Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s expected visit to Beijing for summit level talks with Chinese President Xi jinping on October 28, despite tension over frequent incursions by the Chinese troops into Indian territory is aimed amongst other things at allying Chinese apprehensions on account of India upgrading its infrastructure along the LAC. Over a period, the gap between the two sides had widened disproportionally forcing India to strengthen its defences. The PLA has been rather uneasy about these measures, particularly in regard to ( 35 ) new posts being planned by the ITBP. It has responded by violating the LAC frequently at strategic points. Surprisingly, the Chinese media and the think tanks have also played it up
Indian history is replete with examples of strategic failures at the highest level, with disastrous consequences at the national level. Even in today’s environment of strategic culture, Indian leadership has not acquitted itself any better.
When the Chinese were developing the infrastructure earlier along the entire 3,488 km of LAC, India just watched them mutely. Unmindful of India, China went ahead with comprehensive build up including a number of new posts in the last few decades. It is now in a position to deploy and re-inforce forces at short notice. Now that India is undertaking similar measures on its side, China has the temerity to express resentment. It has resorted to intimidating India by adopting aggressive posture and incursions deep across the LAC. The PLA may be wanting to assess the Indian response which has unfortunately been placatory at best. Conscious of its inability to take on the well prepared and well entrenched Chinese at this late juncture, India frets escalation and downplays the incursions invariably. Depsang valley incident in Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector of April/May 2013 is reminiscent of this situation.
Indian history is replete with examples of strategic failures at the highest level, with disastrous consequences at the national level. Even in today’s environment of strategic culture, Indian leadership has not acquitted itself any better. It has shown little grasp or insight as regards the geo-strategic or geo-political affairs. It has been woefully slow in protecting country’s core interest when it comes to such complexities. China’s machinations, Pakistan’s compulsive intransigence and their mutually collusive approach towards India keep it under constant strategic pressure.
For years, India watched these developments taking place across the LAC without doing anything about it. Apparently, the fear of Chinese making use of infrastructure on the Indian side of the LAC in a certain eventuality inhibited India from going ahead with it. It is understood that one of the past COAS had written to the MOD on these lines, allegedly at latter’s instance. Consequently, no work was undertaken in any of the sectors for decades. Is it that 1962 syndrome still plays a dominant role in our psyche However, sense prevailed years later when the situation had become alarmingly asymmetric. Realising belatedly the gravity of the situation in which India found itself, it decided to initiate the force accretion process, both in army and the air force. But stuck in bureaucratic hurdles, it has little to show in regard to the infrastructure accretion. Infrastructure upgrade along the LAC is mired in inordinate delays due to inter-ministerial wrangles. For smooth and expeditious execution of strategic projects, it’s imperative that an integrated approach is adopted. As it is, it’s no less a momentous task to catch up with the Chinese.
Only if Indian leadership could comprehend the strategic gravity and keep up with the events, it would n’t find itself lagging behind in serious asymmetric situations as is the case presently.
To make the matters worse, the Chinese have surprised India by proposing a “Border Defence Cooperation Agreement” which entails freezing of development activities along the LAC. Obviously, it is aimed at curtailing India’s development plans, particularly in the western region where China has been showing more than usual interest. Only if Indian leadership could comprehend the strategic gravity and keep up with the events, it would n’t find itself lagging behind in serious asymmetric situations as is the case presently.
India’s marked proclivity to drag its feet when it comes to politico-strategic matters is a cause for serious concern. One does n’t has to look too far back into the past to discover how opportunities were often let go by. Despite the proposal to develop the strategic sea port of Chabahar on the south-eastern coast of Iran by then Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami during his visit to Delhi in 2003, India failed to respond with requisite alacrity and allowed a decade to slip by. Knowing fully well the urgent need for direct access to Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics because of Pakistan’s intransigence; India failed to take the lead in ushering in the project. The fact that serious talks could begin only now a decade later in 2013 reflects Delhi’s usual political dithering and lack of vision of matters strategic. In the interim, the Chinese stepped in by offering a 60 million euro line to Iran. The Chinese intervention came at a time when the Indian investment in Chabahar project was in the offing, albeit after ten long years of mulling over it. Obviously, it caused an instant alarm amongst the mandarins in New Delhi.
