Skirmishes on the India-China border have been de rigueur for more than five decades, since the 1962 conflict between the two neighbours. Apparently not satisfied with the outcome of the 1962 war termination status and subsequent agreements, as also because of their inherent hegemonist and expansionist attitude, China continues its pinpricks across a rather long and extended boundary with India.
Although the towering Himalayan and Karakoram ranges, with their inhospitable terrain and extremely cold conditions in winters, are seemingly adequate to deter any army, the Chinese have a decided advantage on their side, ‘rolling downhill’ from a higher elevation. The added good fortune of having flat terrain leading up quite close to the mountain ranges which form the watershed demarcation has permitted China to build an enviable logistical network of roads, railway lines and communication systems which support an enhanced back-up supply chain, contributing to sustainability in these high altitude areas over prolonged periods. It will be understood that these facilities can provide a continuous supply of arms and ammunition with minimum difficulty.
The Chinese way
While the recent stand-off between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA may have initially been passed off as routine, the amassing of Chinese troops in the immediate vicinity should have caused concern and activated the bilateral channels of dialogue before they reached a ‘bloody’ level. The killing of a Commanding Officer and twenty Indian Army soldiers has not gone down well, not only in military circles but in diplomatic and political domains and of course, very adversely, among the population.
Whether there was intelligence inadequacy, or it was an inaccurate assessment of intentions, only time and critical review will reveal. Be that as it may, the sanctity of Indian territory has been violated and this will take effort to overcome and convince the public that justice has prevailed and there is no dent to our sovereignty.
On ground what comes into sharp relevance and the people’s perceptions that need mention, are:
- Our China policy has seemingly not been given the importance that is due at the political and diplomatic levels.
- It also appears that the innumerable studies on China and the history and culture of the direction of China’s behavioural patterns have not been considered seriously, especially to include India in the context of their policy of expansionism or hegemony.
As a fallout of the above, it seems that the same apathy has permeated to the intelligence agencies, who constantly appear helpless because they are still struggling ‘behind the curve’.Strategic anticipation and assessment have not been a feature of those in governance.
Our missing links
A myopic attitude and approach to National Security has ensured that the military remains in a state of inadequacy or sub-optimal, leaving the men in uniform to ‘fight with what they have’.For some strange reason, amidst the bluster and braggadocio, it cannot be fathomed by the government that aspirations of becoming a global power or even a regional power do not flow from spreading soft power but rather through hard power projection.
Frankly, we have a long way to go and strangely, we have been making this same statement for the past 60 years. Such a direction can only come from the top and leadership must provide a strategy with foresight. For years our country’s thinkers have been clamouring for the creation of a National Security Strategy which will form the basis from which all further direction and actions would emanate. In fact, a National Security Strategy would contribute towards the ‘attitude’ that this country must develop in its perception and addressing of National Security.
For years our country’s thinkers have been clamouring for the creation of a National Security Strategy which will form the basis from which all further direction and actions would emanate.
The sense of nationalism that comes from the teeming millions in India, is seen only in times of crisis. It does not exist otherwise because of the respect, or the lack of it, that is meted out to the Armed Forces of India. Creating a sense of nationalism starts from a desire to protect the sovereignty of the country and look up to those who do this 24×7, 365 days in the year. It develops from seeing the men in uniform well equipped and armed, which provides the confidence to the common man and endorses his trust and faith that the nation is in safe hands.
It develops from being given the opportunity to serve, whether by donning the uniform or by supporting an industry that will contribute towards national defence. Thus, there is reason to feel concerned at what the core (government) believes and understands, how it introspects and interprets as to where the problem really lies, rather than point a finger at those who battle in icy heights with below-par weaponry and resources.
A lot has been written that China has instigated the military build-up and posed a threat to India as a diversion to the other problems they are beset with, like the Corona virus, agitation and civil unrest in Hong Kong, a deteriorating relationship with Taiwan, the US presence in the South China Sea and their brewing internal turmoil. Such a wide spectrum is enough to overwhelm any country, especially if escalation were to take place in any region.
What is certainly obvious is that China did not anticipate all these fronts would coalesce at around the same time, burdening them with issues ranging from the political to the strategic to domestic. Thus, a calculated guess would be that China is not in a position to exert its will and entire effort towards full-fledged military action against India in the face of stiff opposition, both military and diplomatic. So, further escalation is unlikely. However, this would not translate to a complete withdrawal of Chinese troops nor should it translate to India taking the soft option and withdrawing its own forces.
History tells us that China will not be in a hurry to pursue its expansionist policies and in fact bides its time in extending its reach. Given the opportunity, it will not hesitate to move its elements in a swift action, followed by the pumping in of Han Chinese population into the region to change the demographic status, enabling them to claim the area as their own.
The present push which has led to multiple military and diplomatic confrontations can be squarely attributed to one man, Xi Jinping, and his vision to make China the sole superpower by 2049, the centenary year of the creation of the People’s Republic of China. If Xi presses too far, his own existence is likely to become untenable and he will need to take a step back and reconcile.
The need of the hour
We must not be deceived by a pullback or de-escalation by the PLA along our northern borders. China’s apprehension for the security of the CPEC and its so-called ‘historical and geographical’ claim over Arunachal Pradesh cannot be wished away and must never be forgotten. China’s search for lebensraum will stretch far into the future.
What we have earned now is a little time which we must utilise in consolidating our assets and strategic planning. Though earlier confrontations and wars have offered such periods for consolidation and thought, we have squandered the opportunities. So, while military shortfalls do get addressed in the wake of such events, the bigger picture is never re-oriented.
The primary and most important facet of change should be our outlook. Let us shed the peace-loving and defensive mantle we have worn since independence. A determined and pro-active government approach to international relations, backed with hard power of a well-equipped military will raise the respect and value of India’s standing in the diplomatic and strategic domains.
China’s pressure along the entire length of its contiguity with India will remain unabated and they will continue their attempts to find footholds to encroach and expand their areas of control.
This approach and attitude can only come from the source of a National Security Strategy with a definitive step by step implementation down the chain. The flow must include the enhancement of the armed forces both in equipment and status. National Security must find a pride of place for the people to imbibe the culture of ascendency and infuse nationalism among the teeming millions.
China’s pressure along the entire length of its contiguity with India will remain unabated and they will continue their attempts to find footholds to encroach and expand their areas of control. Their attempt would be to get us to have our troops committed and permanently stationed at high altitude across a huge landscape. This situation will bleed the country economically, not to mention the attrition that normally accrues from protracted operations in these inhospitable areas. But it is time we reverse the roles. Some pro-active tactical thrusts and probes (with government blessings) must be infused as part of our strategy. But these are possible only when executed from a position of strength.
The Armed Forces must be suitably equipped and ready to raise the stakes. It is time also for the government to push for the infrastructure growth along the northern reaches which has been languishing for such a long time. But most importantly, it is for the government to understand and address the big picture with an outlook that is holistic and all-encompassing.