File photo of PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping | Graham Crouch/Bloomberg
File photo of PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping | Graham Crouch/Bloomberg
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India’s strategic managers face a difficult problem: both China and Pakistan use asymmetric means that are not easy to counter. Pakistan uses terrorism because it ties down India’s stronger conventional military forces. And China has mastered the art of salami-slicing territory that is equally difficult to thwart, not just for India, but for China’s other neighbours and even the US. With the surgical strike and the Balakot attack, India may have found an appropriate response to Pakistan’s asymmetric tactics. But China is a harder nut to crack. New Delhi needs to think of other ways to tackle it.

Asymmetric tactics are difficult to counter. India’s traditional counter has been defence, but this clearly did not work against either Pakistan or China. Of course, defence has to be part of the strategic mix, but by itself, it will not work. 

In dealing with terrorism, defences can never work perfectly every time. If the terrorists fail once, they can try again and again. As is well-known, the terrorist can afford to fail many times but only needs to succeed once, while the defence has to be successful every time.  India’s fight against terrorism is a standing testament to this: however much India tightened its defences, it could never stop the attacks.

Defences are also a poor solution to salami-slicing tactics, as we are witnessing along the Line of Actual Control. The problem is that each individual act is so small that it passes without challenge. It is always tempting to ignore such infractions and to excuse it as a reaction to a mistake that others made. After all, in the South China Sea, other countries had also occupied some portions of the islands and even built ramshackle huts on them. Now we know different, but it is of course too late. Salami-slicing tactics encourage second-guessing by the victims, which further undermine any response.

Another problem with countering such tactics is that it is difficult to defend everywhere, especially in inhospitable terrain or in the waters. But the end result is that China has now asserted control over much of the South China Sea and is repeating the same method in Ladakh. India should be familiar with this: the Chinese used the same method successfully in the run-up to the India-China war in 1962. In trying to defend ‘every inch of land’, India ended up in an unsustainable military position.


Also read: PM Modi’s silence on LAC stand-off is benefiting China. India must change its script


Tackling Pakistan

There are alternatives to a purely defensive response to asymmetric attacks. One can mimic such asymmetric strategies, paying China back in the same coin.  There is an agreeable symmetry to this, but agreeableness is, of course, less important than effectiveness. Doing this requires capacity and political willingness.

For example, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signalled a change on India’s Balochistan policy early on, which was seen as a tit-for-tat response to Pakistan’s terror strategy. But little appears to have actually been done, either because India lacks the intelligence and covert action capability to actually implement such a policy or the government simply lost its nerve. There is also the moral equivalence problem: can democratic India support groups that engage in such actions? India has supported such groups before but does it become problematic when India puts so much stress on international diplomatic action against terrorism?

Capability and political risk-acceptance become even more important if India wants to embark on its own salami-slicing tactics to counter China. Such tactics could quickly escalate: India’s forward policy in the run-up to the 1962 war was attempted without sufficient military capability to deal with escalation and we paid for it. Indian capabilities are far better today but the risks cannot be dismissed.

India may have found at least a partial answer to Pakistan’s asymmetric strategy of using terrorism: escalation. Both the surgical strike and the Balakot attack demonstrated that India had the political will to use its superior military capabilities. The debate about whether Indian bombs hit the target is irrelevant: Pakistan now has to factor the probability of an Indian escalation next time it plans a terror strike, something it did not appear overly concerned with before.


Also read: India has a bigger worry than LAC. China now expanding military footprint in Indian Ocean


Tackling China

The challenge is not over, of course. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent claims about a ‘false-flag’ operation by India and the foiling of a Pulwama-type terror attack a few days later may suggest that Pakistan will continue to use such tactics, which means that India will need to be prepared to escalate and punish again if another such attack takes place.

It is doubtful that such military escalation tactics will work in China’s case. But there are other ways to escalate that could work. New Delhi can signal that continued pressure on the border can have repercussions, such as strengthening Indian strategic partnerships with the US and others. India could also become more vocal about issues such as China’s roadbuilding in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, its role in the coronavirus pandemic, or its behaviour in Hong Kong. These have no intrinsic value to India, but to the extent that China values its narrative, they represent points of vulnerability that India can exploit.

