The answer to this question, at the outset, is a ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ It is ‘yes’ because Pakistan’s collapsing economy and disenchantment of people against the Imran Khan government might force Imran Khan to start a war to distract public attention. It is ‘no’ because it is subject to Chinese support. Should China get involved in a scuffle with the USA in the SCS, then the Pakistan Army would not allow Imran Khan to start a war. On its own, it would avoid, though, it would like to coincide it with the first anniversary of abrogation of Articles, 370 and 35 A by Indian Government.
There are visible signs of shape of things to come. Pakistan has conferred upon Kashmiri separatist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, highest civilian award, ‘Nishan-e -Pakistan.’ In India, it is considered as an attempt to boost the dying Pak-sponsored militancy in Kashmir. It is an invitation to further deterioration of Indo-Pak relationship to a point of ‘no return.’ Some analysts also believe that it could be a prelude to military confrontation with India, so as to draw public attention from his failure to deliver as Prime Minister.
As things stand in Pakistan today, hyping the Kashmir card is the only way for Inran Khan to politically survive. Kashmir has always been the ‘survival trump card’ of all Pakistani leaders, both military and non-military, and Imran Khan is just no exception.
Pakistan's economy is in a very bad shape. It’s external debt is mounting. Inflation is at its worst. Prices of consumer items of daily use are skyrocketing. Dollar is almost touching 165 Pakistani Rupees. Common man is crying and cursing the day Imran Khan’s party was elected to govern.
Almost all Pakistani analysts blame Imran Khan for this state of affairs. Even the Pakistan army which brought him to power, is having second thoughts and looking for an alternative. Mishandling of governance in Punjab is another issue raised by the powers that be. No wonder there is a broad discussion on ‘minus one’—implying anyone else as Prime Minister other than Imran Khan.
In this melee of all round failure and discredited performance, what are the options left with Imran Khan and Pakistan Army. There are only two options. First option is to hope for a miracle to boost the economy so as to lessen common man’s hardship, and this is next to impossible in the coming six months. Heavy expenditure on armed forces is taking its toll. It borrows from financial institutes and foreign countries to pay back the interest on external debt. Where is the money for development and growth?
The second alternative is to invoke an extreme sense of nationalism to make people forget their personal hardships and difficulties. The only way to do this is by heightening Indo-Pak tension. In doing so, not only ramp up militancy in Kashmir but also start a limited war in Nubra valley of Ladakh in close conjunction with China. The rider is ‘in conjunction’ with China.
The time is ripe now, as the first anniversary of abrogation of Articles 370 and 35 A is on August 5, 2020. Kashmir is not only a sentimental issue for Pakistanis but it is their staple diet. Somehow, on this, they can not come out of the abyss of 1947.
The stage is already set for such an eventuality. It was reported a fortnight back that some 20,000 troops of Pakistan had been sent to Gilgit-Baltistan. Now comes the news that J-17 Aircrafts have been moved to Skardu. It is already known that China had stationed some 10-12000 troops in Gilgit to secure the KK Highway to Gwadar (CPEC). There were also reports of 40 J-10 fighters of China being stationed at Skardu along with IL-78, which is a refuels fighters in the air.
The likely plan for joint military operations seems: While China would be holding Indian troops in Eastern Ladakh and wait for sufficient progress by Pakistan’s limited offensive. Phase one is already in place, where China is engaging Indian army in Eastern Ladakh. Phase-2 would be Pakistan offensive towards Nubra valley. Should It make rapid and worthwhile progress towards Siachen, China would then push for capture of DBO-Shyok valley and thus link up with Pakistan in the Nubra valley. This would be Phase-3 of the joint operation. This serves China’s purpose as it would make Gilgit-Baltistan secure for it — the gateway to Gwadar.
However, this offensive by Pakistan in the Nubra valley would be closely coordinated with enhanced terrorist activities in the Kashmir valley to tie down Indian forces and disallow any switching of forces. News reports coming from Pakistan suggest that Hafiz Saeed and Azhar Mashood have been quietly released from custody. They will be required not only to activate their cadres opposite Kashmir but in rest of India too.
There is a precursor to this joint operation. The aim of this precursor is to soften up India internally. To do so, China and Pakistan would employ their ‘invisible soldiers’ and ‘irregular Soldiers.’ To be very frank, the ‘invisible soldiers’ are not really invisible—their intentions are. Therefore, they are visibly ‘invisible.’ This is the bane of a democracy. Also, ‘irregular soldiers’ are not really regular: they are well organised, perfectly trained and adequately equipped to initiate an internal conflict.
As it is, China is known to support not only North East insurgent outfits of India but also Maoists/Naxalites in the hinterland. Besides terrorism in Lashmir, Pakistan is badly trying to revive militancy in Indian Punjab. Thus, one can see a spurt in Maoists/ULFA/NSCN and Kashmiri/Khalistani militants activities in the coming few weeks. It will be a prelude to likely offensive opposite Turtuk -Nubra valley or even opposite Kargil to cut off Ladakh plateau.
Along with military and militancy operations, China and Pakistan will also enhance their psychological operations by activating their ‘invisible soldiers’ in Indian politics and media. Some retired veterans also would join this campaign to undermine not only the government but also demoralise their armed forces. This is the biggest drawback of immature democracies like India, where poor and uneducated masses can be easily fooled, and Indian democracy is a big laboratory for infighting and betrayal.
