Chinese Whispers-April 2009
India must take its eastern front seriously
By Pravin Sawhney
Speaking recently in New Delhi, foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon said that “With China it is not a border dispute but a boundary dispute which is peaceful. We (India) have our perceptions and they (China) have their own perceptions on the boundary and incursions into each other’s territories. The important thing is whether or not there is a change in the pattern of incursions to suggest that China is trying to alter the status quo.” The foreign secretary is being less than truthful. Indian patrols stay well inside Indian territories, ranging from two to 20km from the McMahon Line. This is because India’s Patrolling Limit Policy (PLP) formulated in 1975 by the China Study Group under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s leadership has never been reviewed. Worse, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police force (ITBP) that forms the first line of defence on the LAC has instructions to not enter into any altercation with the PLA patrols (as large as 300 to 400 men) even when they move freely inside Indian territory. This had led to the DG, ITBP V.K. Joshi’s media outburst in May 2007 about increased PLA intrusions into India.

This is not all. Arunachal Pradesh Member of Parliament, Kiran Rijiju told FORCE (May 2008) that: “In 2005, when I first raised the issue of Chinese incursions in Arunachal Pradesh, the government simply dismissed my assertions. I raised the issue again in 2006 and the government flatly denied that any incursions have taken place.” Once it became impossible to dismiss PLA’s deep incursions, New Delhi took the line, as repeated by Menon that incursions happen from both sides. Considering that regular PLA incursions started in 2000 as a consequence of India’s 1998 nuclear test and the 1999 Kargil war (many PLA officers visited Pakistan during this time to help in operational logistics), the Vajpayee government did not fare any better.

It also publicly denied PLA territorial transgressions. India’s defence minister from 1998 to 2004, George Fernandes told FORCE (May 2008) that, “I do not think India has ever, including now, taken what China is doing or can do to our national security very seriously.” This is true, with an exception. Indira Gandhi was the only Prime Minister who understood that for any meaningful interaction with China, credible military muscle should back diplomacy. This is because the PLA remains an important component of Chinese highest decision-making bodies. For example, in the Sixties, Chinese foreign minister, Marshal Chen Yi said after China demonstrated its capability to make nuclear weapons: “Without the bomb, I cannot be firm at the negotiating tables.”
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