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India-China Military Standoff – A Question of Sovereignty and Peace
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Karan Kharb | Date:26 Apr , 2013 8 Comments
Karan Kharb
The author is a retired Army Officer, author of two international best sellers.

Being at war with itself, India has neither the intent nor the courage to deter her enemies from nibbling at the ‘disputed’ borders and regurgitate at the negotiating table. Pakistan and China are taking full advantage of a weak Government which is virtually held at ransom by its coalition partners. Also, as a tradition the Indian politician has never felt much interested in national security and military matters, much less in the remotely issues like border management. First, it was the audacious intrusion by the Pakistan Army at Kargil. The strategy with which the intrusion was accomplished made it abundantly clear that the intruding Army was fairly sure that there would not be any serious and immediate retaliation from the Indian side. Our initial response proved them right. Our delayed, measured response later cost India loss of image and precious lives of hundreds of soldiers.

If we were to go by the settled international norms in dealing such eventualities, it would be for the military commander on the spot ‘to prevent enemy ingress in his area of responsibility at all costs.

Now, in keeping with its oft-repeated tactics, China has displayed similar brazen behaviour.  Chinese troops have audaciously intruded and, without camouflaging or concealing their incursion, pitched in to establish a post as deep as 18 kilometres inside Indian territory. It was no covert or hush-hush sneak into the Indian territory but a deliberate military operation supported by military helicopters.  In their quest to assert their influence and presence in the area, another squad of Chinese troops in boats kept on churning the Pangong Tso lake waters deep inside the Indian territory. Altogether, it was not merely a ‘show of force’; they pitched tents inside India and stayed on – as if assured of India’s cordiality.

If we were to go by the settled international norms in dealing such eventualities, it would be for the military commander on the spot ‘to prevent enemy ingress in his area of responsibility at all costs.’ If, however, the intruding force is beyond the local military commander’s capability, the higher commander should assume the task of restoring the status quo ante. What it simply implies is that military action must be met by a befitting counter military response.  To be meaningful, the counter-action must be swift and punitive enough to deter the enemy from undertaking such misadventure in future. Talks, diplomacy can subsequently take over to diffuse military action from escalating beyond a level.

A succession of flag meetings between the opposing military commanders has failed to persuade the Chinese to undo their intrusion. In fact under the pretext of ‘disputed’ Line of Actual Control (LAC) they are insisting that they have ‘not intruded’.  By this contention, China is implicitly staking her claim to the Indian territory and pushing the LAC deep inside India.

What is happening along our borders in the north and west is indeed very disturbing. A Pakistani patrol intrudes into our territory, captures our soldiers, beheads them and returns with impunity! No military commander anywhere in the world would tolerate such barbaric action and humiliation. Sadly, except drama little was done to avenge, retaliate and deliver a lesson to the errant Pakistani Army.  On the contrary, in cooling down under the subsequent diplomatic exercise, we have conveyed to the world that India still lives by her revered Bapu’s doctrine: ‘If someone slaps you on the right cheek, don’t retaliate – offer him the left one as well.’ Why does the Army need ‘clearance’ from the Government to carry out its assigned task? If there is a Government that hesitates, assure it, warn it but do not give up!

India is the only country in the sub-continent whose decision makers give away their fears best. It seems our leaders have more confidence in the enemy military power than their own…

The Chinese explanation says that enhanced activities like road construction, advanced air landing grounds and infrastructure on the Indian side provoked them to move in their troops.  Going by the Indian practice, they should have lodged protest and held meetings with India seeking assurance of no offensive posturing against them.  But they did not talk.  Instead, they moved in militarily leaving the option of talks for India even though all the ‘impugned’ Indian activities were fully legitimate and well within her territory.

What could be an appropriate military action from India in the given situation? Reportedly, the intruding Chinese body of troops is platoon strength. The Indian military commander in whose area this intrusion took place should have intercepted and forced them to withdraw preferably immediately.  Otherwise, an ultimatum could have been served on them laying down specific time by which they must withdraw from the Indian territory.  A force of the size of an infantry battalion with requisite supporting elements could have isolated the intruders forcing them to surrender. Such a situation could have provided India a strategic edge to bring about a stubborn China to see reason and settle disputes on mutually acceptable terms.

Ironically, however, India is the only country in the sub-continent whose decision makers give away their fears best. It seems our leaders have more confidence in the enemy military power than their own as is evident from the common refrain in the South Block corridors – ‘we do not want to escalate the situation; remember we are nuclear weapon states.  We shall talk and find an amicable solution.’ That is neither a military response nor good diplomacy.  Similar assurances were given by Pandit Nehru in 1948 when he – not the enemy – forestalled the Indian Army offensive chasing the Pakistani intruders from what is now Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) by rushing to the UN and asking his own Army to cease-fire. And the wound was left to fester forever.  Similarly, Aksai Chin has remained under the Chinese occupation since 1962. Bipartite talks between India and China have lingered for years without resulting in any rapprochement in sight despite 15-16 rounds of futile talks.

