Author: Saadut
•8:30 AM



Days after Chinese army incursions inside almost 18 kms of Ladakh border (Depsang valley), PLA (Peoples liberation army) had not only erected a fifth tent there and deployed Molosser dogs (for border patrols) but also hoisted banners ‘You are in China’. All this while India fluctuated from a sheepish political denial of incursions to outrages limited to studio whimpers. With the Chinese army presence followed by India’s weak reaction, China could only be bolstered to reinforce their presence inside this area. 

While Indian PM Manmohan Singh claimed “It is a localised problem. Talks are going on,” his Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde tried to downplay the incursions by claiming ‘The area was "no-man's land"’.  These statements sounded more of an excuse to hide their helplessness than portray any reality. Many Indian studio ‘experts’ have been claiming that ‘no reaction’ from India against Chinese incursions was a show of restraint, their ‘restraint’ claims hiding the indecisiveness against a powerful adversary and lack of conviction on India’s territorial claims in this region. While opposition political parties in India were firing all guns at the present government, such potshots are more aimed at gaining a political higher ground than by any conviction that India can react. Had the opposition (read BJP) been in power, they would have equally matched Congress in its hesitant fumbling against such Chinese border advances. Such procrastination on part of India is not only because China is a stronger force, both militarily and economically, but also because the border territory (especially in Ladakh) has a history of unresolved conflict between India and China. 
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Politically also Indian parties (and media) see no convenience in shouting against China, opportunities they often grab against Pakistan, playing the ‘anti terror’ and ‘Islamic Pakistan is our perennial enemy’ card to castigate its western neighbor. Had China also been a political entity like Pakistan (identified in history by India’s partition and viewed as its contra state) Indian political parties would have since whipped common passions on electoral ground against it (all for personal political goals).

On the face of it, the border between India and China in Ladakh is notional only and awaits resolution; border lines never having been agreed upon till date. Post Indian Independence, while maps issued by the ‘Survey Of India’ clearly demarcated Indian borders with Pakistan (both east and west), it left much of the northern and north western border with China as ‘undefined’ (depicted by a color representation). This ‘undefined boundary’ included the areas of disputed Jammu & Kashmir (China controlled Aksai Chin and India controlled Ladakh). Even while the boundary was never delineated, India unilaterally resorted to fixing and defining her borders in 1954. New maps issued by Indian authorities had drawn border lines across disputed border areas and all earlier maps were nullified by India.  Not only was this seen by China as a violation of its territorial claims, India also failed to resolve this issue diplomatically. The 1962 war and the gross miscalculations of India lead by VK Krishna Menon, not only handed India a crushing defeat at the hands of Chinese forces, it also left the border dispute unresolved. It is this unresolved border line that is now coming back to haunt India, and India’s wavering reaction to Chinese incursions are not only a military strength (weakness) realization but also an understanding that India’s own border claims here are weak.

India faltering in the present standoff also comes in the face of its diplomatic failures in the immediate neighborhood, where it had always been keen to play the ‘big brother’.  India has not only been losing influence (and diplomatic ground) in countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and lately Bangladesh, it has also been sliding in its relationship with Pakistan (always used as a punching bag by political compulsions within). Not only has India been seen as a bullying power in the subcontinent, it has also not been able to match that image with economic and military strengths of China. Regional might is always promoted and defined by economic prowess expanding over political constituencies, and even here China has been gaining ground. Economic (and military) size does matter, and it is this influence that China has been using to encircle India. The current per capita income of China is almost four times that of India.  While in 2013 China’s GDP stood at 8 trillion $, India was trying to reach 2 trillion $ (in 1992 Chinese GDP was 423 billion $ compared to India’s 293 billion $). Even in India’s immediate neighborhood of Myanmar, China has scored an early lead leaving India far behind. Not only did China become the no 1 investor in Myanmar (lapping more than 1/3 rd of its total foreign investment), it also gained access to developing the energy, hydroelectric, mining and infrastructure sector ahead of others. And the same case of Chinese economic influence scoring over India has happened with the ASEAN block, dwarfing the influence of India. Closer to India in Nepal, China is investing huge amounts on the Araniko highway connecting Kathmandu to Chinese border in addition to investing billions in Nepal on infrastructure, hydropower and communications. Nepal has now been virtually acting as a gateway for Chinese goods, flowing into India and adding to the already overwhelming ‘Made in China’ market here.

