Dealing with the Dragon – Harsh Reality, Hard Options
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 06 Aug , 2020

Nations on attaining independence and sovereignty will, like any family inheritance, also inherit disputes and legacies needing resolution.   In any family, the options are to settle the disputes amicably and pragmatically or create lifelong feuds with resource sapping legal and other contests. The same holds good for nations.

Colonial Britain addressed boundaries and frontiers from the perspective of imperial interests and not securing lasting sovereignty for a unified India. Consequently, except where a direct threat from a neighbouring power suggested demarcation so as to draw the inviolable line, the British were content to declare major stretches as frontiers; North West, North East. Or leave the process at unilateral delineation, even when acceptance was repudiated by the other; MacMohan Line in the East and the Johnson, MacDonald lines in the West with Tibet / China. While the Mac Mohan line came near to defining the generally accepted alignment of the Indo – Tibetan boundary in the Eastern Sector, the Western Sector remained the major bone of contention with irreconcilable perceptions of where the boundary should lie.

Post the First Anglo-Sikh War and under Article 4 of the Treaty of Lahore 9 March 1846, the Lahore Durbar ceded all territories between Rivers Beas and Indus to the British and Article 12 in turn rewarded Gulab Singh with ‘Independent Sovereignty” of these territories to be made over to him by a separate treaty. Treachery of a vassal of the Sikh Kingdom had been rewarded. This was translated through Article 1 of the Treaty of Amritsar 16 March 1846. Article 4 further stipulated that the territories of Gulab Singh shall not be changed without British concurrence. The Karakoram in the north and its extension south-east was the extent of the Sikh Empire when these treaties were concluded.

Johnson, an official of the Survey of India, while at Leh en route to Khotan in 1865 came up with the “advanced boundary line” of the Kashmir State without any serious physical survey. This extended the ceded territories of the Sikh Empire eastwards to the Kun-Lun watershed encompassing Aksai Chin. It found expression in the Survey of India map of 1868 and continued to be shown as such thereafter. In 1872, Johnson resigned from the Survey of India and joined the Maharaja’s service as Wazir of Ladakh. Perhaps the appointment was a favour for cartographically extending the maharaja’s domain without any physical presence or control.

In 1893, the Chinese official at Kashgar handed a map to George McCartney, the British consul-general at Kashgar showing the proposed boundary along the Karakoram Mountains, which was a natural boundary. This showed the border up to the Indus river watershed. The British presented this line, known as the McCartney-MacDonald Line, to the Chinese in 1899 through Sir Claude MacDonald, the British representative at Peking. The Chinese did not respond and it was taken as accepted. The boundary had more or less reverted to the extent of the ceded territories of 1846. And then there were other unilateral suggestions and cartographic presentations

Based on imperial British cartographic declarations of shifting boundaries in the Western Sector, India inherited and chose to persist with the whole of Aksai Chin being part of erstwhile Kashmir state integrated into India. In 1962, the People’s Liberation Army advanced up to the 1899 MacDonald Line and is generally now the Chinese claim line as was also articulated in 1959.

With the recent Chinese move up to their perceived Line of Actual Control and as the charged discussions and shrill harangues of TV anchors fuels the passions of the present times, it may be appropriate to take an unemotional and detached view of the situation on our northern border. Like the map of India with an impressive crown that includes Gilgit – Baltistan and Aksai Chin, the actual ground position is substantially different. Reality they say is harsh and so it is.

Published Chinese literature and political utterances as also the state-controlled media clearly indicates the Chinese thinking which can be summarised as; pride in past glory and resentment against historical injustice, firm desire to consolidate nationhood, a firm belief that economic development is essential for power and that economic power generates military power; in keeping with Kautilya’s axiom in the Arthashastra—“from the strength of the treasury, the army flows.” The Chinese today feel they have the military power and asymmetry generated through economic development which can be used for national objectives including addressing historical wrongs and to settle its borders by including areas historically seen as theirs.

The recent moves on the LAC must be seen against this background and a pragmatic acceptance of realities.