Escalation is undesirable and would hurt both sides. China can surely respond in kind. But asymmetric tactics should not be tolerated either. The alternative to escalation is being repeatedly victimised, as India was for decades by Pakistan’s terrorism.

The author is a professor in International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Views are personal.

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57 Comments Share Your Views

57 COMMENTS

  1. Now, all countries supporting India and China ex-soilder accept that about 100 soilders of China died in galwaan valley. China thought during this Corona pandemic India will be weak and they will do what they want and Pakistan also supported him so that they can disrupt Jammu Kashmir but now their plan failed due to One man Army MODI .
    We all Indians love Modi. This is because he is in power till now and again he will be PM in 2024. Because opposition party unable to lollipop Hindus so, they trying on Muslims.. People mostly comments here against Modi, they are generally from Pakistan, they don’t know reality because their news channel didn’t show.

  2. I have something to say. It is not India Vs China. It is Modi Hindus Vs China. Modi government is anti Islam n other minorities. If you want a united strong India than Hindus only country, do away with the anti Islam policies. Than it will be a united India Vs China. Just ask the Russians, Chechens Muslims also joined Russian army, because it’s not about race it’s about unity in adversity.

  3. The current situation is nefarious plan of both China-Pak. Its a plan to annex Siachen Glacier from India or attack India b4 it occupy Pak occupied Kashmir or block CPEC. We need to play our cards well now. Even if we compromise with either China or Pak they wont stop. The salami slicing of China and unconventional war of Pak will continue against us.
    The best we can do is to hit china where it hurts her most. We should on board all nations which has dispute with china or make an anti-china conglomerate like NATO. Hit them economically first before you hit them militarily.

    We need a similar alliance with either Russia or US what Indira Gandhi did before attacking Pak in 1971. where any attack on India would be consider as an attack on Russia and vice-versa.
    We can teach lesson to either of these county in a SINGLE FRONT WAR only.

  4. Author clearly deluded about India’s handling of Pakistan. He must have been asleep when the Indian jets were brought down swiftly by Pakistan Air Force. Struggled to contain Pakistan and now is dreaming of taking on China.

    Work towards peace, there is no benefit in a conflict.

  5. India isnt man enough to fight china.That border with china and india would smell of estrogen on the india side.

    • as evident from latest developments. and once again the Sikh jawans are the sacrificial lambs. free Khalistan

      • Any interference by out side World powers in Recent standoff betweenIndia and China will negatively impact India’s situation. If Nato was unable to conquer Talibans, how come China. It will be India that will suffer badly. China’s did its home work, and is there for business. India is paying price for Modi’s policies against Minorities and Neigbouring countries.
        Modi’s Evil intentions to change demography of Kashmir will hert India beyond repair in case of War.

        • Your English “hert” me beyond repair you Paki coont. Waiting for the war to start, for the mushroom cloud to loom over Islam & China.

  6. India has right to save his territory he can not keep quite and sit helpless seeing that someone is awaiting it’s land this is not Nehru’s india but this is modi india and we are proud of that

  7. Where is trump India begging for USA help racist fker has his own problems with blacks never mind helping Hindus taking a good beating from China pak and China will get stronger India can cry its balls off

  8. Looks like China will attack India if reports of huge number of Chinese soldiers deaths are true. First they would try to put India to sleep by saying, we don’t want war , we will not start war , Hindi Chini brothers. This is what they are doing now. Later when we are assured that they wont attack us, they will attack with objective of taking whole of LADAKH.

  9. India should not hesitate to use sub kilotonne n weapons in first stage itself on Chinese formations.If we technologically cannot match will help us take the lead.

  10. Viking- where do you get your ideas on china vs India. My country, like every other country is still trying to recover from covid. China needs to be addressed and are very selfish. They steel technology and when it comes to technology, India is the global leader.

  11. Only an idiot can compare Pakistan with China………………Pakistan PAF is 1/3 of IAF yet IAF was embarrassed on Feb 27th last year, PLAAF is 3 times stronger than IAF and partners with PAF all the time…………..it would eat IAF in 72 hours !!!

