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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!

The menace of Maoism

March 7, 2010 2 comments

Barely hours after Indian Home Secretary G. K. Pillai stated that Maoists will possibly overthrow the Indian administration by 2050, Kishanji a.k.a Koteshwar Rao, the de-facto Maoist leader audaciously stated that such a plot could be accomplished way ahead of the time-line stated by Pillai. This outrageous statement, coming straight from the nerve center of the Maoist establishment comes as a forward to a definite plan by the outlawed brigade to wreck havoc on the Indian establishment, even as they have called for a 72 day ceasefire in the wake of the Indian government’s now committed exercise to wipe them off systematically through what is Operation Greenhunt!

Calling for the need to talk and put aside military operations against them, the Maoists have warned that they would attack cities if their demand to come to the table is not met. Left wing extremism has been on the rise within the Indian boundary for some time now. A number of factors, ranging from soft peddling by certain states to support from within the ranks of former armed forces personnel have raised the threat to a new level and the government can no longer consider this as a controllable situation unles it is determined to act strongly! Concrete steps must be taken to regard this as a troubling menace. For starters, a proposal that the Indian Air Force’s initiate aerial operations against the Maoists is still awaiting clearance from the Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs. This reluctance from within the establishment conveys the current stand of the government and it’s willingness to take action as one of weak measure!

As if that isn’t already enough, there are elected representatives openly opposing operations against the Maoists and worse still pledging their support to the outlawed faction and aligning with them ideologically. Furthermore, certain states which are hot beds for Maoism have simply refused to cooperate with the centre in order to take actionable steps to counter the problem. When Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram called for a meeting of state heads to discuss the issue, the Chief Ministers of Jharkhand and Bihar abstained, citing prior appointments – thus displaying notably uncharacteristic lack of interest in coordinating with New Delhi.

Meanwhile, Operation Greehunt, which is the centre’s initiative to tackle the Maoist menace, is currently underway, with over 18 companies of central paramilitary forces deployed in key Naxal infested areas. However, its effectiveness is yet to be ascertained with the states playing very little parts in the exercise. Gathering, sharing and disseminating intelligence could be a major roadblock this operation may face considering the centre-state relationship in the context of the war on Naxals. There are a significant number of challenges that New Delhi will face in the wake of this operation. Chief among them is the problem of a psychological counter-strike by sympathizers aimed to weaken the commitment of the operation by trying to designate it as illegitimate in the public eye. Besides there will emerge a battery of chance activists pressing the government to terminate the operation in the wake of scores of alleged human rights violations by the armed forces! Criticism of the government is bound to rise, however, New Delhi could do well to ignore it in the face of wanting an upper hand against a dangerous enemy!

The centre on its own, now, needs to focus on arming the operation with people, material and intelligence. Also needed to be considered and worked upon is the Chinese role in supporting the Maoists. Teams conducting the operation need to be instructed that they work their way in eliciting support from the civilian population in the affected areas, thereby gaining confidence and also invaluable intelligence. Considering that this brigade is one in possession of significant levels of motivation, sophisticated training, manpower and material, it certainly will be a challenge to counter them! However, the task is not impossible and requires a great deal of inter-agency coordination particularly at the centre-state level, something that is presently absent.

In all spheres, the government is the one that will face the burden of turning over the situation in its favour. While addressing the issue, it also needs to undertake a great deal of developmental activities in the affected areas thereby making its presence felt in a strong and supportive manner – one which will certainly be welcomed by the people! This is surely the way forward to gain support and confidence and also the means to destroy Naxal groups from the root! Also urgently needed is a well structured policy on countering the threat, something that has not come to be, despite the situation warranting its necessity. During it’s previous term in office, the present government’s response to the Naxalite movement was one composed of a mixture of denial, accommodation and neglect. Expectedly, the Maoists expanded their area of operations into what has now come to be known as the ‘Red Corridor’, while neither the centre nor the affected states had formulated any real response.

The absence of a decisive political resolve and a measure of leadership in policy initiation from New Delhi and the level of centre-state partnership did more harm than good. The States undoubtedly failed due to their choice of ineffective, inferior and almost often counter-productive measures such as, for instance, the creation of armed groups like the Salwa Judum. Such exercises mean that currently prevalent Operation Green Hunt already strikes a bad note in the minds of the people, while it’s success largely depends upon public support.

