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#3036, 4 January 2010
 
Future Conflict Scenarios
Gurmeet Kanwal
Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi
e-mail: gurmeetkanwal@gmail.com
 

Though the year 2009 witnessed marginal improvement in India’s external security environment, internal security continued to deteriorate in view of the heightened activities of the Maoist-Naxalite terrorists. The unstable regional security environment, unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan and continuing internal security challenges pose serious national security threats to India.

China: Contours of a Conflict over Territory

Future conventional conflicts on the Indian Sub-continent will flow out of unresolved territorial and boundary disputes in Jammu and Kashmir and along the unsettled border with China. While the probability of a conflict with China is low, patrol face-offs in no man’s land are common and these could result in armed clashes leading to another border conflict. Such a conflict is likely to be limited in area and the application of force levels. Though the conflict is likely to be predominantly a land battle, air power will need to be employed extensively, including attack helicopters and armed helicopters.

Extensive use will be made of artillery firepower from 155mm howitzers and long range rocket launchers. The Chinese may resort to the employment of conventionally-armed short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) against Indian forces, communications centres, logistics installations and choke points. Though a conflict at sea is highly unlikely in the 2020-25 time frame, the PLA Navy may be expected to begin operating in the northern Indian Ocean region by about 2015, ostensibly to safeguard China’s sea lanes for oil, gas and trade. Consequently, Indian Navy ships are likely to be shadowed by PLA submarines and occasionally even by surface ships particularly during naval exercises.

Pakistan: Another War over Kashmir?

It is now emerging clearly that the Pakistan army is unlikely to allow the new civilian dispensation to govern unfettered. Hence, hostility towards India will remain a key objective of Pakistan’s security policies. The present cease-fire along the LoC will hold only as long as it suits the Pakistan army’s interests. The Pakistan army and ISI will continue to encourage, aid and abet infiltration across the LoC. The most likely conflict scenario is that of another Kargil-type misadventure. This time it may be executed with help from LeT, JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen sleeper cells by occupying terrain features in remote areas like Hill Kaka and the Shamsabari range north of Bandipur. They may declare these as liberated zones. However, large-scale conflict is unlikely as India will once again exercise restraint. Ground and air delivered firepower will be extensively employed. India may choose to strike across the LoC at carefully selected targets with its air force.

Fighting on the LoC is likely to be limited in scope. Rear area security will be a major issue and will require large numbers of para-military personnel as terrorists will disrupt the move of army convoys and supplies. The probability of the conflict spilling over to the plains sector is extremely limited. In the maritime domain, the Pakistan navy will adopt a defensive posture. However, the Pakistan navy will lose no opportunity to encourage and even abet terrorist strikes on Indian assets such as oil and gas rigs and shipping. The Pakistan navy is likely to operate with a greater degree of confidence once Chinese PLA navy ships begin to use the Gwadar port as a naval base.

Internal Security Challenges

A low-grade insurgency will continue to fester in J&K despite serious government efforts at reconciliation. However, the situation in the north-eastern states will gradually improve due to socio-economic growth political maturity. The worst internal security challenge will come from the rising tide of Left Wing Extremism or Maoist/Naxalite terrorism as the state and central governments continue to waver in their approach. The Maoists will challenge the state by bringing small towns in the tribal belt under their political and security control. At this stage, the army will be called in to stem the rot even though it neither has the numbers nor the wherewithal to intervene effectively over thousands of square kilometers of jungle-covered terrain. Countries inimical to India will exploit the situation by providing arms, ammunition, equipment and financial support to the Maoists.

Urban Terrorism: The New Scourge

Home-grown Indian Jihadis are increasingly joining the pan-Islamic ‘movement’. Groups like the Indian Mujahideen will become more sophisticated in their attacks. They will more difficult to apprehend as they will form cellular structures in which no terrorist will know more than two other people. Terrorists with software expertise may launch cyber attacks on computer-controlled communications, transportation, power and commercial networks to cripple the Indian economy. Maritime and chemical and biological terrorism will increase considerably. While the probability of nuclear terrorism is low, radiological dispersal devices (RDDs) may be used to spread panic and create hysteria. India will also need to enhance its vigil over its island territories as South-east Asian terrorist organizations will use these as secure bases.

All of these emerging threats will require far greater intelligence effort than has been the case so far and comprehensive inter-ministerial, inter-departmental, inter-agency and inter-security forces coordination to defeat successfully.

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