The Chinese Highway 219, vital for linking Sinkiang and Tibet, both restive provinces, and effective control over Tibet, was constructed within their 1959 claim line. The Chinese claim line of 1959 and proposal of 1982 emphasise this ground reality and is very unlikely to be given up. Our claims in Aksai Chin are totally irreconcilable with Chinese objectives. By simply claiming Aksai Chin without any means to reclaim it is meaningless. The Chinese may be willing to accept the MacMohan Line in the East simply and realistically because our claim and physical control are congruent and reciprocally its forced occupation by China would involve a heavy cost and perhaps consequences.

All the talks and treaties to date have made no difference to the ground situation. We have been content to ‘talk and discuss’ the boundary question and not ‘negotiate’ in any meaningful manner. The only irritant was repeated intrusions by both sides up to their ‘perceived LAC’. China now feels it is time to formally settle the borders as perceived by them. ‘Perceptions’ of LAC are only generating grounds for endless discussions. The recent Chinese military action is to fix and hold the LAC / claim line to eliminate the ‘perception’ claims. A border war is also acceptable. In the process they have presented a fait accompli. Talks can go on as in the past and are leading nowhere.

There is a very earthy Punjabi metaphor called ‘kabja’, commonly applied to matters relating to agricultural land. It implies physical occupation and possession of land, generally in dispute, leaving the other party options of a long drawn out and ruinous legal battle with uncertain outcome or costly physical action to regain it. The Chinese can be said to have taken ‘kabja’ up to their claim lines leaving us with exercising any option.

We can defend what we have, however, the Chinese have no immediate need to dislodge us from there. If and when the opportunity arises the Ladakh region offers a much more convenient link between Aksai Chin and Baltistan in POK thereby greatly facilitating their link to the Karakoram Highway. But that is another chapter to be in the future.

And outside the military-diplomatic domain, while much talk and hype has been generated to boycott Chinese goods, infrastructure equipment, web-based applications and curtail commercial ties, that too when evaluated realistically does not go far and is not without economic costs which we can ill afford.

We had a claim and a problem but perhaps our priorities lay elsewhere or compulsions precluded doing anything worthwhile. Post-independence, we simply wished away a legacy issue needing resolution and were content with the prevailing status quo on the borders and sought refuge in managing the problem with diplomacy and goodwill. Diplomacy aims at influencing the decisions and behaviour of foreign governments and peoples through dialoguenegotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. However, no dialogue is meaningful without the backing of hard power. We gave up our consulates and garrisons in Tibet, accepted Tibet as part of China, tacitly supported Chinese stand on Taiwan and side lined the Dalai Lama. Our neglect, unwillingness and incapacity to invest in creating corresponding power and allowing the asymmetry to reach the present state fore-closes any military options. The future therefore holds humiliation behind the façade of diplomacy. A common jingoistic refrain heard is that our Army is not the Army of 1962, what is wished away is that neither is the Chinese Army of 1962 nor is the Indian Army what it should be in 2020. It must also be accepted that notwithstanding our cartographic, supposed cultural links and academic arguments to back our claim, we, including the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and British India, had no communication, administration or settled population in Aksai Chin. Even our pathetic attempts to ‘show the flag’ and set up military posts as part of the ‘forward policy’ before the border war of 1962 barely took us a few kilometres ahead of the present position with no infrastructure to support the deployment. And, as mentioned above, we did nothing after 1962 to realise our claim.

When the Chinese commenced their modernisation, including the military, in 1990 we ignored it and only when their developments, infrastructure and deployments reached our doorstep in Tibet did we react, but too little too late. As Major General DK Palit, the Director Military Operations in 1962, wrote in his book War in the High Himalayas – ‘There was a propensity to ignore military reality and adopt an emotional attitude that pandered to patriotic urges while shrugging away inter related problems with optimistic assumptions.’ Perhaps not much has changed today. An unsettled, un demarcated and contentious border has been ‘policed’ by the ITBP and the Home Ministry rather than ‘defended’ by the military. Prior to 1962 it was the blind belief in the assessment of the Intelligence Bureau Chief that the Chinese would not resort to use of force, now it was assumed that the economic cooperation and personal equation of the leadership would ensure status quo.