If anything, the government needs to hit hard at the faction, breaking its confidence and thus bringing it to it’s knees. Only then can one consider the job half done. For all of this, there needs to be a measure of well drafted policy leading to action. Lessons need to be learnt from the manner in which terrorism in Punjab was brought under control.

Among the worst that can happen is a situation alike the one in Nepal. The Home Secretary’s remarks must therefore serve as an urgent warning to many in the establishment thus enabling a renewal of the government’s commitment to wipe out this force before it is too late!

Pakistan's nuclear agenda – The compelling problem!

September 3, 2009 Leave a comment

News about Pakistan’s modification of the Harpoon missiles aimed to possibly launch on Indian targets comes as a somber reminder of a dreaded neighbour whose intentions can many a times be very misleading, contrary to what is thought of. History has rightly indicated how bitterly Indian overtures for dialogue and peace have been met with counter productive misadventures, Kargil being among the many such gaffes on the part of Pakistan.

Breaking the news, New York Times carried a feature that detailed how Pakistan had illegally modified Harpoon anti-ship missiles, that it had acquired from the United States, in order to now give it the ability to strike land targets in India. While American intelligence agencies got wind of this through information acquired from a test conducted by Pakistan on April 23rd, this year, Pakistan itself claims that such is not the case. It states that no modifications have been done to the Harpoon and that the previous tests, claimed by US agencies pertain to an altogether different missile developed indigenously by Pakistan.

Americans on the other hand claim that Pakistan stands in violation of the Arms Control Export Act, under which encumbrance the Harpoon sale had been effected. It will not immediately be known if the missile in question is the Harpoon itself or a home grown technology or if it has been bought over from China. But the general concern is that such a technology now presents Pakistan with a new ability, one that will enable it to launch strikes on Indian targets which were hitherto out of reach or considered to be so!

Interestingly, this allegation comes at a time when President Obama’s administration sought congressional approval of a staggering $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next couple of years, which it says is a measure to arm an ally in its concerted efforts in the war against terror!

The sooner the Americans come to terms with the fact, one that they already know about, that Pakistan has been siphoning off money and arms supplied to it to aide illicit operations, the war on terror stands won on many grounds!

Barely, hours after this report, an American scientist, Hans M Kristensen, belong to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), reported that Pakistan has increased its number of ready-to-use nuclear warheads to a staggering 90 in number! His article on the FAS page that Pakistan has stored nuclear warheads in fully assembled condition indicates that they can be called for use at a short notice. On the contrary, India, which has a respectable no first strike policy ensures that war heads are not mounted on missiles and stores either of them separately.

The growing concern pertaining to Pakistan’s increasing nuclear arsenal was expressed by the Chief of Indian Army, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, who in his statement mentioned that this was clearly beyond the level of deterrence that a country needed.

Meanwhile, FAS sources claim that Pakistan has been developing two new cruise missiles, which include the ground-launched Babur and the air-launched Ra’ad, both of which have nuclear delivery capability. Added to the tweaked Harpoons, Pakistan now has a variety of delivery measures with which it could exact a nuclear attack, something which is a serious threat to the Indian nation, over and above that which already exists! That they intend to increase their nuclear weapons capability is without doubt, considering the emerging plutonium reactors plants and the additional chemical separation facility.

A senior nuclear policy expert, Bharat Karnad states that Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions are no secret. According to him “they have had it for several years. The reason why they are doing is that they want to be ready to detain any threat at any point. They also apprehend danger to nuclear weapons by outside countries which they don’t want to name but by implication they have the United States, Israel and India that is who they fear will attack them.”

Quite co-incidentally, the disgraced pioneer of Pakistan’s nuclear program, A. Q. Khan, who until a while ago faced serious restrictions imposed by the law, has now been rewarded, or shall we say compensated, with significantly reduced sanctions! I’m wondering if this is the establishment’s way of asking him to once again participate in the revival of Pakistan’s nuclear agenda. If so, Pakistan is seriously embarking upon a long and well planned construction of a nuclear delivery system, which in the time to come will be a force to reckon with and perhaps an overt threat to the peace and stability in the region!