  12. You cannot handle pakiatan which much smaller country compare to india how onearh even you thinking to counter china. Just live peacefully and acxept your labours.

    • Whats this living peacefully? Who told india is not successful on handling pakistan? Even China will find it very difficult to adjust to the realities of pakistan terrorism when they start operating CPEC

  13. When India is unable to handle even a tiny country like Nepal, taking on China is a big ask. The truth is that India has had pusillanimous governments for the past 70 years and the present one is no different. Except for the governments of PVNR and ABV no Indian government has shown boldness in any sphere be it economics, diplomacy, politics or military matters. The truth is that India has nothing to offer it’s own citizens leave alone those in the neighborhood. Constantly seeking protection instead of boldly seeking new avenues, India doesn’t really count for much. Hence it fails to sell it’s story even in an environment where China is losing so much trust and goodwill.

  14. A gas bag! Do we have fighter jets, do we have tanks and artillery in position? What do you “escatate” the response with – – 56 inch chest?

  15. China can cripple Indian economy in no time
    The BJP chest thumping is possible only with Indian Muslims and Dalits
    Don’t mess with China
    India today lacks visionaries
    God bless India

  16. But this approach of foreign policy of India towards China doesn’t work in the interest of India rather it will help USA. One reason among many is huge economic gap between the two. Second India has virtually no industrialization of any worth. So any such move will hurt India rather than China. In my opinion, India should increase economic ties with China in non-consumer goods of high standard and herself start producing consumer goods of common use having less technical in nature and increase its GDP by initially catering domestic users. This economic approach will create huge economic liability for China to ignore India’s concern. What matters is focus on mass productions of goods cheaply so that candle or torch could not be imported at the cost of foreign exchange. This also lower your prestige as a industrialised nation who could not produce even a cheaper consumer goods. Even at higher technology end we have not shown our capabilities as world class with exception of space science and medicine. So India can control or balance action of China by more economic ties at high end.
    Adv. Shakil Akhtar
    Supreme Court of India
    9717214471

    • I do not concur with you in entirity. Still wait, you would be seeing the de-coupling of India from China. The whole of Europe, Canada, UK, US are speaking of decoupling from China, and India is of no special case in the given scenarios. See the rant against China in UN resolution taken in security council, statements of ASEAN countries against China in the recent virtual summit. The change of charter of Japanese constitution from self -defence force to a potent and strong regional power by inducting cutting edge weapons platform. And rise of quad in exponential pace with these background. China has invited its own nemesis by its brinkmanship and dangerous assertive actions undertaken at the cost of other nations territorial cost. China would be paid back in its own coins. The question is when and how ? The most terrifying effect would be forclosed in a year or two when most of big manufacturing corporate bigwigs would be in the middle of shifting their manufacturing bases from China and China would increasing find tarriff and non-tariff barriers in deep pocket Asian, European and American countries. Wait and see a gang up of undeclared economic isolation engulfing China. Those days are not far away and India and Japan would take this lead in Asia.

  17. If India and China can solve the border problem,it will be a win win situation, like Canada and the US. Remember the two oldest civilization lived side by side for thousand of year without going to war. China and India are basically peaceful country, in all their history they never really invaded and occupied any foreign country.

    • US does not claim any part of Canada but after abolition of Article 370 Aksai Chin is now an integral part of the Union of India and India’s Home Minister has promised in parliament to wrest it back from China. To live like US and Canada , India would have to revert the Constitutional amendment regarding abolition of Article 370 and renounce its claim to Aksai Chin . However there is no reason to believe that the Home Minister was not truthful when he promised to wrest Aksai Chin from China. This is clearly the declaration of intent to go to war to take back the territory illegally occupied by China whenever it is possible. Thus even if India and China are not at war the intent to wrest back illegally occupied territory has been stated in parliament.If the intent is there, then only circumstances are preventing direct conflict but circumstances can change anytime.

  18. Who is the delusional nut job writing this article? Why not focus on de-escalation and developing friendly relations with neighbours? Why is China even “the enemy”? India and China are 2 ancient civilizations and there is lot for India to learn from China rather than playing guard dog for US interests by being cannon fodder. Fact that people like Rajesh Rajagopalan become professors speaks more about Indian academia, not just academically but also ethically.

