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Indo-China border – The current situation

August 22, 2010 15 comments

China’s quiet but steady plans of increasing it’s military capabilities are not going unnoticed! Reports emanating from the Pentagon, early last week, have confirmed that it has successfully deployed long range CSS-5 missiles close to the Indian border while also having developed contingency plans to move airborne forces to the region at very short notice. Quite naturally, this is of serious concern to India, considering the long standing not-so-friendly relations that both countries have shared over the years, a culmination of which was witnessed in 1962 when Chinese aggression against India came at a very unexpected time, at the backdrop of the Indo-China cooperation effort that was supposed to spearhead the beginning of a warm bilateral relationship between both nations!

In an annual report to the US Congress, titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” officials from the US Department of Defence have stated that “Beijing remains concerned with persistent disputes along China’s shared border with India and the strategic ramifications of India’s rising economic, political, and military power” and in order “to improve regional deterrence, the PLA has replaced the older liquid-fuelled, nuclear capable CSS-3 intermediate-range ballistic missiles with more advanced and survivable solid-fuelled CSS-5 MRBMs and may be developing contingency plans to move airborne troops into the region.” The report also notes that China continues to invest heavily in “increasingly capable long-range air Defence systems, electronic warfare and computer network attack capabilities, advanced fighter aircraft, and counter-space systems.”

To understand the context of the report, especially the aforementioned contents of it, or rather to attempt to gain a clear understanding of the situation on the ground, one needs to revisit the occurrences of many instances of skirmishes initiated by the PLA against the Indian Army, while repeatedly claiming regions along the border as part of Chinese territory and systematically orchestrating such claims as legitimate, many such incidents having been reported during the course of the previous year! Therefore, mentions made by American officials about China’s concern and resultant up-scaled measures of deterrence along the Indo-China border can at best be termed as lopsided or unfounded in substance, considering, among other things, China’s continued posture of aggression and a refusal to engage in talks regarding territorial disputes!

Chinese aggression and repeated claims of Indian territory are not by any means recent, and have been happening well ahead of the 1962 engagement, both in overt and covert means! By remaining continually irreconcilable and averse to meaningful and constructive dialogue, this communist state has been nurturing a sense of hostility against India for a very long time now! Following the ascension to Presidency by Hu Jintao, China effectively began a new era of militarization and modernization of the PLA that at best can be described as transgressing the boundaries of China’s political and territorial interests! Apart from the Indo-China scenario, one can also draw instances from China’s actions with regards to Taiwan, where it continues to engage in a substantial military build-up, largely aimed at stifling any move by Taiwan to assert independence from the mainland!

It may be recalled that, not very long ago, China tried to block a $2.9 billion loan that India had sought from the Asian Development Bank, citing that it was purported for use in Arunachal Pradesh, a region China claims to be part of it’s territory! Such concerted attempts by the Chinese are not few or far apart these days and seem to be well orchestrated as is it’s view of emerging India and it’s imminently rising socio-economic status! China has, during the recent past, engaged in massive infrastructure development along the border with India, strengthening road and rail networks, aimed to augment operations by the PLA in the possible hope of arm-twisting it’s neighbour and gaining superiority in the region! So long as such projects continue to be undertaken unbridled, there is a looming danger of Chinese incursions on a large and more determined scale and the Government of India needs to ensure that steps are taken to recognize such threats by putting into place countermeasures of deterrence, or in the present circumstances, defence at least!

India and China share a 4057 km long border that is largely porous, and tensions have been long prevalent over how each side has viewed this dividing line and presently recognizes the same! The boundary with China is divided into three parts, namely, Eastern, Western and Middle sectors. In the Eastern Sector, China claims an area of 94,700 sq. kms., which is in addition to the entire part of Arunachal Pradesh and some parts of Sikkim. The Western Sector consists of Aksai Chin and the Western boundary in Ladakh and is located along Lanka La, Niagzu stream, Demchok and Teshigong through the Emis Pass. China has, for long, understood the strategic value of Aksai Chin in sustaining and maintaining control over Tibet. In this region, China claims about 38,000 sq. kms. of land, primarily of that in Aksai Chin. In the Middle Sector the area extends up to Spiti Valley and Shipkila Pass, while in the Garhwal area of Uttarakhand, Satluj-Ganga watershed has been the traditional boundary. Here China claims about 1,300 sq. kms. as part of it’s territory. After the war in 1962, China has been found to have illegally occupied 20,000 sq. kms. in Arunachal Pradesh and 38,000 sq. kms. in the Ladakh region, which is excluding 5,180 sq. kms. of area ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963. In the Eastern Sector, which consists Tawang, Zemithang and Bumla in Arunachal Pradesh, it has been ascertained that the Thagla Ridge, where the 1962 Indo-China war had begun, along with places such as Namka Chu and Sumdrong Chu Valley have been under Chinese occupation since 1986. The occupation has resulted in the loss of extensive amounts of traditional grazing land of the local people. In central Arunachal Pradesh, under the Upper Subansiri district, the Asa-Pila-Maya Army camp which was part of the Indian territory is now under Chinese occupation. Similarly, in the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh under Dibang Valley district, the Athu-Pupu range, a place regarded as sacred by the local people, has been been under Chinese occupation since 2006. In the Chaklagam range in the Eastern part, the three mountain ranges have been occupied by China since 2006. Similarly, in Kurung Kumey district, seven of the nine India Army base camps have been occupied by Chinese Army.

