lessons of Dokalam stand­off

It has been a com­ing-of-age rit­ual for us: now it’s time to profit from the cri­sis

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - DS Sak­sena

The Dokalam stand­off has come and gone. af­ter a tense 73 days, the sit­u­a­tion on the ground ap­pears nor­mal but the out­come of the stand­off is not clear – mostly be­cause no joint state­ment has been is­sued by In­dia and China. Rather, con­flict­ing state­ments have been forth­com­ing from the af­fected par­ties. While China is say­ing that it would con­tinue to ex­er­cise sovereignty in the dis­puted area, ac­cord­ing to in­dia the road build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties of the chi­nese have ceased. many doubts and ques­tions are still unan­swered.

Who are our true friends?

not many. only Bhutan and Ja­pan sup­ported us openly. The Pak­ista­nis saw it as an op­por­tu­nity to score brownie points. The us, which we have been as­sid­u­ously woo­ing, kept hop­ing that the stand­off would be re­solved through di­a­logue. The Rus­sians and the rest of the world kept mum. it seems that most of our neigh­bours are be­holden to china, hav­ing taken large loans from the chi­nese. other coun­tries did not sup­port us be­cause no coun­try wants to an­tag­o­nise the world’s sec­ond su­per­power.

This am­biva­lence does not por­tend well for any con­flict, which we may have with our neigh­bour. Prime min­is­ter modi has been on a mas­sive out­reach pro­gramme. it would ap­pear that a mas­sive ground-level fol­low-up to his ef­forts is also needed.

What is the va­lid­ity or use of the claims and coun­ter­claims made by both par­ties dur­ing the stand­off?

not much. The agree­ments were made at a time when Bri­tain was the world’s only su­per­power and china was a land of opium eaters. For this rea­son china has ex­pressly re­jected the mcma­hon line, drawn by the Bri­tish to de­mar­cate the in­dia-china bor­der. The var­i­ous con­ven­tions be­tween Bri­tain and china are quoted se­lec­tively by both par­ties to but­tress their re­spec­tive cases.

Rather than the ear­lier con­ven­tions, more im­por­tant is the “agree­ment on the main­te­nance of Peace and Tran­quil­lity along the line of actual con­trol in the in­dia-china Bor­der ar­eas” signed in 1993 whereby both sides agreed to main­tain sta­tus quo on the Line of Actual Con­trol (LAC). The prob­lem is that the lac is not per­fectly de­fined. Our army chief has suc­cinctly summed up the gen­e­sis of our var­i­ous con­flicts with China in the fol­low­ing words: “The lac has not yet been set­tled be­tween the two coun­tries, and hence each coun­try has a dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion about it. So, at times, you have a clash as each one tries to pa­trol the area up to its lim­its.”

Can Dokalam type of sit­u­a­tions be averted?

no. china’s ac­tions are mostly guided by in­ter­nal com­pul­sions which are not known to out­siders be­cause of the ab­sence of the free­dom of press in china. more­over, china is in an ex­pan­sion­ist phase. china has laid claims to vast tracts in the South china Sea by build­ing ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands and reefs. China wants to flaunt its newly ac­quired su­per­power sta­tus by brow­beat­ing its non-client neigh­bours and gain­ing some ter­ri­tory or rights in the bar­gain. also china has scant re­gard for the rule of law. in 2016, af­ter the un con­ven­tion on the laws of the Sea Tri­bunal dis­missed china’s claims in the South china Sea; china ca­joled the Philip­pines not to in­sist on im­ple­men­ta­tion of the judg­ment.

china per­ceives in­dia as a ri­val and to re­mind In­dia of its (China’s) su­pe­ri­or­ity, chi­nese troops reg­u­larly in­trude in­side in­dian ter­ri­tory. The only way to de­ter china is to de­velop our mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties along the chi­nese bor­der. This would mean build­ing all-weather roads and rail tracks right up to the bor­der – an un­fin­ished task since 1962.

Could our re­sponse to the Dokalam stand­off have been bet­ter?

Our re­sponse to the stand­off was quite good. We stood po­litely but firmly for our rights. The in­dian press and so­cial me­dia were re­strained; they did not re­spond to the chi­nese ver­bal on­slaught. How­ever, we did not re­alise the grav­ity of the con­fronta­tion; ide­ally we should have re­sponded much ear­lier. our ex­ter­nal af­fair min­is­ter made her first state­ment when the stand­off was 33 days old and the in­ci­dent had played out in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia to our dis­ad­van­tage. it was for­tu­itous that china was host­ing the BRICS sum­mit in the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber. To en­sure the suc­cess of the sum­mit, china came un­der pres­sure to re­solve the stand­off.