    • Let’s ease off the ad hominem, pal. Perhaps you weren’t around during the geopolitical tussles around the South China Sea, but you must definitely know how anyone who has disagreed with China about the handling of the pandemic have received payback. The barley duty on Australia and the cross border excursions into India (and using Nepal against us successfully). If you don’t respond to these violations, they become the new normal.

      • Recent dispute with China will show India’s weakness in terms of military might and geopolitical prowess. That does not mean that India is not a great nation.
        It is time for India to sit and finalize border with China just like Pakistan did in 1962 to finish this issue once and for all. It didnt become the new normal.
        There is no shame in negotiating peace.
        This is the best for this region’s stability and pave way for solution for the disputes between India and Pakistan too.
        It is not terrorism or border conflicts, it is the lack of confidence and trust, which is moulded into motivating people against people.
        Does indian, chinese pakistanis dont bleed the same red blood, does they not have parents, wife, children who when they die are left to mourn behind. An army colonel from indian side died today in Ladakh, was he only a soldier, didnt he have a family.. I am a Pakistani, does it makes me happy if someones dies, bombed, killed, mutilated in india or pakistan… Are we animals?
        Please solve disputes for the poor people who are dying of malnutrition, injustice, religious persecution.
        China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
        Sheer human resource power and talent
        Just imagine the emerging superpower block if peace happens
        War leads to more wars and nothing
        Prejudice and judgemental tendencies leads to articles like this, promoting perpetual war plans, where war solutions are promlugated as only option instead of solutions leading to peace. Please please sit and talk with China, there is no way other than talks
        FOR PEACE

        • Right, we should all want peace and harmony, but if you view geopolitics objectively as a science devoid of emotion, there are some concepts that have percolated over years of learning from history.
          To quote from this article, “Asymmetric tactics are difficult to counter. India’s traditional counter has been defence, but this clearly did not work against either Pakistan or China. Of course, defence has to be part of the strategic mix, but by itself, it will not work.” At the end of the day, this is not even opinion but a historical fact. Just like how a high school bully will keep taking your lunch unless you said no, these attacks and unfortunate loss of lives will keep happening unless there’s a proper response. It’s also important to understand who the aggressor is in these scenarios, and if they are giving peace a chance.

        • I appreciate you views upto an extent but remember you Pakistani people has never been given a chance to understand and realise the truths and real history. It has always been moulded to parrot half truths that convenience and suit the ruling class and now the armed forces of Pakistan. Suppose , we the Indians want to conquer Pakistan with the dream of Akand Bharat as dreamed by our early rulers, as narrated by A to Z of speakers in Pak talk shows . But at the same time take it with pinch of practicality, after invasion, what will we do with the whole bunch of Jihadis, mollahs and rabid religious centric population, devoid of any education and technical knowledge ? Throw them in Arabian sea ? That is not possible, so our military planners in wildest of dreams would shrink to think of annexing Pakistan with India. We cannot bear that trouble. Those slogans are only for whipping hysteria among uneducated Pakistanis . The more practical way is foist everlasting friendship with Pakistan. But it appears impossible, as a vested community and class in Pakistan would never allow that as it is their roti- rozi to prosper at the cost of perrinieal enimity of the two nation. Therefore the dream of peace between two nation would never become a reality, unless Pakistan strive hard to become a new nation with secular outlook, new education system , cultivation of scientific culture in place jehadi culture and complete subordination of religious leaders by state with strong arm policy and not to mention progressive birth control measures.

  19. Before escalating on the ground front India would have to escalate on the GDP front. Currently the nominal GDP of India is about $ 3 trillion and that of China is about $13 trillion (PPP GDP is about$10 trillion and $25 trillion respectively). Supposing we have a V shaped recovery and India instead of a contraction has net growth of GDP of 8% for every year of the Modi government till ,say Modi Ji is 80 years old, then by the rule of 72 India’s GDP would be just about $ 6 trillion (8X9=72). By the time Modi Ji would be 90 years old(hopefully still Prime Minister) the GDP would have again doubled to$12 trillion i.e. $1 trillion less than China’s current GDP. Of course if China makes a huge effort and manages to grow as fast as India then its GDP too would have doubled twice to $52 trillion.For those who are not aware of the rule of 72 , it simply means that divide 72 by the annual rate of growth to get the number of years in which the thing whose growth is being measured will double.According to Graham Allison GDP “.. provides the substructure of national power.”.

