Aksai Chin

Don’t rule out another Galwan; China’s game is to topple Modi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

How Indian prime minister Narendra Modi would wish that before he leaves office, he casts India-China border in stone and defuses what could make us humans the dinosaurs of an extinct world.

He would have looked at maps, the prickly western and eastern borders, and wondered if this is all what is holding the two Asian giants from making it Asia’s Century, and not just pawns in the hands of West, our plunderers for over two centuries.

He would be practical to realize that India could no longer drive China out of Aksai Chin (western borders) nor the latter could do the same to us in Arunachal Pradesh (eastern borders), so why not have a quid pro quo and settle the matter once for all. As a bonus, Pakistan would be kept on leash by China who holds it by ear.

India in such a course would’ve to recognize China owning Aksai Chin and the latter would’ve to tone down its shrill on Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh which is a monastery of significance to Tibetan pilgrims.  One other option, to share the land in half as was done in Sino-Russia border pact in 2008, is out of question. It would lose India most of Arunachal Pradesh. But surely a solution could be found.

Modi, that hard-nosed realist, would’ve realized that peace comes at a cost. In this case, ceding Aksai Chin formally would be a political suicide. He would be history’s villain. Millions who swoon over him would bay for his blood. Besides, how does he build consensus in a fractious society.

Suppose Modi is able to carry the nation along. That he is able to convey the entire labyrinth of this dispute to the last man. That it all began after China occupied Tibet in 1959. Till then Tibet was a buffer zone between the two and there was no border conflict. China subsequently refused to accept the border deals Tibet had with kingdom of Ladakh and the British. Now that Tibet was theirs, the sanctity of those deals was zilch. There is no line which runs over ridges, valleys and mountains to clearly define Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector.

Let’s presume Modi is also able to own the missteps of India’s political class of the last 60 years. That China had offered a solution to Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru which the latter rebuffed and brought the 1962 war on India’s door. China had then forwarded the same offer of reason: Give up Aksai Chin in return to have Arunachal Pradesh all to yourself. China was even willing to recognize India’s claim over Jammu and Kashmir. We lost that moment.

The ties went into a freeze till 1979 when India resumed bilateral relations with China.  The border talks were revived in 1980 and for next five years China made the same proposal they had in 1960: i.e. concede Aksai Chin for your control of Arunachal Pradesh (McMahon Line). Aksai Chin was important for China to connect its Xinjiang province with Tibet. We again lost that moment. Thereafter, China had grown strong enough to discard that concessional tone. There was no give-and-take, only take, and India could do little.

Under the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, border talks were resumed in earnest in 2003. Since then 22 such parleys have been held. Solution has remained elusive. Even when the two nations had their strongest leaders in decades in Modi and Xi.

Who knows if Modi and Xi Jinping haven’t discussed the matter in two informal summits? Or that in nearly two-dozen parleys between the two nations, every option has not been explored.  Or that ex-foreign minister Sushma Swaraj possibly had worked out the maths in the “out-of-box solution” she suggested in Beijing in 2015. What really could explain the border dispute which kills soldiers, hurts trade and casts a long existential shadow on the two populations which make up 40 per cent of all humanity?

The only plausible reason is: India has missed the bus. China is now a bully and would play on India’s nerves. For them not just India but also Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal etc are all pawns in their game of world hegemony. It’s nobody’s friend. They gain nothing to quieten the Indian borders. Plus-trade is small-change in a bigger game. They could use the Galwan Valley prototype to shake the foundation of India’s ruling class. On the date and time of their choosing. They could send India on a defence-buying spree to throw its budget for a toss. They have also gauged how far the world would react.

So, rule out an early border solution. Keep a lid on your fantasy. Or hope that Modi’s sagacity could override China’s evil game. It’s fire-fighting now. And would erupt time and again. China’s game is now out in open. China wants Modi out. It’s for India—and Modi—to up the ante. And leave the enemy with a bloody nose.

 

 

A muscular India gives its army a “free hand” to knock sense in China

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It would be a grave misjudgement to believe that China has walked over India in a physical showdown in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on Monday.

If nothing, ask the Chinese who made moves in lockstep over the last few weeks to test India’s nerves and found a nation mature in diplomacy and dare in equal measure.