Meaningful policy formulation comes about through institutions peopled with and injecting expert opinion and advice in the policy formulation process. Our security policy apparatus is totally devoid of any formal military representation right through the process of policy formulation. And nor are the diplomatic-intelligence inputs integrated right through the military planning and force structuring process. Seeking a one-off view or comments is no substitute for participative policy formulation. The civil and police bureaucracy, which handles our security policy formulation, is conditioned and oriented towards finding solutions to an issue while the military is conditioned to handle and address an issue and problem. We have been content to manage our security issue rather than address them. That our intelligence structures and apparatus has repeatedly failed remains unaddressed. Needless to say, our politico-military objectives have never been clearly formulated. Individuals cannot replace institutions but our experience has been the opposite. Safeguarding turf, vested interests and a misplaced sense of prerogative overrides institutional and national interests.

Recommendations of all committees, study groups, reports of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Standing Committee of Parliament for Defence have, except for some cherry picking, died a natural death in the hands of the bureaucracy or lost in the maze of the government apparatus. Blaming the past leadership – political, bureaucratic and military – may serve some purpose if it leads to some meaningful and positive change. And finally, our internal political discourse, far from addressing reality and reaching a consensus, only promotes obfuscation and mutual recrimination. The fact is that the situation has been brought about by the institutions, systems and individuals that the nation nurtures and throws up; the sum total of national character. It would be appropriate to say that it has been a national failing.

Be that as it may, the harsh reality is that there are no meaningful options available without very heavy costs. Are we willing to bear them?

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13 thoughts on “Dealing with the Dragon – Harsh Reality, Hard Options

  1. The majority of defence officers are no way better than old politicians. They are experts in blaming others without giving a practical solution to the problem. In this article the Lt. Gen has not talked about the 1996 agreement. It is a very good agreement as far as India’s is concerned. After the 1962 war, the fool PLA has occupied the inhospitable terrain of Himalayas. Only Galwan valley in DBO is flat land. So PLA cannot use the battle tanks in all the other portion of the LOC because of river or lake. The PLA has to come down to the river bed then climb 600 to 700 meters to the Indian side. So Chines cannot use tanks there. After the development of supersonic and Hypersonic missiles, the concept of war has changed. These missiles can easily cut off the supply of the enemy very easily by creating man-made landslides in the roads from the rear. This was not possible earlier as the maximum range of the gun was 38 Km. So it is impossible for PLA to defeat India in mountain warfare now or in the future. The 21st century is the age of missiles and rockets.
    Huang Guozhi, the senior editor of Modern Weaponry magazine, has said that the world’s largest and most experienced country with plateau and mountain troops is neither US nor Russia but India. Indian Army knows all kinds of fighting very well and the PM gave a free hand to them and that is why more causality on the Chinese side. PM knows every detail and he is an expert in war and war strategy. After the invention of the Internet , google, google search the War and War strategy are no more the monopoly of Army, IAF and Navy.

  2. It is a sad reality and sadder is the fact that with the truth and reality of the situation on the LAC now becoming apparent; lesser the number of people who want to acknowledge or talk about it. The hyper media and some of our own veterans who claimed that China had been given a bloody nose suddenly seem to have gone silent when faced with the harsh truth. The media is more interested in talking about Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and the CDS says ” it is going to be a long haul”. As if thereafter the Chinese will go back. I wonder if they even know the origin of the phrase ‘ ‘It is going to be a long haul’. We have just managed to make one more border live. I wonder whom it will hurt more in the long run.
    It is time to ask the difficult questions as to why do these incidents keep happening? A consequence of abject lack of understanding and neglect to national security. We need a major overhaul of our national security establishment and not a long haul.

  3. @Maj It is matter of indoctrinating your children. Power(military, economic or otherwise) comes from indoctrination, coordination and inner peace. You can be poor and free or you could be rich and free, but you do not have to be a slave to the source of your material wealth or anything else(including knowledge or glory). Instead of telling/teaching the children(born population-Below Poverty Line) that Chinese scholar visited India(Gujrat) thousand years back you could tell them the truth that Chinese Han opportunistic thug gang(s) visited India time and again to spy, steal, spread diseases and rape their ancestral lands and knowledge. Working with such Han-thugs can only get you mugged or be caught dealing with stolen stuff. It is sad to see so many politicians, business men, academicians(universities) fall for it.

