Ever since the Chinese incursion took place the Indian authorities have belittled the confidence of the countrymen by their ignorance, tentativeness and obfuscation. The government’s position regarding the depth of intrusion incrementally increased, i.e. from 10 to 18 and then to 19 kilometers. The current dispensation has been desperate to downplay the incident by labeling it as a 'routine affair' due to difference in perception about the Line of Actual Control.
This 'difference of perception' business has been flogged with such degree of incredulity that the government has lost all trust in its role as preserver of India’s territorial integrity. The intrusion was not by a wayward Chinese patrol, but by a Chinese platoon, logistically sustained by vehicles and helicopters. Near simultaneously, there were Chinese helicopter intrusions in the Chumar area of Eastern Ladakh. Reportedly in addition to other material these helicopters also dropped leaflets in local language, whose contents have not been made public.
Is the dropping of leaflets also attributed to ‘difference in perception’? One is compelled to also ask whether the arming of Maoists in India by the Chinese is also due to ‘difference in perception’?
Apologists for the Indian government and the pro-China lobby, which pervades every single segment of Indian society, were pouring vitriolic over anybody and everybody, who questioned the Chinese intentions. What added to the air of conspiracy was the criminal silence by the prime minister over the issue. There was no word of assurance from him to the nation. Time and again he has betrayed lack of grasp with regard to strategic and security issues.
Conspiracy theories are flying thick and fast because half-truths do more damage than untruths. What blew the lid over the untruth was the announcement of visit of the foreign minister Salmaan Khurshid to China. The statements from other two ministers, i.e. the home minister and the defence minister, directly responsible for the defence of India, exposed the discordance between the two ministries on security matters that bedevils the country.
While the defence minister has continued with his emphasis on “investigation”, the home minister has come out with a strange formulation called “no-man’s land”. This formulation is from the man under whose overall command the ITBP operates as a border management force. With this kind of mindset that percolates down, it is no wonder that the Chinese have entrenched themselves in the Indian territory. The home minister has in effect extended invitations for further encroachments.
In any other decent country the home minister would have been made to resign for such an irresponsible, reprehensible and callous statement.
The truth of the matter is that the Chinese have not intruded but have made a strategic thrust in an area, which is perniciously sensitive Indian territory. The map below reveals the Chinese designs. The following needs careful consideration:-
This strategic thrust by China between the Aksai Chin area in the east and Siachen Glacier, and the POK in the West comes at a time when the Chinese premier Li Keqiang is set to visit India. Being his first foreign visit and with the new Xi Jinping dispensation in China, it was expected that the reach out would be friendly.
The posturing of the new Chinese dispensation, fully aware about its impact on the atmospherics before the visit, smacks of diplomatic disdain and blackmail. This is not without precedence. In November 2006, just before the then President Hu Jintao's visit, the Chinese ambassador to India had asserted China’s claims to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Then in December 2010 prior to the visit of the then Premier Wen Jiabao the issue of stapled visas for residents of J&K was manufactured.
The Chinese thrust 30 kilometers south of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) in effect seeks to neutralize the strategic airfield at DBO, which was recently activated. This airfield serves as the eyes and ears of India with regard to the Karakoram Pass, the Karakoram Highway and the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan. China is attempting to foreclose these eyes and ears.
It may be mentioned that there is a sizeable presence of PLA in Gilgit-Baltistan region engaged in infrastructural activities, to the extent that some commentators have termed it as Sinonization of the region. The region assumes added significance because of China’s plans to extend Tibet railway into Sinkiang, which is expected to follow the same alignment as the Karakoram Highway. Replicating this alignment is also the proposed Chinese pipeline from Gwadar port.
The Chinese thrust has not only driven a wedge between the POK and Aksai Chin, but also threatens the Indian interests in Siachen Glacier.
This Chinese thrust therefore does betray strategic collusion between Pakistan and China. India is indeed confronted with a two-front situation.
This ‘difference in perception’ business has actually threatened to revise the long held belief that the Chinese are in illegal occupation of 38,000 sq. kms. The home minister has made the figure inexorably elastic.
The Chinese has been emboldened by the fact that by sheer weight of technology, they have transformed the remoteness of Tibet and in turn consolidated the region. They however do not seem to take kindly to India’s belated attention in improving the infrastructure in the region by way of roads and activation of airfields at DBO, Fuk Che and Nyomah.
The moot question that arises is about the Indian response. It has taken only 30 Chinese soldiers to destroy India’s image. The present government has destroyed all the potential that we have to act as a benign and at the same time strong geopolitical counterpoise to China in the region.
We should therefore not lament the fact that none of our neighbours, which includes Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives is taking us seriously.
With respect to China, after the assumption of power by the new dispensation, there has been a standoff between Japan and China over Senkaku Islands. The Japanese scrambled their fighter jets in response and did not send their foreign minister.
Similarly, with so much of tension in the Korean Peninsula, the South Korean foreign minister never visited China. The Indian foreign minister Salmaan Khurshid by announcing his visit to China to beg for the resolution of the strategic thrust has played havoc with the morale of not only the security forces but the citizens of India at large. He must cancel his visit immediately.
In fact India should make the visit of the Chinese premier inumbent on immediate withdrawl of Chinese troops.
At the tactical level, the Chinese strategic thrust poses no problems at the moment. The deep incursion by the Chinese troops affords the luxury to the Indian forces to surround them and choke them into submission, as it was done in the Sumdorong Chu Valley in 1986.
Also by R S N Singh:
Army Chief's age: Personal matter or conspiracy?
Is India turning into a banana republic?
'Hindu terror': India the sole loser
RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW. He is the author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan.