Can India Fight a two Front War with China and Pakistan simultaneously?

Indian Army ParaSF's Hell March

“The Indian Army is completely ready for a two-and-a-half front war,” –General Bipin Rawat on June.

“The Indian Air Force is capable of effectively countering any threat from China while engaging in a two-front war also involving Pakistan.”- Air Chief Marshall B.S.Dhanoa.

The recent comments from our military heads have indeed made heads turn, mainly our ‘Friendly’ neighbours’.  The possibility of a two-front war has been discussed across various platforms in the past decade. The idea was put forward during Army Training Command Doctrine seminar in late December, 2009 by former COAS Gen. Deepak Kapoor. It is a hypothetical situation wherein India is engaged in war between China and Pakistan in two fronts-Western and Eastern.

Why a Two-Front war?

The political and economic connections of China and Pakistan have been very strong for more than 50 years. The two are engaged in large scale military and developmental projects and has gone the extra mile with establishing a China –Pakistan Corridor (CPEC) connecting major ports and cities across two nations.

India, since independence has engaged in multiple wars with both China and Pakistan and tensions haven’t subsided.  We went into war against China in 1962 and with Pakistan in 1947-48, 1965, 1971, and 1999. The wars started off due to border disputes and still remain unresolved.

China sees India as a potential threat to their self establishment as the leader in Indo-Pacific region, concerning both military and economic stature. This can be inferred from the development and military tie-ups that China is securing around the Indian peninsula, as a possible move to blanket Indian growth. For this growth China has befriended Pakistan as their major ally.

The diplomatic level ties with China have been stable and has never entered a verbal feud like what happens with Pakistan in UN. International community accepts Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism and only a few counter this fact, the biggest being China.

Both China and Pakistan have been engaged in cross border standoffs with India in recent past. While Pakistan gets befitting replies like surgical strike and heavy cross border firing, with China we have took a more diplomatic stand. The Doklam standoff which lasted a few months was successfully dealt with talks in both military and diplomatic levels. Recent controversies like China blocking India’s entry to NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) and refusal to allow Masood Azhar, founder of JeM( an UN designated terrorist group), to be labelled an international terrorist by UN.

China and Pakistan relations have grown exponentially in key areas like nuclear research for both civilian and military use. This comes as a deterrent to India’s no first-use policy. Military development projects like JF-17 fighter have reached a fruitful end.

Beyond military tie-ups, CPEC estimated at a $62bn USD will link Xingjiang province in China to the strategic, Gwadar port, west of Karachi. The CPEC comes as a boon to an already unstable Pakistan economy.

In recent times, both China and Pakistan have resorted to threatening military manoeuvres in high tension regions. China has deployed almost 12,000 soldiers to guard the CPEC against terrorist attacks. The presence of PLA soldiers can be seen increasing in strategic sites like Gwadar port, which is mainly under PLA security. It isn’t something that happened overnight. The military collusion between both nations has a history of more than 50 years. Actually, using the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, China fielded their army in Tibet trying to make situations worse. The aim was to keep the Indian forces at their toes so that Pakistan can have a better hand. PLA officers were even reported present at Skardu in PoK advising Pakistani military.  This ‘all-weather friendship’ as described by them paved the way for the idea of a Two-Front war scenario.

Can India handle a Two-Front war?

A question, that keeps the think-tanks busy. Before coming to a definite answer let us consider the following.

  1. Pakistan is already deprived of military equipments and local production is limited. USA recently stopped military aid to Pakistan on grounds of them supporting terrorism.
  2. Pakistan won’t be able to handle a full-fledged war as it will make a huge dent on their ailing economy. The country already suffers from global calls of terrorist sponsoring state. A war with India would only make a negative impact on the country’s economy and could remain that way for a long time.
  3. China is already facing tension in the South China Sea on sovereignty claims by multiple nations. A key player in the SCS region being Vietnam fashions a very good relationship with India. If reports are to be believed, Vietnam could be the third country operating the venerable BrahMos missile. It would be highly unlikely for China getting too serious in Eastern front, shifting complete attention from SCS.
  4. Chinese are de facto, ill-prepared to fight a war in one of the most toughest terrains. The high altitude front provides no advantage for Chinese fighters, notorious for poor performance in high altitude regions. Whereas Indian forces have strategically placed airbases along the front to effectively counter an offensive. The recent raising of the Mountain Corps aimed at Chinese incursions would be up and running in few years and would prove to be a deterrent against Chinese incursions.

A point to be considered is that during 1971 war, India signed the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with the erstwhile Soviet Union requires China to not enter into aiding Pakistan militarily during a possible war.

  1. India holds considerably significant diplomatic ties with Western nations who are equally wary of growing relations between China and Pakistan. In the event of a war, UN is sure to intervene quickly to keep the situation rising to level: Nuclear. Considering future war scenarios to be precise unlike wars taught in history, a full on offensive is highly unlikely. Indian forces would be able to strategically counter Pakistan using conventional and non-conventional tactics. Balochistan would prove to be valuable for India so as to make Pakistan fight another war in their western front with the aid of Afghan forces, if necessary.

Considering all this facts, Indian military would be able to hold the war for a limited period of time, provided proper logistical supports are maintained. Given the present military stature, we won’t be able to win the war, decisively. We cannot bring about a situation that we desire with the resources that we have in hand. It would be impossible to impose our will upon the adversaries.