Interestingly, among the three nuclear weapon states – China, India and Pakistan – if there is any evidence of ‘nuclear deterrence’ at work, it is in India.  We have consistently let Pakistan get away with attacks in the garb of terrorist strikes unpunished – Red Fort, Parliament, Mumbai, to name just a few of the numerous. Unlike other sovereign nations, India has always chosen a fretful posturing and, rather than retaliating forcefully, relied on lodging protests and complaints with Pakistan naively hoping it would prosecute (and not reward (!)) its soldiers and proxy soldiers for their daring acts to bleed India.

If Vietnam can tell China in plain language to behave, India can tell her in a more convincing language.

For an India aspiring for larger global role, this stance of indecisive, timid responses is not conducive to enhance her image as a competent, assertive and credible Power.  It is high time India resolved her dilemma and asserted her legitimate rights.  There must be a clearly defined policy and unambiguous doctrine to deal with vital issues of national defence and security. Such a policy must be explicitly stated, loudly proclaimed and resolutely enforced. Even as the Indian Army might have to fight and throw out the intruders from own territory, the Government could continue its diplomatic engagement driving home an unambiguous message to all – India is committed to foster peace, friendship and cooperation with her neighbours but every intrusion or inimical action shall be dealt with militarily just like any other crime or violation of law by foreign nationals is dealt with legally on merits of the case. Our policies and actions on ground must convince our neighbours that playing with India’s integrity is highly risky and unaffordable. Good neighbourly relations with China are not a one sided requirement or necessity for India to beg and pursue.  Building an atmosphere of cordiality and trust is equally vital for China being India’s largest trading partner. If Vietnam can tell China in plain language to behave, India can tell her in a more convincing language.

Indian troops have never violated neighbours’ borders, LC or LAC and therefore we may not be aware how Pakistan and China would react to an Indian platoon intruding into their territory.  It could be a worthwhile exercise to attempt and test this option to learn some useful lessons!

India’s policy confusion raises a few vital questions that demand clear and eloquent answers: How much peace is really enough? Can we ensure it by negating the military’s role in it?

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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8 thoughts on “India-China Military Standoff – A Question of Sovereignty and Peace

  1. As we have now come to know, the present Government has sold of national security to save their face. What can you expect from a lame duck PM and a Foreign who was connected to a fund scam related to disabled.
    This Govt. has killed all Defense deals, blacklisted major arms suppliers, finally india wont have any good arms supplier left to supply armaments. Cause one after another congress goons have taken bribes.
    God save India. Well there wont be any india left if Pak and China decide to walk in.

    Sarabjit is DEAD! The poor Indian prisoner of war was brutally killed by Pakistanis and our government is doing NOTHING about it.

    It’s shameful to be a part of a country like India. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, we demand answers from you, your government is full of cowards.
    First Pakistan brutally killed you soldiers and now Sarabjit?
    I most often here this refrain that Indians were peace loving—–! My foot, they are peace -loving! They are cowards.” KAYARTAA KA DOOSRA NAM ‘SHANTI PRIYA’ HAI” (OTHER NAME for COWARDICE IS PEACE-LOVING). Indian men—-the cowardly rats, are only good at beating women—burning their wives or bulldoze the weak and meak.
    I often hear we are a STATUS QUO nation. My answer is: BEGGARS HAVE NO CHOICE. (BHIKHARI KE PASS KOI VIKALP NAHI HAI)—Look at this way: Your MOTHER INDIA is being raped by goons from across the western borders and your leaders say they would talk to them——your blood does not boil because KHOON PAANI BAN GAYA HAI ( Blood has become water) —-VASSALAGE has become your habbit—-it is in your bloody blood.—GOOLAMI TUMHARE KHOON MEIn HAI.
    Whether it is Parliament 13/12 or Mumbai 26 /11 or even Kargil-99—-You would only show RESTRAINT & TOLERANCE—–which actually is your COWARDICE attribute. You actually are too good in THEORISING—from VEDAS to EPICS to NON-ALLIGNMENT—-You even forget the teachings of BHAGWAT GITA—–Your most revered Holy book——you interpret it to your convenience while it central message : FIGHT AGAINST EVIL & INJUSTICE—-DON’T SPARE BLOOD RELATIONS TOO, IF THEY ARE EVIL DOERS; SLAY THEM — But you keep crying about all these evil doers of modern India as –” OUR MISGUIDED BOYS” ———— “EXECUTION OF A TERRORIST ,CONVICTED BY YOUR COURTS WOULD ANNOY YOUR NEIGHBOURS! —-What rubbish? —-These are plain simple excuses to hide

  3. India won on Pakistan on 4 occasions in different wars.but, why our govt. didn’t try to get back Pakistan occupied Kashmir(POK)in all these occasions.Now, Pakistan create terrorist training establishments in P.O.K and sending them to strike down on our people and army lives.It means, technically ,Pakistan providing training to terrorists on our soil and sending to attack our country.Even Indian army knows how many terrorist camps running by Pakistan, where it was.But,our govt. didn’t dare to attack atleast those camps.But, whenever Pakistan taking about Kashmir, our govt, responded as Kashmir is integral part of India.