While officials in the Indian government continue to remain in a state of denial with regards to repeated border violations by the Chinese, it is estimated that India has lost vast amounts of land to China over the past decades. For starters, various agencies in India including the Army and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs admit the persisting differences over mapping of the area. Coordination incapacities among these institutions have only compounded the magnitude of the problem, something that is well known to the Chinese side! A high level meeting on the Indian side, held between various stakeholders, concluded that “there is a lack of institutional memory in various agencies as well as clear policy on this issue which in the long run has resulted in loss of territory by India in favour of China”. A report by a fact finding mission, as recently as July 2010, has detailed some shocking facts. It states that “China has built 13 airports at the border and most of them including Lhasa, Qando, Nyngchi, Ngaji and Xigaza are operational now. Apart from rail links it has also established several missile points there. It has constructed metalled roads up to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and has reportedly deployed two lakh army personnel on the border. It has the potential to move two more divisions to forward areas during emergency. On the other hand there are virtually no metalled roads on Indian border and more distinctly in those areas which are under threat. There are just wind sandy rubble tracks which Indian security forces are using today. Such a road system in no way can serve our requirements during war time. This state of affairs exists both in Eastern and Western sectors of India.” The report further outlines that “China now has 40,000 km road network in Tibet, apart from rail links of 1,118 km, one from Lhasa to Gormo in Qinghai province. This would enable China to mobilise large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier, this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during winter but the new rail line into Tibet and the expressway have changed the scenario totally.”

It is time that the Indian government woke up to the Chinese threat, before it becomes too late! A state of denial, in the hope of forging better bilateral relations cannot help but offer concessions to an aggressor. Alarmingly, the Indian side remains yet to be strengthened by dependable road and rail networks that could help mobilization of troops and resources in the event of a Chinese misadventure. That Chinese incursions are happening in a very slow and inch-by-inch manner does not mean that they are not happening at all. China is also supplying the local populace with essential commodities and supplies fully aware of the sheer scale of neglect by the Indian side. By doing this, it hopes to gain confidence of the people in the region, another threat that the Government of India must recognize immediately. Furthermore, China’s record of completing strategic projects well ahead of schedule and the fact that contingents of the Indian army need to walk for days together to reach the border are not helping the Indian side in any manner! Required on an urgent footing are the need for constructing a well networked chain of roads in the area, along with the need to upgrade the living and operating conditions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, while also involving the local people to form liaisons with the territorial army in order to garner valuable HUMINT regarding the movement of Chinese army personnel. Basic infrastructure and other facilities such as telecommunications and power supply, to name a handful, are severely lacking and need to be worked upon! All of these need to be undertaken and continued very seriously in order to stave off a threat that has been looming large and will one day pose a serious threat to the Indian union!

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India and Pakistan – Talking progress

July 18, 2010 2 comments

Apparently, the Pakistani side was more bothered about their Indian counterparts being on the phone with New Delhi. A determined agenda to achieve progress didn’t seem to be their priority clearly. One would be surprised to note that during the proceedings of the day, at several times, the entire Indian delegation was left by themselves in Foreign Minister Qureshi’s office while the Pakistan delegation repeatedly stepped out to consult with their bosses. Now, knowing fully well that during such a meeting, consultations with respective headquarters is the norm, one wonders why the Pakistani side attached unnecessary importance and claim to a matter as trivial as this. Clearly, the hypocrisy doesn’t end there.

