India has held a long term desire to be recognized as a great power with an overwhelming global strategic outlook. This is further aimed at enhancing its military, economic, and political influence in the region and becoming a regional hegemon. In this regard, India has been carrying out an extensive military modernization program intending to fight a two-front war. This is all because India considers both of its neighboring countries Pakistan and China as its adversaries that can militarily challenge India’s acceptability as a great power. To overcome this notion, in recent years, India has initiated various limited conflicts across LOC (Line of Control) and LAC (Line of Actual Control) with both Pakistan and China respectively. Nevertheless, the befitting response on both occasions has brutally exposed India’s incapacity to qualify as a regional power. The Pulwama-Balakot conflict of 2019 and the Ladakh-Galwan conflict of 2020 have turned out to be a diplomatic and military embarrassment for India. Furthermore, India’s aspiration to achieve the great power status while dominating the region would likely put the security of the region at a greater risk of war and conflict ultimately destabilizing the region.
The Pulwama-Balakot crisis between India and Pakistan started when on 14th February 2019 a convoy of India’s CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) was attacked by a young Kashmiri boy. This was a suicide attack that resulted in the killing of 44 personnel of CRPF. Soon after the attack, as part of its traditional blame game, India accused Pakistan for sponsoring the attack that too without any evidence. Even though Pakistan asked to provide any solid and undeniable evidence of its involvement, India created war hysteria against Pakistan. On February 26, 2020, India reportedly intruded into Pakistan’s air space with its fighter jets. This act was projected by India as a ‘surgical strike’ under the self-proclaimed notion of a ‘new normal’ in South Asia. The very next day, Pakistan responded befittingly by downing two fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and capturing a pilot alive. The evidence of which was acknowledged at the international level. Whereas, on the other hand, India’s both claims of killing 300 militants inside a training camp in Balakot and the downing of Pakistan’s F-16 jet remain questionable. Likewise, Pakistan’s commitment to conflict resolution in the region is also evident with its move of releasing the captured pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman on March 1, 2020, as a peace gesture. This turned out to be a huge embarrassment for India at both military and diplomatic levels. The whole episode in which India started to project its role as a regional hegemon with military supremacy faced a huge setback from Pakistan.
In the same vein, the Ladakh-Galwan crisis between India and China is also worth considering. The military standoff between the two countries started in early May 2020 in India’s occupied territory of Ladakh in the long-disputed Kashmir region. This conflict along the LAC has been regarded as the most dangerous clash between both countries since the war of 1962 in which India was humiliated by China. The recent crisis has its roots in India’s August 5, 2019 unilateral move to revoke the special constitutional status of disputed Kashmir region and dividing it into two separate territories i.e. Jammu and Ladakh. Since then, aspiring for regional domination, India has been increasing its military presence in the Ladakh region along with constructing a road infrastructure near China’s posts in the Aksai Chin region. These moves were perceived by China as a threat to its interest in the region and provoked it to take countermeasures. Consequently, China took over the territory in the Galwan valley across the LAC. The resultant hand to hand fighting between the troops led to 20 casualties of the Indian troops. It is quite embarrassing for India as it has faced such loss of personnel without a single bullet being fired by the Chinese troops during the standoff. Interestingly, now despite India’s desire for de-escalation due to humiliation, China doesn’t seem willing to completely withdraw its troops. China has been reportedly maintaining a presence of forty thousand troops in the region even after two months. Moreover, against the backdrop of this crisis with China, India has requested Russia to provide additional weaponry including jets and tanks along with early delivery of the S-400 missile system. Hence, the Ladakh standoff has also met a humiliating fate for India and turned out to be a huge setback at the military and diplomatic levels.
It is also worth mentioning here that a recent regional development may be damaging India’s strategic interests beyond the region as well. On July 15, 2020, China and Iran have finalized a 25 years comprehensive strategic partnership deal of US $400 billion. Apart from other projects, this includes the construction of a rail line from Chahbahar Port to Zahedan city along with the Afghanistan border, expected to be completed by March 2022.
In the longer term, the strategic cooperation would be extended to investments in infrastructure including; manufacturing industries, up-gradation of energy and transport sectors, refurbishments of ports, oil refineries, and provision of Iran’s oil and gas supplies to China. The project was initially signed between India and Iran back in May 2016, but now India has been replaced by China. This would likely further pave the way for China’s possibly larger role in the proposed Iranian Chabahar port.
Likewise, it can provide an opportunity for both Pakistan and China with the prospects of including Iran in their ongoing flagship project of CPEC. Furthermore, this deal has more significance against the backdrop of recent border clash between India and China in the Ladakh region.
Summarizing it all, India aspires to dominate the region while trying to expand its political, military, and economic muscles against Pakistan and China and aspired to fight a two-front war. It has carried out unilateral diplomatic and military moves to project its influence in the region and beyond. This has been evident from the recent conflicts with both of its neighboring countries. However, the resultant embarrassments which it had faced during conflicts with Pakistan and China have further exposed its military vulnerabilities.
The fact remains that regardless of the massive military modernization and maintaining a huge number of forces, it is the efficiency, professionalism, and appropriate response of the country during the crisis that will help it prevail. This is where India considerably lacks. Nonetheless, Pakistan and China both should continue playing their roles to ensure peace and stability in the region.
*The writer currently works as a Research Associate, at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan.