The Indian military has been talking about a two-front war with neighbors Pakistan and China for decades to keep politicians focused on defense spending. Now that scenario is looking ever more realistic, with conflicts flaring on both its disputed borders.
Talks earlier this week between top Chinese and Indian army commanders in the Ladakh region ended without a major breakthrough, the second such attempt to cool things down since 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed on June 15 in their worst clash in four decades. Around the same time, weapons and explosives were recovered and two suspected terrorists were killed after a 15-hour gun battle some 660 kilometers (410 miles) away in south Kashmir, officials said.
India has fought four wars with China and Pakistan since it gained freedom from British rule in 1947, but it has never had to defend both borders at the same time. Indian military officials are growing concerned that China and Pakistan might gang up on New Delhi at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is faced with surging coronavirus infections.
“New Delhi is clearly under great pressure, whether from Covid-19, along the Line of Control in Kashmir, or from China,” said Ian Hall, professor of international relations at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and author of ‘Modi and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy.’ “We have seen relations with both Islamabad and Beijing worsen over the past few years, and the result is that both have decided to escalate things during the pandemic, when the Modi government is stretched and distracted.”
The Indian military is huge and contingencies are always kept in mind, said a senior security official who wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. But despite the planning, the need to commit resources to two fronts at the same time would stretch the armed forces.