The term “two and a half front war” pertains to the Indian armed forces preparing to simultaneously fight conventional wars to the North and West, while also battling any insurgency that might be ongoing at that time in the hinterland. The late Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat was the first person to coin the phrase. He talked about facing Pakistan and China on two fronts while having to battle internal enemies masquerading as imminent intellectuals.
General Rawat offered an example of how the ‘0.5 front’ was being developed: “Pakistan is spreading disinformation among the youth of Kashmir with doctored videos and messages. This is further supported by some of the people in the Valley who spread it and glamorise the young boys who have joined terrorist organisations.”
According to a report by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a two and a half front war is “the worst case scenario which the military could be faced with, and would come about only if there is a total breakdown of political, diplomatic, economic and other efforts (including international) to resolve the situation, considering that it is not in any nation’s interest in today’s connected age to choose to go to war”. It also points towards a “breakdown of various administrative and other processes in the concerned state/states of the union, consequent to which insurgency has taken root therein”.
Nature of the Threat
Since the sixties, the prospect of the dragon intervening to bail out Pakistan has been a constant factor in India’s war planning. In the 1965 War, the Indian Army moved its Mountain Divisions to the Lahore front only after it was convinced the remaining forces could undertake a holding operation if the Chinese opened a second front. Again, in the 1971 War, the Indian Army waited until the Himalayan passes were snowed under – effectively blocking out the PLA – before launching its blitzkrieg into Pakistan
Writing in the backdrop of the Indian victory in the 1971 War, K. Subrahmanyam, the doyen of Indian strategic analysts, stated: “India will have to develop and keep at readiness adequate forces to deter China and Pakistan from launching an attack either jointly or individually and in case deterrence fails to repel aggression effectively… faced with the possibility of two adversaries, our aim must be to hold one and reach a quick military decision with the other. It is obvious that the latter can only be Pakistan. Consequently, our force requirements must be planned to achieve this aim.
After India went nuclear, Subrahmanyam wrote that “the international situation has radically changed with the end of the Cold War” and that “most strategic opinions today discount the possibility of a war among major powers with nuclear weapons”. Therefore, he argued, the choice of the term ‘two-front war’ was inappropriate. His view was: “In such circumstances, what should be planned for is exercise of deterrence and dissuasion in each case using the most modern technology available.”
General Sidney Giffin of the US Air Force, who in 1965 wargamed a joint China-Pakistan attack on India, concluded that China’s constant gambit is to “shift the military balance so as to assure Indian inability to crush Pakistan”. India must expose the fallacy of this calculus. India’s objective, in case of a collusive attack, should be to take away this prized Chinese pawn by using the opportunity to finish the Pakistan problem once and for all.
India’s primary goal if confronted by a collusive attack should be to destroy Pakistan as a viable entity and hold China to a draw through an offensive-defence strategy. No matter what the outcome of the war, Pakistan should never ever have the capacity to conduct war against India. Minus its vassal, China’s ability to target India would also diminish considerably.
The 0.5 Front
Given the significant costs of engaging India in combat, and the growing range of indirect and non-military tools at their disposal, both Pakistan and China are seeking ways to achieve relative gains without triggering escalation. From fake news and online troll farms to terrorist financing and paramilitary provocations, these approaches often lie in the contested arena somewhere between routine statecraft and open warfare – the “grey zone”.
According to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, “The grey zone phenomenon is also referred to as hybrid threats, sharp power, political warfare, malign influence, irregular warfare, and modern deterrence. Although it reflects an age-old approach, it is newly broad in its application. Today, the toolkit for coercion below the level of direct warfare includes information operations, political coercion, economic coercion, cyber operations, proxy support, and provocation by state-controlled Forces.”
Peter Layton of the Lowy Institute writes that grey zone actions don’t just happen. “China, for example, has implemented a well orchestrated campaign approved and controlled by the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army. Grey zone actions are not those of tactical commanders freelancing. They are purposefully constructed to side-step military escalation – crafted as a form of carefully scripted brinkmanship.”
Layton identified China as the “largest country undertaking grey zone actions”. Whether in the South China Sea, the East China Sea or on its border with India, China has employed innovative and imaginative grey zone tactics in its quest for a persistent strategic advantage over others, he writes.
