Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Strategic Security in South Asia

By Sagar Rijal
The strategic security context in South Asia is centered on India’s complex relationship with its two nuclear-powered neighbors, Pakistan and China. The long-simmering historical conundrum of Kashmir, which has provoked three major wars and a perpetual state of impasse between India-Pakistan, has for long been at the forefront of the regional security picture. However, the economic rise of China in the last three decades coupled with its growing security ambitions in the entire Asian region portends a major shift. The Sino-Indian challenge—given the two nations’ unsorted boundary issues and dueling strategic ambitions—has turned into the salient feature of South Asian transformation in the last twenty years. At a recent conference held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a panel of analysts presented their views on the these twin relationships, which have the potential to affect regional and global security in the 21st century.
Ashley J. Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment began with a startling argument: the general impression that India is weaker than China is wrong. Since its shocking defeat at the 1962 war against China, India had spent a great deal of resources to avoid another such failure, deploying “forward defense” in its long mountainous border regions with China. On the other hand, China had stationed only paramilitary troops near the difficult border terrain, while keeping the larger PLA forces farther back. Thus, Tellis argued that in the greater Tibetan frontier region India had maintained operational superiority since the 1970s.
However, in the last 20 years Chinese capacity has grown in all areas including the resources devoted the border areas but also extending to its capacity in the oceans and air. China has made huge investments in infrastructure in the Tibetan region so that now it is possible to transport large number of outside forces in case of necessity. The modernization of PLA forces as well as logistical systems of the Chinese military has closed that gap in the border regions. More dramatically, the PRC has made improvements and investments to modernize its Air Force and Navy. While traditionally, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy were well prepared and slightly superior, that gap has also been closed.
What has been the Indian response to the growing military modernization campaign of China? While India has made significant infrastructure and resource investments of its own, and forged tighter security arrangement with neighboring nations, in terms of matching Chinese capacity India is slowly falling behind. Tellis argued that, like with everything else concerning India, domestic politics and strategic myopia of its politicians are to blame.
The India–Pakistan conflict also suffers from malign domestic politics in both the countries. Jack Gill of the Near East and South Asia Center, offered further pessimism about any forward progress on that front. Gill argued that in the short term the Kashmir issue is going to be held hostage to the upcoming domestic elections in both Pakistan and then in India. So until after the mid-2014 he sees no further progress on that front.    
   ~Sagar Rijal, ABD, is spending the final semester of his graduate assistantship doing research for his dissertation in Washington, D.C. Every week he will attend meetings, seminars, or presentations at think tanks and develop a column for the Bulletin community.

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