Bottomline | Too Much at Stake

India should not kowtow to China

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

The tent-pitching by Chinese troops near Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in Northern Ladakh on April 15 has achieved spectacular results for them. By shifting the Line of Actual Control (LAC) 19km inside Indian land without any resistance, China, at the strategic level, has placed India’s political leadership under enormous psychological pressure.

This is tantamount to breaking the adversary’s will to fight without firing a bullet, something China could not do in 1962. Just as Tibet is China’s ‘core concern’ where they will never tolerate outside interference, the border issue is India’s ‘core concern’, which unfortunately, has been trampled with. India’s appeasement will spur China to boldly unfold its grand strategy of encircling India, both from land and sea, in the years ahead.

At the operational level, the Chinese move has made Siachen glacier extremely vulnerable with a two-front war situation staring India in the face. With China showing disregard for the LAC on the eastern side of the Siachen glacier, and Pakistan treating the western side as no-man’s land, the stage is set to cut-off logistics supplies for 4,000 Indian soldiers on the glacier at the time of their choosing. It is no coincidence that Pakistan’s interpretation of the Line of Control beyond mutually agreed map point NJ 9842 runs eastwards and joins at the Karakoram Pass, just 30km north of where Chinese troops have pitched tents. In a broader sense, India’s claims over north Ladakh stand diluted, and Leh the capital of Ladakh is militarily threatened.

At the tactical level, the morale of Indian forces manning the LAC would plummet. What use is holding posts round the year at heights of 18,000feet and above if the higher leadership lacks determination to ensure sanctity of the LAC, is what the soldiers would ask themselves?

Given such grave consequences, A.K. Antony, the longest serving defence minister, has abdicated his responsibilities by saying that the situation is not India’s creation. To be sure, if India was militarily capable, China would not have acted so brazenly.

It is an open secret that both the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force are not prepared to take on the Chinese military challenge, let alone a two-front war. And, Antony is responsible for this. It was his duty to holistically assess the military challenge in Ladakh, give out political objectives for a likely confrontation there, ensure that the two defence services device joint operations for the theatre, and that they have necessary equipment and ammunition to face the twin challenge of China and Pakistan.

It did not need a genius to understand the developing ground realities. Since 2008, Chinese intrusions into Indian territories had increased manifold, with them giving open threats to local Indian authorities to dismantle or stop infrastructure building. Former chief of army staff, General V.K. Singh had said in 2011 that 3,500 to 4,000 Chinese soldiers were present in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a serious development which was denied by Beijing, down-played by Delhi, and ignored by the Army’s Northern Command in Jammu and Kashmir fixated on counter-insurgency operations. Then, in December 2010, by unilaterally shrinking the disputed border by half, from 4,056km as understood by India to a mere 2,000km, China made it known that it no longer had a border with India in Ladakh. And, as the LAC, by definition, is a military-held line which can be changed at will by the side with more gumption, Chinese troops have finally pitched tents near DBO.

What should India do? India does not have any military options. A tit-for-tat by Indian Army pitching own tents in Chinese territories, will embark Delhi upon the escalation path, which it will not be able to control. Forget about fighting a war, it is uncertain if China needs to even join a war with India. Its tested cyber capabilities since years against India, its anti-satellite capabilities which can destroy Indian military communication satellites and its plethora of accurate conventional ballistic missiles will overwhelm Indian military. The only honourable option for India is to stop kowtowing to China, despite accepting permanent Chinese presence near DBO. To start with, Delhi should review its decision of sending foreign minister Salman Khurshid to China. It must also revisit military-to-military relations and trade ties. Moreover, Delhi should reassess its military threats and equip defence forces over time. Accepting Chinese terms at this stage will embolden them and Pakistan further.


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