  4. This is a realty check-may or may not be accept by many. The General has clearly spelt out everything.
    Military power comes out of economic power where we are grossly lacking. I doubt our leaders, now and before, are at all concerned about the future of the country.
    Look from 35 crores we have gone to 135 crores in 70 years. What an achievement. Remember 75 % of the children born are the present future population-Below Poverty Line. How do we expect to cope up-no one has considered and/or suggested any solution.
    There is hardly any futuristic planning. Everything is Now, Here and Today.
    There have been many excellent Generals, Admiral’s and Air Marshals- who could have done GREAT for the country but no one likes competition.
    Upkar Wala hi Rakey

    • You people are no way better than Commies. Democracy is enough to make a country a military power and economic power. You people are still thinking about foot soldiers, assault rifles, field guns, helicopter and fighter planes. The 21st century is the age of Supersonic, Highpersonoc missiles, rockets Satellite and high power Laser beam. India is a superpower in all the fields. Majority of military officers do not know the difference between conventional war and mountain warfare. If the know the difference they would not have quarrelled with IAF in presence of MoD for Apache helicopter which is of no use after the development of Laser-guided MANPADS. It is dangerous to use Helicopter gunships in hilly areas. The helicopters were used extensively during the Soviet-Afghan war, mainly for bombing Mujahideen fighters. When the U.S. supplied heat-seeking missiles to the Mujahideen, the Soviet Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters proved to be favourite targets of the rebels. Similarly field gun has become obsolete after the invention of WLR ( weapon locating radar) by the USA. But General Vikaram Singh made a demand for 400 numbers of M777 155mm gun which has no “shoot-and-scoot” arrangement like Bofors gun. But Late Manohar Parikkar came to know this problem and he reduced the number from 400 to 145 numbers. After the invention of the internet, Microsoft, Google, Google search, Google map, google distance calculator and satellite the war and war strategy are no more the monopolies of the Army, IAF and Navy. Fighter plane will vanish as film photography has vanished from the market. within 20 years. No one can improve the take off time of fighter plane lesser than 15 minutes. You people have failed to conquer their own sense. But PM and CM of UP are able to conquer their sense and able to perform better than others. They are getting the right information and new ideas from extraordinary people.

  5. A strongly worded, to the point analysis of the sit with reasons for, and options available. Result of inaction for decades by different constituents of the sovereign nation are difficult to overcome so easily and Army is paying a price now. Lot is required to manoeuvre to the right gainful course, hope the current dispensation initiates actions accordingly.

  6. A very forthright, to the point and hard hitting article. Fully agree with what has been stated by the author. The fact is we have neglected development of our border areas over the past 60-70 yrs, no proper infracture worth while to save guard our border areas has come up. On the contrary the the PLA has built up motorable all weather roads and permamnent sturctures right up to our borders giving them stratigic advantage . We cannot take the PLA lightly as is being hyped up by our media. To day heavy Army deplloyment is there on both sides, eye ball contact. As mentioned in the article PLA has taken “KABJA”, now to evict them is not going to be easy. The boundary is not demarcated and the LAC is ones perception of both sides. Basically the development which should have taken place post independence was never planned. China being economically strong will continue to call the shots. The last sentence of the article sums up very correctly, “no meaniing full options available without heavy costs”

  7. “Colonial Britain addressed boundaries and frontiers from the perspective of imperial interests…” – So what? … It is a ridiculous statement to make while ignoring that China invaded Tibet in 1949.

    It has been a common pastime of the Indian nation to blame Britain for all the evils but turning a blind eye for the “good” side in military and statecraft inherited. When the PLA moved in Lhasa, the first commander-in-chief of new India Roy Bucher, a Briton, was preparing to move the Indian army to the Tibet border. He followed the military principles that if your neighbour nation makes any military move, you must respond to it by moving your forces accordingly. It has been recorded in history that being informed about it, the PM Nehru kicked up a fuss in the cabinet meeting that the Army Chief was acting with a colonial mindset and there was nothing to worry about China. So all the planning by Roy Bucher to counter China was set to rest by the political leadership of India – not Britain!

