Will China do a Kargil on India?

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 03, 2011 05:17 hrs

Of late, India and China have been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Some time back India expressed its intentions to explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea. China immediately issued a warning. Our neighbour went on to say that it had "indisputable sovereignty" over these waters and termed India's action "illegal".

Vietnam backed us and we shrugged off the threat.

India is also in the process of strengthening ties with Myanmar, which recently blocked a dam being built by China. So we are not the only ones in a confrontational stance with China.

The other irritant is the Chinese Army stepping up intrusions into India, especially in Ladakh. It's not just at the border. Some reports say that there have been dozens of incursions by enemy soldiers upto 7kms deep into Indian soil.

For too long the Indian government has been happily denying all of this. They did the same with Pakistan in Kargil in 1999 and thanks to that we had a war on our hands. If the soldiers came by mistake, then what of reports of Chinese helicopters busting unused Indian bunkers on Indian soil? Can that be seen as an act of war?

Last month, the Indian Army chief confirmed the presence of 3000-4000 Chinese troops, mostly engineers, in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). It is clear that the Chinese are up to something.

While most of the above has been confirmed by multiple sources, there was also a report of confrontation between INS Airavat and a Chinese naval ship off the coast of Vietnam. Before that, China had issued stapled visas to the Taekwondo team from Arunachal Pradesh, a continuing sign that they do not recognize our sovereignty over the Indian state.

All these irritants cannot be merely brushed aside by the Foreign Office which continues to use the word "peaceful" to describe our relations with China.

Remember 1962?

In fact the last time there was so much of negative activity between the two countries was the run up to the 1962 war.

Now, why did that war happen in the first place? Historians will always differ. The Chinese never accepted the McMohan Line. There was great animosity due to Tibet. And so on and so forth.

But I'll say that the only reason the conflict happened was that our enemy wanted to build China National Highway 219, a strategic link between Xinjiang and Tibet. That's it.

The only irritant for that was that the highway passed through the area that is now called Aksai Chin. China was upfront when it asked us officially for the land. They agreed to compensate us with a greater amount of land.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused point blank and didn't even consider negotiation. So the Chinese kept quiet and made plans to capture Aksai Chin behind our backs. They openly talked peace in international forums and quietly altered their maps to include Indian land.

India was totally taken off guard by the final Chinese attack.

Interestingly when China finally won the war, they were poised to enter deep into India. They did not against the predictions of some international experts. They surprisingly returned land they had captured in Arunachal Pradesh. They returned all Indian prisoners captured in war the next year.

They let go of all the advantages they had for the simple reason that they had captured Aksai Chin comprehensively.

They also put an end to barter trade between India and Tibet.

India finally wakes up

Those who forget their mistakes are condemned to repeat them.

That's a cliche, but it's also true.

The Chinese always have a long-term plan in mind. In the 1962 war, they wanted nothing but Aksai Chin. When they went on a drive to augment their military, science and infrastructure, they weren't countering India, but trying to match America. They have succeeded on that front to.

But now beware of China! They want something Indian right now. If it's a minor thing, then we will be let off the hook. If it's a major thing, then we could have the next biggest conflict after 1962.

For example, did you know that China grew by over a thousand square kilometres after it gained some land officially from Tajikistan this year? What if it has a similar plan against India?

The earlier the PMO and Foreign Ministry try to understand, the better it will be for us.

For example the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) has warned that China could do a Kargil on us. One example it has cited is a "territorial grab" in the Twang region of Arunachal. Other areas it has cited are Ladakh and Sikkim.

The Government finally seems to have woken up. According to reports, it finally plans to beef up the Indo-China border with tens of thousands of extra troops. There are also plans to expand the Navy and Air Force in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.

Such plans will definitely serve as a deterrent to Chinese ambitions.

In the 1950s, Nehru was seen as a soft leader and India a soft state. The result was the 1962 war. Of late China has been again seeing us as a soft target again. The latest expansion plan of the defence forces will go a long way in countering that.

The Dragon is crouching, make no mistake about that.

It is time the Tiger no longer stays hidden.

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/