What is the way for­ward af­ter Dokalam?

china will not be de­terred eas­ily. even af­ter the res­o­lu­tion of the stand­off,

china has claimed sovereignty over the dis­puted area. it has fur­ther claimed that though in­dian troops have with­drawn but its troops con­tinue to pa­trol the area. china has also given some un­called for ad­vice to our gov­ern­ment. all this shows that a dokalam kind of sit­u­a­tion can re­cur. it seems that china has ap­plied its con­cept of ‘Three War­fares’ (pub­lic opin­ion/me­dia war­fare, psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare and le­gal war­fare) in the in­dian con­text. To foil chi­nese de­signs on our ter­ri­tory, a holis­tic re­sponse from our side is re­quired. The gov­ern­ment of in­dia would be well ad­vised not to per­mit im­port of sen­si­tive items from china. For ex­am­ple, most of our power gen­er­a­tion and trans­mis­sion equip­ment is im­ported from china. a bug in the com­puter pro­gramme of such equip­ment would put our power sys­tem at china’s mercy. Sim­i­larly, all our wire­less routers, desk­top com­put­ers and smart­phones are im­ported from china. These equip­ment can be pro­grammed to re­lay sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion to china.

as of now, china is in­dia’s big­gest trad­ing part­ner and this fact prob­a­bly pre­vented the sit­u­a­tion from spi­ralling out of con­trol but in fu­ture, to pre­vent over de­pen­dence on china, we would have to curb our propen­sity of im­port­ing all kinds of cheap goods from china. To curb un­bri­dled chi­nese im­ports, we have to amend our flawed tax­a­tion poli­cies which have made in­dian goods more ex­pen­sive in in­dian mar­kets visà-vis chi­nese goods, re­sult­ing in a huge bal­ance of trade in china’s favour.

as said ear­lier, mil­i­tary in­fras­truc­ture along the chi­nese bor­der has to be en­hanced. equally im­por­tant is ex­pan­sion of our indige­nous arms man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The cag has pointed out that our stock­piles are barely suf­fi­cient for a ten-day war. Since most of our weapons and am­mu­ni­tion are im­ported it would be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to re­plen­ish them dur­ing actual war­fare. We have the sad prece­dent of the Kargil war when we had no shells for the Bo­fors gun. it is in­deed sur­pris­ing that we can man­u­fac­ture all kinds of so­phis­ti­cated goods and send satel­lites in or­bit but are still un­able to man­u­fac­ture a small gun.

Then, we have to build bet­ter good­will amongst our neigh­bours to counter chi­nese diplo­macy in our neigh­bour­hood. The fence-sit­ting at­ti­tude of our long time friends like nepal is a cause of con­cern. Pak­istan looks to be go­ing in the chi­nese or­bit; we have to take steps to in­crease peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­tacts and trade with Pak­istan; oth­er­wise we would have two im­pla­ca­ble foes in­stead of one.

if we adopt a proac­tive for­eign pol­icy, we can eas­ily cap­i­talise on the alarm caused by chi­nese hege­monis­tic pos­tur­ing. We have age-old cul­tural and re­li­gious bonds with south asia. in­dian mu­sic and movies are pop­u­lar through­out Asia but our for­eign of­fice has not been able to cap­i­talise on these pos­i­tives be­cause of our bu­reau­cratic func­tion­ing. Work on the chi­nese Belt and Road ini­tia­tive has started in right earnest but even af­ter a decade and half our plans for the chaba­har port and in­ter­na­tional north-south Trans­port Cor­ri­dor (INSTC) are at a rudi­men­tary stage.

The Dokalam stand­off has been a com­ing-of-age rit­ual for us. We have learnt two im­por­tant lessons. Firstly, we have to fight our bat­tles alone. Se­condly, a mod­ern war is fought on many fronts. In ad­di­tion to the bat­tle­field, we have to con­front our en­e­mies on the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal fronts also.

The chi­nese for­eign min­is­ter quot­ing panchsheel in the af­ter­math of dokalam is a red flag bring­ing back mem­o­ries of the pre­lude to the 1962 war. let us not be mis­led into for­get­ting that eter­nal vig­i­lance and pre­pared­ness is the pre­req­ui­site of our free­dom.

We have learnt two im­por­tant lessons. Firstly, we have to fight our bat­tles alone. Se­condly, a mod­ern war is fought on many fronts. In ad­di­tion to the bat­tle­field, we have to con­front our en­e­mies on the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal fronts also.

Prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Chi­nese pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Xi­a­men on Sep 4

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