Do not be shocked to know that ‘invisible soldiers’ of China and Pakistan are already waging a war with India from inside. One would be wrong if one thinks that terrorists and militants of J&K, Maoists/Naxalite or the insurgents of North East were referred to as ‘invisible Soldiers’ of Pakistan and China. They are actually ‘proxy soldiers.’ or ‘irregular soldiers.’ They have at least a pretence of a cause.
The ‘invisible soldiers’ masquerade as overground politicians, media men, defence analysts and university scholars as in Jawahar Lal National University (JNU) or Hyderabad Central University (HCU). Call them ‘fifth Columnists’ or the ‘Hors De Combat’, but they would attempt to make India hollow from inside. They are the ‘soul traders.’ for money. The ‘Tukde Tukde’ gang is one such dimension.
While China's Indian ‘soul traders’ are busy bleeding India internally, Pakistan is engaging India through her ‘irregular soldiers.’ The combination of ‘invisible soldiers” and ‘irregular soldiers’ make India’s security and defence of borders, a complicated issue. India must be ready to fight a ‘Four Front War’ i.e. two internally and two externally
As brought out earlier, as far as two internal wars are concerned, India is already fighting with ‘invisible soldiers’ and ‘irregular soldiers’ of India’s enemies. The first one is aimed at demoralising Indian public and security forces so as to weaken its will to fight.
The ‘soul traders’ of India are dishing out ‘dime a dozen’ falsehoods everyday on actual positions on the borders/LAC, and India’s sold-out print and electronic media, is churning out these stories with regular periodicity.
The ‘irregular soldiers’ of Pakistan have intensified the ‘proxy war’ in Kashmir valley. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, instead of condemning terrorist acts, calls such terrorists ‘martyrs.’ He had no qualms in calling Osama Bin Laden a ‘shaheed’ in Pakistan’s National Assembly. He went on to accuse India openly for the terrorist attack on June 30, 2020, on Pakistan's Stock exchange in Karachi.
To be very frank, the tell tale marks of the rapid handling of the Karachi incident indicate that it was probably orchestrated, organised and managed by ISI of Pakistan. It was done with the motive to discredit India and hide its nefarious designs in Kashmir, whereby it wants to intensify its ‘irregular war’ in India.
Therefore, one must not think that India was not at war. It is already fighting an ‘invisible war’ and ‘irregular war’ on its internal front, launched by China and Pakistan respectively. These are the preferred strategies of waging a war in the 21st Century.
This kind of a war is designed to implode one’s adversary from inside, without firing a bullet. They exploit internal vulnerabilities of the adversary in terms of political differences, regional, ethnic and religious chasms, as well as general disenchantment and frustration of the people due to economic imbalances. Noble causes, such as freedom of expression, liberty and democracy often mask the real intentions of ‘soul traders.’ In fact these tools of democracy have become the deadly weapons of ‘invisible wars.’
As far as a border war is concerned on the two external fronts, India would face a joint front war with China and Pakistan in Ladakh. The borders are heating up both with China and Pakistan. A small incident might spark a shooting war. Pakistan, as brought out earlier has mobilised some 20,000 troops in the Gilgit region, adjoining Ladakh, where China is already fully tuned up to initiate a ‘teach a lesson’ war on India .
Indications are that Ladakh might face a double pincer attack from the west and the east i. e. Gilgit-Balitastan from the Pakistan side and Aksai Chin -Depsang valley from the Chinese side. It is also assessed that the Sino-Pak combined offensive might have two pivots i.e. on the Pakistan side, Skardu might be the pivot in the West and Aksai Chin in the East.
China and Pakistan are poised to launch their offensive. Pakistan might provoke India so as to to make an excuse to start the war. Indications are available from the (alleged) ISI orchestrated attack on Karachi Stock exchange which is being blamed on India without any formal or informal investigations. Pakistani intents are suspect because it would like to fish in India’s troubled waters with China.
It is assessed if the external war of Sino-Pak combined effort has to take place, its phase One could be around 5 August 2020, or in the first or second week of September 2020. However it depends on the situation developing in the South China Sea. If China gets sucked in there, then Pakistan might not endeavour on its own.
The war may last two/three weeks, depending upon India’s resistance and a counter move. Beyond September 2020, the temperature would fall below Zero degree celsius and it would make an offensive blunted even before it was launched. High altitude terrain would further tell upon offensive forces.
Therefore if the balloon for external war has to go up it is at best before September 2020. Is India ready for a showdown? Your guess is as good as mine but Indian Army would not be found wanting in giving a bloody nose to aggressors, a slap on the face of “Indian soul traders.’
(Col Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into the 3 Bihar Regiment in June 1971 and was the Commanding Officer of same unit in insurgency environs in Assam in 1990-93. Has vast experience in CI Ops from North East to Punjab and J&K. A prolific writer-cum-critic on defence and security matters, he has authored the book, ‘Kashmir: A Different Perspective’. His second book on Assam was released in April 2018. Held prestigious appointments in the army including as an instructor at a premier army institute, Col GS, Col Adm of an Infantry Division and Col "Q" works at a Command HQ. He can be contacted on e-mail: email@example.com)