[ By Lt General (Retd) P.C. Katoch ]
The third round of India-China joint army exercises held recently in China was in sharp contrast to the recent video clips shown on Indian news channels of PLA troops jostling and pushing Indian troops on the LAC in an atmosphere of arrogance and defiance of the mutually signed agreement to maintain peace and tranquillity along the borders. This joint army exercise named ‘Hand in Hand’ was held at Miaoergang, south of Chengdu in China combining both training and sports. About 160 soldiers each of 16 Sikh Light Infantry of India and 1st Battalion Infantry Division of 13 Group China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) participated.
The 10-day joint drills that commenced November 5, 2013, was focused on counterterrorism drills that would include tactical hand signals, arrest and escort, hostage rescue, joint attacks and complete anti-terror drills.
PLA Lieutenant General Yang Jinshan, Deputy Commander of the Chengdu MAC, highlighted terrorism “as a global challenge” and said, “It is a signal to both sides that the militaries can do something to improve the bilateral relationship.” Though the prospects of actual joint Sino-Indian counter-terrorism operations is not an impossibility but the objective of this joint exercise is more of confidence building and trust especially since such joint training remained suspended for the last five years.
The underlining truth is that a joint Sino-Indian effort to counter Islamic radicalism is vital for stability. China should understand this better with increased violence in Xinjiang and with the recent terrorist strike at Tiananmen Square on October 28, 2013. The fact of the matter is that the present Sino-Indian relationship has plenty of unease despite the facade of normalcy that both governments project, border settlement being the main issue – aggravated much more since the 2005 preposterous Chinese claim to whole of Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’. Besides, China’s state TV has been showing Indian maps with J&K as part of Pakistan.
The onus of betterment of relations actually lies predominantly on China and the recent deep intrusions by China especially in Depsang and Chumar areas of Ladakh have not helped. More significantly, these intrusions are in wilful defiance of all the previous joint agreements: maintenance of peace and tranquility along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas signed on September 7, 1993, another agreement on confidence-building measures in the military field along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas signed on April 11, 2005, and the agreement on establishment of a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on India-China border affairs signed on January 17, 2012. India has now signed the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) with China and has also agreed not to tail and shadow Chinese patrols but it is for China to ensure that akin to violation of earlier agreements, the BDCA too is not violated.
China’s political hierarchy should also review its policy for opposing a seat for India in the UN Security Caouncil in consideration of the fact that the UN seat was first offered to India but Pandit Nehru, Indian Prime Minister, gave it to China saying that first ‘Big Brother’ should have that privilege. Then is the issue of Pakistan which remains a major irritant in both Sino-Indian relations because of its proxy war on India that is likely to increase once US-NATO forces exit Afghanistan.
There have been indications that China has been giving tacit support to Pakistan in this, an example being China’s initial efforts to scuttle a resolution at the UN against Hafiz Saeed, the main perpetrator of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack. Ironically, both US and China are concerned about terrorism emanating from Pakistan only in context of their respective mainland and not what terrorism Pakistan is subjecting India to. However, it would be prudent for China to take stock after killing of three Chinese nationals on June 23, 2013, at the western base camp of Nanga Parbat by the newly set up wing ( Junood ul-Hifsa) of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the October 28, 2013, terrorist strike in Tiananmen Square.
When Pakistan has been double crossing the United States, it can deal with China similarly. That is perhaps the reasons why Pakistan is sheltering the 600 strong special unit of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement hiding in Pakistan? Of course there are other irritants like bilateral trade imbalance, stapled visas/denial of visa for Indians from J&K and Arunachal Pradesh and warning India not to assist Vietnam in oil exploration in Vietnamese waters on grounds that it is a disputed territory but herself undertaking numerous projects in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) including exploration of minerals and more significantly digging tunnels in PoK to deploy missiles.
Another serious issue is the Chinese support to insurgents in India. There have been periodic intelligence reports that China is supplying arms to Indian Maoists and has even provided arms manufacturing facilities to Kachen rebels in Myanmar and Indian Maoists. By arming the United Wa State Army in Myanmar to the teeth including machine guns, mortars, shoulder-fired air defence missiles, mechanised vehicles and even missile fitted helicopters (this year), China has created a lethal terrorist organization in India’s neighbourhood much more powerful than even the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Chinese intelligence has also been supporting other Indian insurgent outfits. For example, when the United Liberation Front of Assam camps were route from Bhutan, China accommodated them on Chinese soil and provided training and arms. China’s links (training and provision of arms) to the Taliban too are well documented. What China must realise is the immense benefits of normalisation of relations with India. The single-most significant gain that this will lead to her getting access to Indian ports should lead China to adopt change course and adopt this approach.