“One little spot is acne, which cannot force you to say that this is not a beautiful face…that acne can be addressed by simply applying an ointment.”
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, about the PLA’s recent intrusion into Ladakh.
Acne, however, can and does leave scars. And according to Wikipedia, ‘Aside from scarring, its main effects are psychological, such as reduced self-esteem and in very extreme cases, depression or suicide. Acne usually appears during adolescence, when people already tend to be most socially insecure. Early and aggressive treatment is therefore advocated by some to lessen the overall long-term impact to individuals.’
But whose ‘beautiful face’, according Mr Khurshid, has this pimple?
India? China? Or was he talking metaphorically, about the relationship between the two nations?
Assuming it was the relationship he was referring to, what 'ointment' was the minister proposing to use?
Was it a promise to cut down on ‘aggressive” Indian patrolling along the Line of Actual Control?
Was it a pledge to quickly sign the “Border Defence Cooperation Agreement” --- which Beijing drafted and shared with Delhi in March ---without too much fuss, even if it is weighed in China’s favour?
Sun Tzu, the 5th century Chinese general famous for his treatise called ‘The Art of War,’ was a great advocate of being unpredictable, keeping your opponents perennially off balance, forever guessing about your real intentions.
Modern-day China has perfected that art, as can be seen by the Chinese incursion occurring weeks before the New Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India, his first official trip abroad since taking over on March 15, which New Delhi has publicly lauded as an honour.
In October 1962, after years of promoting “Hindi Chini bhai bhai (India China are brothers),” China launched a two pronged strike against a hapless India, totally unprepared for war. A month later, China declared a ceasefire and withdrew, knowing that their objective of teaching the upstart Indians a lesson had been totally accomplished.
India’s crime? Giving refuge to the Dalai Lama, who fled the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and daring to establish ‘forward posts’ along disputed stretches of the 3,225 km -long border.
While India bases the border on the McMahon Line, drawn by the British, China rejects it as an 'Imperial legacy,' and stakes claim to huge swathes of territory in Aksai Chin and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
China already controls most of Aksai Chin--a barren inhospitable patch which nevertheless connects the mainland with the troubled Xinjiang Autonomous Region. India claims this is a part of Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
To complicate matters, Pakistan has ‘leased’ a part of Gilgit-Baltistan in the ‘Northern areas’ of Kashmir, which it controls, to China.
There have been several attempts to reconcile the border differences, including some 15 rounds of high level talks, but China’s refusal to offer maps indicating its official claims along these two regions has stalled progress. For now, the Line of Actual Control serves as a provisional, temporary border.
However, Beijing does keep needling Indian citizens and even senior military officers from Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh by either denying them visas or issuing stapled visas, indicating that they are from a ‘disputed territory.’ It also routinely protests against senior Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the Dalai Lama visiting Arunachal.
In 2006, Chinese Ambassador Sun Yuxi raised a political storm in New Delhi by reiterating China's claim to Arunachal Pradesh on the eve of president Hu Jintao's visit to India.
On the eve of Premier Li’s visit to India Sunday, there were reports that Kiren Rijiju, a former BJP MP from Arunachal Pradesh, had written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to consider accepting stapled Chinese visas to allow people from his state to visit China. He believes that this would not only “downgrade the status of Arunachal Pradesh to a less confrontational one” but also allow people from his state to participate in important international events in China.
Conventional wisdom says that at a time when China is trying to consolidate its position as a major power, the last thing it needs is a war.
But others argue that given India’s recent attempts to ramp up its security and infrastructure along the border, it’s cosiness with the US, and the increasing perception that it can be used as a ‘counterweight’ to China’s growing clout, perhaps Beijing believes the time has come to teach New Delhi another lesson.
If that indeed is the case, then we can expect increasingly aggressive incursions along the borders, amidst calls for restraint and media campaigns --on both sides --pointing to the lack of clear demarcation of each nation’s claims as an excuse.
If we were to take that thought further, from a strategic perspective, the best time to impart another lesson to India would be between the US withdrawal from Afghanistan late next year and the strengthening of the ‘Pacific pivot” as part of declared American policy, which would pose a strategic threat in Beijing’s backyard.
China also knows that this is not the India it attacked it 1962. Which is why any major offensive will extensively involve cyber war, or attempts to cripple India’s military, banking and other networked communication systems, causing immense confusion, chaos and financial loss.
There are those who argue that unlike in Kargil, where hundreds of Indian soldiers died evicting the Pakistani intruders, the Chinese intruders were ‘coaxed’ to leave without a shot being fired. That Indian diplomacy worked.
Perhaps. But the fact remains that in order to make the Chinese intruders dismantle their post and return across the Line of Actual Control, we had to dismantle our own in the area too.
Right now, India’s primary objective should be to ensure that the LAC is clearly and transparently defined, and to send out the message that any violation will be seen as an act of war, and dealt with accordingly.
Having already agreed upon the political parameters and principles, the next step is to devolve the framework for the resolution of the boundary question.
The final step --which would necessarily involve some ‘give and take’ -- would be to formally delineate the disputed borders, and clearly reveal and define the ‘beautiful face’ Mr Khushid was referring to.
But acne, unfortunately, has a tendency to spread.
We can either deal with it firmly and aggressively, or sit back helplessly as it turns that beautiful face into a pock marked horror.
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Ramananda Sengupta is a senior editor and strategic analyst