Development of Chabahar is in special interest of India, particularly after the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan next year. It is imperative that India has a presence in that region so as to keep a close watch from the security point of view. It is a foregone conclusion that China would maintain a credible force level at insurgency infested Gwadar where a number of Chinese workers were killed some time back. India must therefore invest not only in Chabahar but also in its relationship with Iran. Fortunately, the leaders from Afghanistan, Iran and India met last year on the sidelines of NAM summit in Tehran and decided to give an impetus to this project in the light of its pressing strategic importance, economic spin offs and win- win situation for all of them.
India needs overland access to Afghanistan for the shipment of its goods. A number of Indian companies are involved in reconstruction work. There are others who are involved in the development of mines. Chabahar to Afghanistan access will be available through an Iranian built road to western Afghanistan border linked further to India built Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan. This will once for all preclude the problems associated with Pakistan’s repeated denial of access to Indian shipments bound for Afghanistan.
In the light of Chabahar’s strategic significance, India must overcome the inertia including the US pressure if any and take the lead in propelling the project forward.
Afghanistan will also benefit from this triangular arrangement by acquiring a direct access to sea. It will reduce landlocked Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistani sea ports. Iran may perhaps benefit the most by acquiring a developed port which would function as a regional logistic hub. Tehran weighed by western sanctions because of its ongoing nuclear controversy could get some relief as well from the operation of this port. In the light of Chabahar’s strategic significance, India must overcome the inertia including the US pressure if any and take the lead in propelling the project forward.
During these long years, the strategic scenario along the Makran coast of Balochistan in Pakistan has undergone a sea change. A mere 70 km further east of Chabahar has come up a deep sea strategic port of Gwadar. It occupies a prime place in the mouth of strait of Harmuz. Realising the importance of the port, the Chinese stepped in and took over the development of the port. It provides an access to the Indian Ocean which has been a long cherished objective of Chinese maritime strategists. China’s sole aim is to establish its foot print in the Indian Ocean in order to counter India’s influence which extends across the vast expanse of Indian Ocean littoral states. China’s efforts to induct an aircraft carrier in near future and build an effective blue water navy with long reach is not without a purpose.
The Chinese unlike India’s reactive approach always. think and plan strategies way ahead. When offered the development of strategically important sea port of Hambantota, India did not show adequate interest. India’s indifference brought in the Chinese about which we now lament. Perhaps, India did not quite comprehend the strategic importance of the project. Hambantota lies on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, close to major international shipping routes. Much to India’s exasperation, China is also upgrading Myanmar’s naval facilities and other infrastructure projects on the similar lines as that of Pakistan.
It is time New Delhi recognises China’s intentions and rising strategic profile in Indian Ocean and do something fast enough to counter it.
China has realised the importance of being a maritime power. Though it is not an Indian Ocean power, these ports in Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal would provide it sufficient space to manoeuvre in the Indian Ocean and its sea lanes. Pak China naval nexus would be detrimental to India’s long term interest. It may even limit India’s sea control capabilities. Besides Gwadar, Makran coast has a few more fledgling sea ports like Jiwani,Pasni and Omara that could also be developed with time to pose threat to our maritime interest in the future.
. In a bid to spread its strategic footprint in the region, Beijing has invested heavily in Gwadar and other associated projects. It plans to bring about economic integration with Pakistan through an “economic corridor” linking Gwadar with Kashgar in Xinjiang province of China for which it is spending nearly $ 18 billion. Its importance can be gauged from the fact that despite major impediments such as Bloch insurgency, lack of infrastructure and connectivity, the Chinese have still gone ahead with all associated risks.
Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, a listening post in Coco Island, Kyaukpyu in Mayanmar and Chinese installed radar on the south-east coast of Myanmar to monitor India’s missile development programme form the so called string of pearls around India’s neck. It is time New Delhi recognises China’s intentions and rising strategic profile in Indian Ocean and do something fast enough to counter it.
China’s ever increasing strategic foot print in India’s neighbourhood whether in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan or Maldives is inimical to India’s long term interest. These are some of the indicators of Chinese expanding foot print in what is supposed to be India’s area of influence. Lack of urgency and the proclivity to deal with all matters with usual politico-bureaucratic apathy regardless of their strategic or economic relevance has more often than not hurt India. For once, India has taken a timely initiative recently and entered into a long term agreements with Sri Lanka and Maldives in regard to maritime security.