Repeating The Himalayan Blunder
There were just fifteen students of the Ladakh Students Association who held a protest against the Chinese intrusion outside the Jammu University on April 23. At the Jantar Mantar in Delhi, a handful of Panther Party activists gathered to demonstrate against the Chinese bravado. This is a reflection of how much aware our politicians and people are of the threat perception that this incursion means. Till date, these were perhaps the only public protests against the Chinese expansionist exercise. A lot was debated in the TV talk shows by defence experts and strategists, which left none the wiser. How the Chinese troops set up a post inside 19 km of Indian territory, right under the noses of our security forces is a matter of serious concern. Were our troops just watching and waiting for orders from the higher-ups? What are they doing now to dismantle their fortifications? The Chinese maintain they have not crossed the Line of Actual Control, the Indians insist they have. The Chinese are now claiming areas which they didn’t 20 years ago.
The border maps do not have just one boundary, in fact there are five boundaries. The McMahon Line was prepared by and named after the first British Surveyor General of India, The Tibetan Boundary Map is according to documents left by the British army, The 1962 Indo-Chinese Dispute Line has been the bone of contention for years. In short, there are two lines, the Indian Claim Line and the Chinese Claim Line. The cockiness of the Chinese is just best seen by the episodes of the stapled visas. Even today they refuse that any intrusion has happened. They come to the areas they claim as theirs. Having built a formidable network of infrastructure on the border, it has modernised its military in the past decade, even as India has failed to streamline its defence procurement systems, and wallowed in defence scams. Even if the Indian political class contemplates taking tough measures of getting Chinese troops out of Indian territory, the fear that Indian Army will fail is enough to keep them glued to their seats.
Their bone of contention is the two airstrips at Daulat Beg Oldie and Chusul which were made operational by the IAF in recent years. After the incursion, the IAF had stopped operations, but these have now been resumed once again. Fifty years ago Nehru had remarked on Aksai Chin: “Not a blade of grass grows there.” That was the time when he and every Indian should have asked ourselves: “Then why do the Chinese want it? “ Then why do we protect Siachen Glacier at such high costs of men and material? Those who forget history are forced to repeat it. Fifty-one years after the 1962 India-China war, no solution to the border dispute is in sight. The Chinese have nevertheless consolidated their territorial gains, and still refuse to recognise India’s actual boundaries. The Indian political establishment has used the excuse of ‘the border issue being too complex’ for its failure. The boundary dispute with China is two pronged, the 38,000 sq km of Aksai Chin in eastern Ladakh, which was the cause of the 1962 bloody war, and the Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh.
The Army Chief met the PM and the Cabinet Committee on Security on May 1. He briefed them about the situation and gave them various options on the issue, including the aggressive use of military to handle the present situation. The Army had rushed its troops from the 5 Ladakh Scouts battalion to the DBO area and they are camping there. The force is also considering the option of dispatching additional troops if the need arises. Gen Singh had last week visited Jammu and Kashmir and the Ladakh area and discussed the situation with military commanders in the Northern Command. The three flag meetings have been futile. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that India does not want to “accentuate the situation” and that it is a “localised problem”. All the options suggested to the China Study Group are being looked at carefully and other stakeholders in the situation have also given their inputs.
The fact remains that the Chinese have insisted upon and managed to extract a concession from almost every visiting Indian PM about Tibet being a part of China. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his visit in 2003, confirmed that Tibet was a part of China. The territorial integrity of India is sacrosanct. It will be a great injustice to those soldiers who laid down their lives in 1962. The Indian Army swears by the doctrine, ‘Not an inch of Indian soil will be given to the enemy’. The Indian Army knows its job and how to do it. All it needs is an order, an order that will ensure that nobody will get away with even the slightest intrusion. China is faced with territorial challenges in the east with Japan and in the south with other neighbours from Vietnam to the Philippines. Watching China’s aggressive territorial moves in the east, India should have learnt one lesson. China will remain intractable in its territorial claims. It is willing to go to war with Japan or Vietnam and even India if need be.
This is not the first time China has intruded into Indian territory and it will not be the last. But there is an alarming pattern: China does not easily vacate the small strips of territory that it has occupied. But this cannot and should not be tolerated, because it continues to keep India off balance, something China is perfectly comfortable with. Besides, no matter what India’s China experts expound, this has serious implications for the border question and India’s territorial integrity.