India has used velvet gloves against a petulant Nepal which thumbed its nose on borders but didn’t elicit a raging anger from New Delhi that would’ve played into the hands of its puppeteer, China. India knows, as does Nepal, that the latter can’t survive without India’s open borders. Simply, the land-locked nation would run out of essential supplies. A manufactured border dispute has no future but for headlines and talk shows.

China meanwhile had crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at four different points in Ladakh, agreed for de-escalation but then stayed put when the two armies were to pull themselves back by a few kilometres. India would have none of an enemy’s forward-post left standing inside the Galwan Valley which belongs to India. It didn’t backdown from a physical combat either since arms and ammunitions are avoided by the two neighbours in sensitive stretches of border running into thousands of kilometres.

Now has come the news that Indian Army has been empowered to act as per the ground situation without looking for directions from New Delhi. In other words, the Indian Army has been freed from political constraints. It’s an unambiguous message to Beijing that they are now in the wilds. That your superior nuclear stockpiles, defence spending or armaments wouldn’t be of much aid if it’s bare knuckle fight. So, if it’s to fists, stones and clubs now, may the best man win. There is no referee.

Indian Express has quoted an army source thus: “Army has been given emergency powers for deployment there as per needs and new situations without looking towards Delhi…We have to demonstrate our strength on the ground…there is no need to show aggression, only our strength.”

This would put China in a spot. Either they shove the conventions and turn it into an armed combat. Or they pull themselves back as they did in Doklam in 2017. Or they escalate which wouldn’t go unnoticed to a concerned world. It’s a massive show of intent from Modi’s India which is largely consistent in its zero-tolerance approach on nation’s sovereignty and integrity.

It’s not like South China Sea where the Middle Kingdom has usurped islands, sea tolls, reefs and banks overriding neighbours protests. China could not only carry through the bluff but were assured of its efficacy by the mumbled response of the affected. India seems determined to call out the bully. It’s not the semi-autonomous Hong Kong, a cowering Taiwan or a Vietnamese fishing boat you could sink to the floor of the South China Sea.

China clearly is upset at India’s assertions in recent months. India has signed a pact with Australia in the middle of the pandemic which would give teeth to QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) between four democracies of Indo-Pacific: the United States, Japan, Australia and India itself. It has openly given a call to multinationals to shift their operations to India, a blow to China where it hurts the most. It has decided to screen the foreign investments beyond the FDI regulations. It now heads World Health Organization (WHO) which is to take call if China was complicit in hiding the truth on Corona Virus pandemic. It hasn’t helped the matter that Taiwan, which Beijing is paranoid about, could have “observer” status at WHO on pandemic deliberations. Then we have an expanded G-7 group of nations where India is to be included but no invitation has gone out to China

India has an uncontested control of Galwan Valley, between Ladakh and Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin, since 1962. It suffers from poor infrastructure in a hilly terrain unlike China which makes use of the flat Tibetan plateau to carry its road and highway network unhindered. India in contrast has to cross several mountains to access the LAC. It’s only natural that India wants to secure its borders. China would either have to give up the encroachments or face consequences, no less economic. There is a groundswell of consensus to boycott Chinese goods. The little matter of Huawei 5G also hangs in the balance.

There is little doubt China faces uncommon heat across continents. Pushback against its over-arching reach has already begun in Africa and Southeast Asia. Unemployment is unprecedented. Economic woes are spiralling. The world is a hostile theatre after China’s machinations on pandemic which has set the world back by a generation in economic terms. Its present misadventure in Ladakh is an undisguised diversionary tactics.

There is little doubt Indo-China relations would freeze in near future. It would bring Pakistan in closer ambit of China. India, on its part, would have the United States in its drawing room. Distrust between the two main powers of Asia would now run deep. Russia is a common friend which could find its loyalty divided.

India’s border woes: A legacy of Colonialism, geography and Pakistan

(A reprint from NewsBred).

India is shouting from the rooftop it has made no transgressions across its eastern borders in neighbouring Nepal but it has made no difference to latter whose prime minister KP Oli  has joined his citizens who hit the streets in protest last week.

Nepal’s bitter political rivals, Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress, are united in anger and so are the students on the streets who are convinced India has swallowed the long-disputed Kalapani area in its latest map which it released in the wake of reconfiguration of Jammu & Kashmir state early this month.

India, meanwhile, has stressed it’s the same map and same boundaries it has depicted all along for over half a century now, including the other disputed territory of Susta in Nepal’s south which for the time being doesn’t get Nepal’s hackles up.