Pakistan has learned well from its evil guru. Pakistani author and columnist F.S. Aijazuddin reveals that in the early 1960s Chinese Premier Zhou-Enlai had travelled to Pakistan and suggested to President Ayub Khan that Islamabad should prepare for a prolonged conflict with India instead of short-term wars, and raise a militia force to act behind Indian lines. Heeding China’s advice, the Pakistanis went on to create terrorist groups like the Lashkar to wage an undeclared war against India. Today, the fingerprints of Pakistan’s secret service ISI are found at every terror attack in India.
An American author once wrote: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.”
“Today, the toolkit for coercion below the level of direct warfare includes information operations, political coercion, economic coercion, cyber operations, proxy support, and provocation by state-controlled Forces”
Modern India has two choices. It can stumble and plodder towards chaos, with numerous enemies such as communists, Maoists, radical Islamists, fundamentalist Christians, seculars, liberals and urban Naxals working tirelessly to pull it down. These traitors were leading the nationwide riots against the Citizenship Amendment Bill; they backed the radicalised criminals setting up Shaheen Baghs on public roads; they are the ones secretly working for China, Pakistan and other powers.
Senior journalist Pushpendra Kulshrestha has narrated a chilling incident about the 1965 War. An entire Indian Army division that was heading towards the western border was stopped in its tracks while passing through Uttar Pradesh because some radicalised Muslims had dug up the highway. The identity of these traitors was known to the authorities as these saboteurs lived and worked alongside the highway, but in the name of secularism they were not prosecuted.
It is time to drop this soft approach. India must accept the truth that the country’ self-interests and security are above all else. Eliminating internal enemies should be a primary task. This will involve tracking down suspected treasonable individuals and groups, infiltrating and manipulating them. This strategy is especially necessary against the urban Naxals who have grown deep roots in India’s colleges and universities and are poisoning young minds against the nation and its values. Indian journalists in the pay of foreign intelligence agencies can be easily ferreted out using technology and humint – human intelligence or spies.
More dangerous individuals – such as terrorists and those who encouraged, trained and supported them in any way – should be eliminated by extra-judicial means.
Break From The Past
Despite the prevalence of the secular shadow, there has been a sea change in the way the Indian armed forces have started dealing with hybrid war. Talking about the terrorists infiltrating the borders, the late CDS had famously remarked, “Infiltrations will continue to occur. The terrorists across the border are ready and so are we. They will cross but we are here receiving them. After receiving them, we will continue to bury them 2.5 feet deep into the ground.”
It was under General Rawat’s tenure that the Indian Army conducted a surgical strike across Pakistan, destroying hundreds of terrorist launch pads. Earlier, he had planned the surgical strike over Myanmar where NSCN-K terrorists were killed, while the Indian forces did not suffer any casualty.
In 2017, India awarded a medal to an army officer who had tied a civilian protestor to the front of his jeep to save the lives of his jawans from a lynch mob of angry stone-pelters in Kashmir. General Rawat defended the move, describing the officer’s actions as an “innovation” in a “dirty war”.
“People are throwing stones at us; people are throwing petrol bombs at us. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your body home with honour. Is it what I am supposed to tell them as chief? I have to maintain the morale of my troops who are operating there,” he said.
General Rawat’s leadership of the successful 2015 cross-border military operation in Myanmar to flush out Naga militants also remained one of the high points of his career. In a way, it was a sign of his later advocacy of the dogged pursuit of militants across the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This was evident in how he was part of the core team monitoring and strategising the surgical strikes across the LoC in 2016 and 2019, better known as the Uri and Balakot strikes, respectively.
Referring to the enemy’s grey zone warfare, General Rawat said, “This is a proxy war and proxy war is a dirty war. It is played in a dirty way. The rules of engagement are there when the adversary comes face to face and fights with you. It is a dirty war….That is where innovation comes in. You fight a dirty war with innovations.”
–The writer is a globally cited defence analyst. His work has been published by leading think tanks, and quoted extensively in books on diplomacy, counter terrorism, warfare and economic development. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda