and you know what happened remember that ..Recommend

  • Anusri Tripathi
    Mar 24, 2017 - 11:01AM

    Then, why did Pakistan lost all the wars with India? And how long will Pakistan take to come out from that anti-India war zone of mind? Its more than 70 years now.Recommend

  • Hasan
    Mar 24, 2017 - 11:31AM

    “Let alone China, India cannot even win a war against Pakistan.”

    Instead of winning WARS, how about winning HEARTS and PROSPERITY, India ?Recommend

  • Shahid
    Mar 24, 2017 - 11:46AM

    Time to put an end to all this war mongering. PEACERecommend

  • Human First
    Mar 24, 2017 - 12:28PM

    Agree. Enough is Enough nowRecommend

  • Vineeth
    Mar 24, 2017 - 12:38PM

    One, this is old news. I remember reading about this book a couple of years back. Two, much of the credit for weakening India in matters of national security lies with the nearly 70 years of Congress misrule. It is a problem Modi inherited, not something which he created. If anything, Modi has started taking credible steps at plugging the gaping holes in India’s defense posture.Recommend

  • Mian
    Mar 24, 2017 - 1:07PM

    These kind of message just ad to the false pretense each one has about the other…. For the indians , such messages are a blessing… as pakistani’s will believe thye are far better off and will plan another mini kargil like situation…without thinking of hte consequences.. And in the meanwhile India will focuso n repairiting or rebuildign its fleet , technology and people…. The end will be a disaster for Pakistan

    Second thing, in the longer run, coz Pakistani fauj think they are way superior.. will demand less and so more money could be spent on education, infrastructure etc… which will be good for Pakistanis..Recommend

  • Solat
    Mar 24, 2017 - 1:10PM

    @Anusri Tripathi:
    Who told you that India has won all the wars? perhaps your bollywood type media.
    i )Pakistan gain 40% of Kashmir in 1947 war
    ii) 1965 your plans to occupy Lahore were vanished like vapors when you ran out of ammunition (read the history).
    iii) 1971 Recon we were lost but by not your army rather we were defeated by our own people
    iv) Kargil was a conflict not a war. If you thinks you win that then we congrats you. Recommend

  • Mian
    Mar 24, 2017 - 1:10PM

    Pakistanis always love PEACE when they cant fight an overt or a covert war…….they always love peace in between wars…Recommend

  • Oommen
    Mar 24, 2017 - 1:39PM

    China and India will never go for war. Both have large economies and don’t want to hurt their business, investment. But if India and Pakistan goes to war…no force in the world will come to its Pakistan’s rescue now. (not US or China)

    Anyway Chinese won’t consider Pakistan as their country – even after Pakistani’s are feeling “proud” of Chinese achievements. Recommend

  • Hasan
    Mar 24, 2017 - 2:06PM

    Ur attitude & hate mongering do not bode well for peace anywhere. Recommend

  • rich
    Mar 24, 2017 - 2:20PM


    @Anusri Tripathi:
    Who told you that India has won all the wars? perhaps your bollywood type media.
    i )Pakistan gain 40% of Kashmir in 1947 war
    ii) 1965 your plans to occupy Lahore were vanished like vapors when you ran out of ammunition (read the history).
    iii) 1971 Recon we were lost but by not your army rather we were defeated by our own people
    iv) Kargil was a conflict not a war. If you thinks you win that then we congrats you

    1948 kashmir was not part of india it was seperate country, after pakistan invaded , india airlifted soldies to srinagar, after almost a week of pakistani invasion, to safe srinagar, after maraja of kashmir signed that he accedes to india, ans we saved 2/3 of jammu and kashmir, the fertile land and sources of water

    1965 all invader were killed, who had infiltrated kashmir, and we took kargill , sir creek in raan of kutch, 1984 we too siachen all were parts of pakistan

    1971 bangladesh was created, and part of kashmir was taken the drass area

    read neautral history not india not pakistani

    only land we have lost is to the chinese in 1962, and they still have it aksai chinRecommend

  • Raza
    Mar 24, 2017 - 3:06PM

    I think it is a misleading article and we must not forget that if the enemy do not want peace we should not beg for it, we should prepare our-self to fight the enemy, never think that the enemy is weak. The enemy is India (not Indians). The policy of India towards Kashmir and Pakistan will only bring disaster in the region and sufferer will be the poor people of subcontinent and not Pakistan. Recommend

  • Sikandar
    Mar 24, 2017 - 3:21PM

    @Anusri Tripathi:
    If you stop reading only indian text books then you would know there is a world outside india as well.Dont go far just try to read about 1999 kargil war from neutral source then you would realize how indian media is fooling its own people.Recommend

  • Prada
    Mar 24, 2017 - 5:48PM

    Do Pakistanis know the result of all the wars between India and Pakistan?
    Just curious.Recommend

  • anil sahu
    Mar 24, 2017 - 6:14PM

    same applies to you spread yuor horizon beyond pak media.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts
    Mar 24, 2017 - 7:03PM

    @Anusri Tripathi:
    Why did Pakistan lose all wars with India? Because of your textbooks and what you’ve been taught. You’d be surprised that on this side of the border, India has in fact lost all the wars. Same reason buddy.

    Truth is that both nations have lost all the wars and we’re nothing but a bunch of sore losers peddling intolerance for no reason.Recommend

  • Irtaza Malik Awan
    Mar 25, 2017 - 12:00AM

    India has been mauled by everyone and everybody for centuries; Macedonians, Arabs, Afghans, Mughals, British, Chinese and even Pakistanis. India sense of ‘fear everyone’ is more genetic than anything else. It likes to flex its non-existant muscles but history is not at its side.

    Coming to today, India felt by having Obama at their Repiblic day parade was the ultimate ‘Muscle flexing.’ But it was short lived cause Obama and all his domestic and international policies are now destined for the history’s dustbin. With Trump’s arrival the U. S. ‘Pivot to Asia’ is dead. China is now the supreme power of Asia. Across Southeast, Central, South and West Asia Chinese red flag is now the ultimate force to reckon with. India will now be left with piles of U. S. Military’s unused toilet paper. So much for the Parrikar-Carter logistics agreement!Recommend

  • David Salmon
    Mar 25, 2017 - 2:14AM

    So India cannot defeat either China or Pakistan? Of course not.

    Nor can Pakistan or China defeat India.

    All those nuclear bombs ensure no one can win.

    War will leave a wasteland.Recommend

  • Shah
    Mar 25, 2017 - 2:29AM

    @Mian: Buy Burnol by Dr. Morepen available in Hindus-tan; Nowadays in short supply as demand is really going crazy; If you cannot afford it, I can arrange a couple of tubes for you to rub your burning hind; Recommend

  • Xi2
    Mar 25, 2017 - 3:14AM

    Every once in a while this make feel good article comes up in Pakistani media to give false sense of pride to Pakistanis. These days anything even a Chai Wala makes them feel good.Recommend

  • Tp
    Mar 25, 2017 - 1:58PM

    Proof of the pudding is in tasting.Recommend

  • Shabbir Badami
    Mar 27, 2017 - 3:57AM

    Stop to think war between Pakistan and India. Now the situation is different. Both countries are possessing automic weapons. It is in the interest of both counties to stop interference to each other’s matter and to go into the process of reconciliation. I would advice to make treaty of “No war” . This would bring both counties prosperous. Recommend

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