Ahead of the talks itself, both sides had worked on a number of aspects for discussion including meetings between the commerce secretaries, aimed at resumption of trade. Also on the cards was a high level meeting aimed to iron out persisting differences in the area of water sharing. India subsequently suggested a meeting between parliamentarians of both nations, thus paving the way for a composite and inclusive dialogue, offering much more than just ministerial level interactions. However, the Pakistani side attempted sabotage by demanding inclusion of Kashmir, security and Siachen in the talks without forewarning! One cannot understand the demand considering Pakistan’s long pending action against the perpetrators of the 26/11 episode, to name just one of the many subversive anti-India operations it undertakes from time to time.

On India’s part, it certainly was very right to expect action on the incidents of 26/11 which have now been very long drawn, devoid of any substantial progress. Revelations from David Coleman Headley, about the ISI having financed the 26/11 operation couldn’t have come at a better time. Talks on terrorism and other related aspects such as security, though of paramount importance would not have, at this stage, made any sense, given that Pakistan is yet to take concrete steps to prosecute those behind 26/11. However, one does attempt to understand the difficulty involved in such a step, considering that the ISI and parts of the Pakistan army were complicit in the entire operation, definitely at the insistence or at least the connivance of certain branches of the executive government.

Pakistan’s stubborn stand and refusal to accept evidence against elements such as the ISI and terrorist Hafiz Saeed, aren’t making things easier either. Such a stand not only impedes the peace process that India is wholly committed to, but also brings to the table many questions on Pakistan’s motives. One is led to believe that such a stand devoid of understanding and cooperation is as a result of extensive pressure from within the army establishment of Pakistan that truly is in control of the executive there and avidly intent on bringing the issue of Kashmir on the forefront while aiding factions such as the LeT and the Taliban. What is certainly contradictory, hypocritical and amusing is the fact that Pakistan demands to talk about terror and security without wanting to include 26/11 and the actions demanded of it as a result thereof. Should this not be clearly viewed as one sided, rather lop sided? If Pakistan so desires to commit itself to the process of resolving all burning and core issues, it should begin by reigning in anti-India elements from within, namely the LeT, parts of the ISI and the army establishment. There is surely no issue as critical as that of Pakistan’s overt and covert support to terrorist groups aimed at destabilizing the Indian establishment and it must be understood that no amount of talks or attempts to sew bilateral relations can make amends when Pakistan repeatedly engages in it’s policy of abetting terror aimed at propagating the same within the Indian union.

Also, absolutely uncalled for, during such a level of serious negotiations was the statement by the Pakistan Foreign Minister likening and comparing the remarks of the Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai with those of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, which earned him criticism even from someone so radical as the former ISI Chief Hamid Gul. Mr. Qureshi must understand that the statements made by the Indian Home Secretary were nothing more than what the world already knows about Pakistan, the ISI and it’s role in the 26/11 episode and in doing so, the Indian Home Secretary was undoubtedly justified so as to seek action from the Pakistani side which has long been pending and literally unattended to. Therefore, to make an issue out of something such as this and accusing the Indian side of ill-will with the aim of scuttling the effort is entirely baseless, knowing fully well that the responsibility lies on his government to make amends considering it’s complicity.

Having stated during a press conference with visiting British Minister Sayeeda Warsi that he would like to visit India only if talks are progressive and result oriented, the Pakistani Foreign Minister must understand fully well that it is not the Indian side that has been contributory of impediments and the onus to make any future dialogue successful lies on him and the Pakistani establishment by merely taking steps to curb terrorism against the Indian union and refrain from aiding terrorist organizations to succeed in their nefarious anti-Indian designs. If the Pakistani side is intent and committed to address what it calls burning issues, surely it is the party that singularly needs to take steps to do just that rather than expect India to make concessions from time to time in the hope of maintaining a working partnership.

Undoubtedly, there is a level of trust deficit that is widening and Pakistan surely has to be held accountable for mitigating the damage and bringing forth a conducive and positive working environment. Accusing the Indian side of having arrived with a limited mandate is certainly not the way forward when one himself is left with a dangerously limited mindset which does not contain achieving peace in the agenda. Strangely, voicing concerns and commitments after the exercise is over does not amount to progress and certainly underlines a lackadaisical attitude on the Pakistani side, which goes on to underscore that it is not committed to peace or partnership, whatsoever! The Pakistani side, after having effectively derailed the process cannot echo it’s commitment to normalizing ties with India. Such an act is merely as sham, as has always been witnessed in the past despite strong and committed efforts from India. India on it’s part has to up the ante and refuse to enter into dialogue with Pakistan unless there have been steps from the latter that are concrete and measurable. One simply cannot engage with such a faction, that is opposed to peace and dialogue, merely because one’s democratic overtures guide one to do so. Handling Pakistan means India must employ a level of being absolutely firm and unyielding and not allow it’s policy of warmth and friendliness take center stage!

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