    Now India has spent thousands of crores on maintaining lacks of army people in kasmir to protect from terrorists.

    2. India endorsed China’s candidature for permenant membership in United Nations when it is offered to India by Nehru.Now , even Indian govt. put all its efforts to get permenant membership in the proposed restructure of U.N , China has not supported our candidature even U.S,U.K has ready to endorse our candidature.Due to its permanent membership in U.N and financial stability ,China can take any decision against U.S and countries if it wants.but, Indian government does not have that much dare to go against those countries.

    3. India has going back from war zone by believing China promise not go for war under china leadership jut by blindly believing.No country has believing china’s foreign plicy based on its track record.but.Nehru believed china.The results is china attacked our country and occupied our land and never given back.Our govt. didn’t try for that occupied land.China still says that Arunachal Pradesh is part of its land.Even Indian govt. has not strongly condemned.Soft, its says , after day/two, it is part of our country for face saving in the media.

    These examples are enough to know how much soft Our leaders and govt. on protecting our country’s integrity and showing power on foreign countries.

  4. Excellent article!
    However, I want to observe that the local army commanders displayed cowardice.
    Every military person claims that Indian soldiers are brave, but that is not correct as a general statement. During the 1962 and 1965 wars, battalions of Indian troops deserted the battlefield. At least one Major General was court-martialed for cowardice after losing his nerve. It so happens that only soldiers and military people can display cowardice on the battlefield.
    After years of neglecting the military, the chickens are coming home to roost: the morale of the soldiers is down such that they don’t want to fight. The myth of the fighting Indian soldier is all gone. The officers only drink whisky every evening and talk big when high. They can only fight against poorly armed Maoists, Nagas, Punjabis, and Kashmiris. You mark my words, India will be unable to pull off a military success with China unless a strong man becomes PM at the center. Till then, all Indians must sweat and fear their own Indian brethren.

  5. This is a time for instrospection for India. The wolves are at the door and the leaders of the nation in charge of the security are in a state of disarray, inaction, slow motion and chalta hai attitude. The 2014 election are a year away and the enemies of India have a short time to make gains. Before a strongmen can be elected and put in charge to lead the nation there is a real danger that the Chinese incursion may mushroom into a full fledged retreat of Indian military similar to the 1962 debacle. This potential failure looming for India will not be because Indian military is not brave enough to fight Chinese. They are simply not being provided the framework, system and resources unlike their adversaries as discussed at length in Mr. Kharb’s article above. What can be done should China decides to move against India in a substantial way? The oppostion and the nation must demand answers in parliament on preparedness from the bedsheet clad minister and the PM in Delhi. Knowing what we know now, there should be an ongoing signficant buildup of arms, men and machines on the Indian borders with the forward basis becoming operational to strike if called on by the government. The optics of such developments will most likely deter China from taking the next step while yielding India precious time for a long term LOC defence strategy to take hold.

  6. **China’s incursion in Ladakh**
    China’s incursion a “localised problem”, can be resolved: PM

    Mr. Prime Minister I think when the Chinese fighter planes fly over your head in New Delhi then it will be a national problem. No matter is local matter when it concerned with national sovereignty. I don’t know which book you’ve read.

    When it comes to demolishing the democratic protest in the anywhere in the country then you politicians have no hesitation in using force over them even on the women and children’s but where You must become strong as it is a concern of national sovereignty, there you act like timid and bagging manner. It is a big shame for all of us that after so many years we haven’t been able to guard our borders and today’s govt. has no guts to accept that truth just trying to ignore everything happening at the borders. It is China’s mercy that it has no intention to fight with India as they are getting what they want without fighting Whether it is Indian land or Indian markets which has been sold by our politicians (Filling their pockets with money for making easy path for Chinese to capture our market and Tough path for own industry to stand in own market) to Chinese. I don’t know why we are paying salaries to the Defense Ministry people????? If they can’t even guard our borders I think it must be shut down if it’s can’t protect our borders. I want to tell you that we have zero infrastructures at our entire Chinese border even after 51 yrs of 1962 war. Another question for the Govt. is that how many times Chinese have ordered us to stop our work in the border areas and why we followed their orders in our land????? Contrary to this Chinese build their complete infrastructure near border area and at end of this year they will have there their train line up to the borders…………………………….Wowwwwww

  7. Respected sir,
    it is very true that chinese and paki armies are taking the advantage of unstable and underachieved government of india. if govt cant solve those problems or cant make the correct decesions on time , then government should not interfare in forces. forces should give there own rights to perform the activities. Again the panel of advoiser should contain the knowledgeble Ex-Army officials for making the decesions regarding the foreign threats.

  8. what can this who are busy in scams,luring Muslims for their vote bank and looting India and depositing in Swiss bank…..Indian national security is in danger and it will be so till there is no govt like Atal bihari vajpayee…congress is incapable of governing but still they are winning elections and all thanks to we fellow Indians…

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