India: heed geo-political realities, eschew recklessness
GAITHERSBURG, MD: Though the past week has been a most eventful and dramatic one here in America - and a tragic period in Barcelona, Spain - this column will deal with matters closer to home, especially as one feels that not enough in-depth attention has been focused on key strategic aspects of the now more than two month-long standoff between India and China - and their implications for Nepal. Apart from requests from friends back home to expound further on the subject and considering that there are significant security/ foreign policy ramifications, I will now attempt to do so, starting with the remark I made in opening my column last week: that Bhutan has become largely irrelevant or inaudible in the whole caboodle. BHUTANESE 'INVITATION'? With pleasure I now note (vide last week's Weekly Mirror), that much the same observation was forcefully articulated by 'Global Times', Beijing's English language daily, in an commentary entitled 'Bhutan's neutral stance embarrasses India.' It claimed, inter alia, that "Senior Bhutanese officials have openly never said the area of standoff is Bhutanese territory and never acknowledged they requested India's intervention in China's road construction. New Delhi took the liberty to speak on Bhutan's behalf.... Bhutan obviously wants to remain neutral in the standoff. It does not appear like a country that has been 'invaded' by China and desperately wants India's support. India is bullying Bhutan and its fabricated excuses are goundless in front of international law." As far as yours truly is concerned, India's transparent Bhutanese ' invitation' to her to intercede with China is redolent of Hafizullah Amin's December 1979 fig-leaf 'invitation' to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's for his invasion of Afghanistan. To come back, however, to the subject at hand, I would now like to quote revealing excerpts from a write-up in Asia Times, a few weeks ago, penned by former senior Indian diplomat, M.K. Bhadrakumar, entitled "Indian military standoff with China was all about Bhutan." GROTESQUE LEGACY Disclosing that "de-escalation is the new mantra" in New Delhi, Bhadrakumar asserts that there has been "no Chinese 'intrusion' on the China-Bhutan border"; the much referred to road has been in existence and now "possibly widened"; and that "Indian troops moved into Doklam, which has been under Chinese control all along." Continuing, Bhadrakumar argues, "All the indications are that the current standoff is not so much about territory as the 'Great Game' over Bhutan... Bhutanese nationalism and resentment of Indian hegemony is, no doubt, a strong undercurrent and New Delhi cannot ignore it much longer... Intervention in neighbouring countries to browbeat them is a grotesque foreign policy legacy left behind by decades of successive Congress Party governments of India. It is an archaic mindset. It's time for India to bring in imaginative 'new thinking' approach to Bhutan." As far as the former Indian diplomat's reference to 'deescalation' is concerned, I wish to recall my comment in a column three weeks ago wherein I stated that in spite of much earlier sound and fury on the subject in India there were clear indications of a 'retreat'. To back that interpretation I had referred to Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj's statement in the Rajya Sabha where she said "though military redress is always there, war is not a solution." Against the above backdrop, I will now refer to Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi's recent public taunt to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As reported in The Indian Express (16 August), the Indian Congress vice president mocked Modi for being silent on the subject of China's aggressive posture in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Lal Kila in Delhi, "Sometime back, the Chinese president came to India. While our Prime Minister was hugging him, a thousand Chinese soldiers entered our territory. Yesterday, did anyone hear the PM say that the Chinese forces are still sitting inside Bhutan?" E. Jaya Kumar, in the Asia Times (18 August), incidentally, reminded readers, too, that Modi was "silent on Doklam" in his Independence Day speech, adding that "his pledge to defend the country against foreign threats was a pro-forma vague statement that was not explicitly aimed at China." I might add that no rant of "surgical strikes" against Pakistan was heard. As many will surely recall, a year ago, on the same occasion, Modi, full of bluster and braggadocio, openly threatened to help separatists in Pakistan's Baluchistan province. Clearly, Modi has apparently quietly moved away from such an belligerent, anti-Pakistan stance. Which would seem to suggest that he will do the same vis-à-vis a far more powerful China. Yet, to go by some articles in the Indian media, a mood of unrealistic bravado against China is still rampant, as reflected in suggestions that India should boycott the upcoming BRICS summit slated for Xiamen in Fujian province in September. As all know, India needs BRICS more than China. All the same, if India, throwing caution to the winds, is rash enough to take on China militarily she will meet the same ignominious fate that befell her when, after rebuffing China's repeated, reasonable offers for talks, she nevertheless decided to militarily challenge the latter, in October 1962. If, even now, despite all indications to the contrary, Modi believes such recklessness would be backed by America, he is building castles in the air! I can assure you that Donald Trump's America - confronted with a wide array of serious threats including that from North Korea - has no appetite for conflicts it does do not need, even as it reflects on how best to extricate itself from a 16-year war in Afghanistan, the longest in her history. DEUBA IN DELHI Prime Minister Deuba would do well, while in India, to seriously mull over the multiple geopolitical and foreign/ security policy lessons from the continuing Sino-Indian stalemate and ensure (a) that he does not 'support' India's current antiChina stance, as also (b) convey to his Indian counterpart the need to end Indian culpability in annual flooding in Nepal, during the monsoon.