  20. Well,escalation is the only way out of Chinese trap, but with preparation of 1971 and Alliance with US before hand, to end this yearly faracas

  21. The debate about whether Indian bombs hit their targets is irrelevant … Not true. The true facts should be out in the public domain. No fudge. Friend and foe would have analysed the Balakot strikes and their aftermath to get a better sense of Indian capabilities. The same goes for the intrusions in Ladakh, denied for as long as possible, with false stories being planted. When the column hints at a more muscular response to China, it should be anchored in realism. Observe the mellow tones of Gaurav Sawant and Rahul Kanwal.

  22. Comment:I think writer is halluncinatiing and dipped in paranoia remaking about Islamic country Pakistan@shame on U our country is too large and can not handle even pakistan@at which mouth u named surgical strikes and balakot?do u remeber 27feb

      • Vietnam did nothing to China! That’s what Vietnam did to China! They were friends before 1979, they were friends when they fought the border skirmishes in 1979 that you have mentined, and they would be friends for long time to come! China helped Vietnam to first fight the colonial French rulers, and then the Americans. THEY ARE THE SAME PEOPLE, OF CHINESE ORIGIN!

      • Don’t have to look to Vietnam. India needs to look only at what itself did to China in 1967. But for that one needs boldness and vision which the current government lacks.

  23. India is very weak against China-Pakistan alliance. Pakistan and China have very good militany and can do a lot of damage to india

  24. Hahaha….All Indies can do is to whine. They can not even whine too loud or will get their behind kicked like its 1962 again.

  25. Nope we should not escalate issues with China. Chinese companies should come here and produce Make in India. We’ll get technology and our labour will be skilled.
    We should work on getting much technological knowledge from China as soon as possible.

  26. Wasn’t india humilated with the so called surgicial strikes? When a country 1/8 our size shot down our 2 planes, captured our pilot and made fun of us, while we shot down our own helicopter? Why do we live in a fantasy? We can’t even handle Pakistan what makes you think we can even dream of taking on china? Just facts

    • Could not agree more with you harsh patel. You exactly said the same I wanted to say. My suggestion to India is to not do the same mistake against China as you did against Pakistan. Not sure it will stop after shooting of 2 planes and I am not sure whether you will get any of your captured pilot alive this time…… In other words do not expect any tea from China… Better to make a Bollywood film instead…

  27. In school text books on geography, we were taught that Himalayas were a protective barrier for India. Now we know, Himalayas are a liability for India. While it is a plateau on chinese side and borders are more easily accessible, for India, the borders are accessible only with mountaineering or aerobatics. Time has come to fire a couple of shots across the border, kill a few Chinese to quiten the PLA. Incidentally, PLA is the army of CCP, not of China.

  28. This lacks intellectual depth. Do you mean that they’re is O ONE in the GOI who is capable of this simplistic “analysis.” Detail it out for more possibility.

  29. Why is there so little support for India from the world’s media when the entire world is angry with China ? What can be done to turn this into bad publicity for China ?

    • our biggest enemy is not out side India, it is inside India. its people who doubts its elected government, its armed forces and its capabilities. even after so much of evidence about balakot and surgical strikes, it is Indians who dont believe it and asking for proof. they have not doubt when so called arm chair analyst announce china has this much troops, artillary blah blah, but thinks India cannot do anything. we wont progress unless this mindset changes. at least, when enemy knocks at the door, we should have one voice whatever be our political difference…

      • Here are India’s capabilities
        2/3rd of India Live in Poverty
        68.8% people live less than 200rs per day
        30% less than 125rs per day
        Please open your eyes, only peace is the way forward, not, boasting half cooked stories about india being the superpower doing surgical strikes…wakeup

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