As it’s not only economically that China has been encircling India, even militarily it has been advancing its presence to the reluctant silence of India. Since the US and China economically lean on each other for production and consumption, China’s military maneuvers and partnerships in South Asia seem to be aimed at India only. China has been effective in developing infrastructure on its side bordering India with almost  30,000 kilometers of vital roads have been built. Such development ensures that China has the capability and can mobilize troops across the border within hours (more than 30 divisions of its army). And while the defence cooperation of China and Pakistan over decades is no secret, Pakistan’s emergence as a nuclear nation on India’s border is itself a deterrent. For all the usual rhetoric hype of India targeting Pakistan, practically India won’t easily commit to a military misadventure with Pakistan understanding very well that this could lead to mutual (nuclear) destruction only. Its anti Pakistan rhetoric mainly driven by seizing ‘political cry opportunities’, while Pakistan is busy dealing with the Afghan problem, tackling militancy at home (including Baluchistan where many Pakistanis blame India for stroking fires) and transiting through a political uncertainty. Clearly the Pakistan of today is not the Pakistan of 1971 and with China seeking direct access to the Arabian Sea (via the Gwadar port) they will want to ensure military stability here vis a vis India. As if Chinese military presence on the borders with India was not enough, they have also been making presence felt in the naval waters of India. Chinese nuclear submarines have known to be making frequent forays into the Indian Ocean, one submarine, not so long ago spotted as close as 90 kms from Indian land (the Andaman and Nicobar Islands). This way not only would the Chinese navy be testing the preparedness of Indian navy, they could also be preparing for a permanent presence around this region.

Even with its ever increasing defence budget, India’s military strategy seems devoid of any aim. While most of its rhetoric (and budgeted target) seems Pakistan, it conveniently ignores that a) any war with Pakistan could spin into a nuclear conflict and b) its military capabilities are nowhere close to its greater adversary, China. In a typical Kargil like operation, China is more likely to succeed with India, than Pakistan. Even in a conventional operation with Pakistan (keeping the nuclear option off), India is likely to be drawn into a longer low intensity war, with militant tribesmen (who have been till now viewing the political establishment in Pakistan as their enemy) and the other fractions of Taliban (who would be free from Afghanistan post US withdrawal), finding common cause against India in this war. Militarily no solution to conflicts was ever achieved, and India needs to keep this in mind. 

Add to this the diplomatic reclusiveness India has pushed itself in the region by its neighborhood bullying tactics. India should understand that the regional balance has changed drastically since 1971 & 1962, and ignoring unresolved territorial conflicts will only extend this confrontation. India’s reluctance to resolve the border dispute with China and the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan (and Kashmiris) is only pushing peace and its regional recognition away. For now China and India have withdrawn their troops from the Despang area in Ladakh, moving back to earlier held positions. But while India earlier claimed that China had intruded 19kms into Indian territory, why did it withdraw its forces from the ‘claimed’ area? Does Indian troop withdrawal happening in parallel to the Chinese withdrawal, not dilute its territorial claims here? This troop withdrawal would not mean that China has given up its territorial claims, but only that they extracted a similar withdrawal form India and pushed India to dismantle bunkers Indian army had built here, forcing acceptance of this dispute. 

Political jingoism is good for vote banks in India, but such jingoism will not provide stability with neighbors. Firing studio missiles in hollow rhetoric cases every evening to audiences, who have been for long made to believe that India can militarily tackle all these issues, wont resolve them. India needs to come out of its shell, shun its denial and face the reality of these disputes. 

Accept the reality, resolve and stay in peace. 

 

 

 

Srinagar

 

 

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