    There is no need to address the rest of this column – it speaks for itself, excepting the end which warrants a rejoinder:
    “Be that as it may, the harsh reality is that there are no meaningful options available without very heavy costs. Are we willing to bear them?” –

    I wonder if the General has ever made any study of NATO strategy. In the 1960s when the Soviet Union was overwhelmingly powerful vis-a-vis Europe, General de Gaulle of France threw up the notion of “force-de-frappe”. It was built on the premise that if the Soviets anyway menaced, the counter will be to just annihilate Moscow by a nuclear riposte. With that prospect of being blinded, Soviets would never dare to make any move against western Europe, irrespective of whether the Americans intervene or not.

    I get the impression from this column that the present Indian Army is bereft of any strategic vision to stand up to the Chinese aggression. No wonder India has been invaded time and again in the past history.

  8. To clarify, the current quarrel/fight with Chinese is not about some valley or odd kilometres. It is about Arunachal, Ladhak in the medium term. In the near term it is about PoK. That is where Chinese are going to walk into openly.

    What will India do? It will have to do something.

  9. Indian defence review has of late been converted to a forum of anti national writers paid by CCP.This writer has only narrated bunch of lies regarding chinese claim on Tibet . He deliberately tried to conceal the fact that barring a brief period chinese have never ruled Tibet in last 1500 years. They were confined within world famous china wall.So chinese have no claim on Tibet or Aksai chin or East Turkestan.If Nehru’s treasonous policy had not emboldened Mao ,Tibet could have been still a sovereign nation under Indian protection. It is a fact that chinese economic power diferantial began increasing after 1990. But till 2000 difference was minor. But 10 years of MMS govt totally wasted in defence preparedness. They deprived our army of basic needs like good assault rifle, bullet proof jackets,shoes& helmets,what to talk of artillery,air defence,fighter aircraft, submarines etc. But now our defence forces are fully capable of not only giving PLA befitting response ,but they can liberate Aksai chin & Tibet if Americans engage them in south china sea by a coordinated action.PLAAF will start searching locations to hide in within 72 hours. Our army can beat hell out of PLA Army in mountains.. Chinese navy cannot dare to enter in Indian ocean and face Indian Navy.I remember a so called American expert Michel Kugleman earlier used to spread propaganda before 2016 surgical strike in Pakistan that due to nuclear weapons of Pakistan and American supplied conventional weapon ,India has no option other than to talk to Pakistan to stop terrorist attack on India.Now Pakistan is always sleepless in fear of losing POJK.As far as economic power is concerned US millitary budget is about 10 times bigger than Russia. Can US dare to threaten Russia.As whole world including Russia is angry on chinese arrogance u will see crumbling of chinese economic empire very soon. Tibet ,East Turkestan, Inner Mangolia,Hongkong are soon going to be sovereign country.

  10. 99.9 defence officers are behaving like Commies. It has become a habit to blame the civilian govt, bureaucrats and PSUs by the defence officers. Every defence officers will write long articles without giving solutions to the problems. The first responsibility of the Govt is to prevent war. Indian Govt officials are not fools like the Chinese Govt and their Army. After the 1962 war, the Chinese have occupied inhospitable terrain in the Himalayas. But they have not occupied any fertile valleys. Why should any intelligent Govt spend billions of dollar to recapture Inhospitable terrains? The other day a young Chinese boy wrote that China spends more money on the construction of roads than defence. Whereas India spends less on roads and more on defence. The concept of war has been changed after the development of missiles, rockets and Satellite and connected with its avionics. Now India is a superpower in this field. So Indian Govt is not afraid of Pakistan or China and no country will be able to defeat any country having Supersonic and Hypersonic missile which can be launched from Silos anywhere in the country. Govt had developed Pinaka missiles to replace Battle tank and field guns. But General Bikram Singh created a demand for M 777 to use the same in the Himalayas against Chinese without checking whether they got WLR. Why did the Chinese violate the 1996 agreement? Fool Rahul is asking why did the Indian Army fight without arms? After the introduction of the Internet, Microsoft, Google, Google search and Google map, war and war strategy is no more the monopoly of the defence officers. It is the Monopoly of the civilian Govt. Read this article: – Huang Guozhi, the senior editor of Modern Weaponry magazine, has said that the world’s largest and experienced country with plateau and mountain troops is neither US nor Russia but India. Indian Army knows all kinds of fighting and PM gave freedom to act and that is why more causality on the Chinese side. 

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