Blame it on geography’s changing moods and the toxicity of colonialism that India finds itself enmeshed in border disputes with not just Nepal but many others in its neighbourhood, including China.

Kalapani, and Susta are territories around Kali and Gandak rivers. After the Anglo-Gurkha War (1814-1816), Nepal and East India Company signed a treaty in March 1816. The two rivers drew the arbitrary borders between these two long-disputed sites. Territories right of Gandak river, including Susta, belonged to Nepal; those on the left were with India. Since then Gandak river has changed course: Now Susta is on the left of Gandak river and hence with India. As for Kalapani, British kept changing the source of Kali river which has led to rival claims of today.

China: Talks after talks

India’s border disputes with China are one of the most protracted ones in the world. Since the first border talks began in 1981 to the latest, the 22nd round, which is due later this year, solutions have eluded the two Asian giants who fight the legacy of British colonialism and are afraid to upset the domestic audience in a give-and-take eventuality.

The two countries share a 3,488-km long unresolved border but two, the Western and Eastern ones, are particularly contentious. China controls 37,000-square km sized Aksai Chin in the West, a virtually uninhabited high-altitude desert; India 84,000 square km-wide populated Arunachal Pradesh in the East. The two fought for a month in 1962 but since a peace deal was struck in 1993, dialogues have been preferred over violence.

Yet, no solution is in sight. Along vast stretches of the borders between the two, there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC). India follows the Johnson Line in the Western sector, proposed by the British in the 1860s, which allocates Aksai Chin to them. China asserts it never agreed to the Johnson Line and thus Aksai Chin is its own. Aksai Chin is between volatile Kashmir and China’s Xinjiang province which are seen troublesome to the two nations. Then there is MacMahon Line in Eastern sector, initiated in 1913-14 between China, India and Tibet which is disputed.

Fortunately, pragmatism has brought about Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two Asian giants. Soldiers patrol their territory but back off when brought face-to-face with each other. Quite often military commanders at the border share a bonhomie, exchange views and sort out local issues.

Pakistan: An intractable issue

The border dispute between India and Pakistan concern Kashmir and are on since their independence in 1947. Pakistan launched a tribal militia in Kashmir on independence and the ruler of Kashmir, Maharja Hari Singh, sought India’s assistance which put a condition on Kashmir first acceding to India. Having duly secured the accession, India airlifted its troops to Srinagar and by the time cease-fire was secured after a year, India controlled two-thirds of the Kashmir while the remaining one-third was possessed by Pakistan. The status-quo has prevailed despite three wars and as many peace agreements (Tashkent, Simla, Lahore) between the two neighbours.

Bangladesh: All quiet at borders

India and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) became free from the British empire in 1947 but the two retained thousands of citizens in hundreds of enclaves in each other’s territory. These enclave dwellers lived without any rights or papers, virtually stateless and lacking basics in education, health and security. All this changed for the good when the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi signed a historic pact with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in 2015. It allowed these thousands of stateless people an opportunity to choose either of the two countries as their own. Land was also swapped between the two nations. The border dispute between the two is settled for good.

Similarly, India had a small dispute with Sri Lanka over an uninhabited 235-acre island, Katchatheevu, which was satisfactorily solved after India formally gifted it to Sri Lanka in the 70s. India has extremely minor border issues with Myanmar and practically none with Bhutan.

The curse of colonialism has left India with border issues which are non-existent, say in a majority of Europe or even between United States and Canada even though the demarcating line between the two countries is a straight one. With strong governments in place, India and China could settle the mutual issues to a great deal. The one with Pakistan though is another matter.

 

 

 

 

Nehru & his “Himalayan blunders”

Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (the title of Pandit is a little incongruous for a sworn secularist) passed away on this day (May 27), 54 years ago in 1964. His larger than life image though has only lately begun to be put in perspective. A lot of it has to do with social media for it loosened the grip of mainstream media and academics in controlling the narrative, hiding the ugly and sprucing up the good.

This revisit on Nehru’s early years, his rise in Congress echelon, manipulation at the time of independence to PM’s seat, his shaping of Hindu Civil Code etc are now being fiercely ripped out in open. I would presently concentrate on two of his actions which have put India’s eastern and western borders in permanent strife. I am of course referring to Pt. Nehru’s conduct during the incursion of Pakistani raiders in Kashmir in 1947; and the disastrous China War of 1962.

Pak Raiders in Kashmir in 1947

Within a month of India’s independence, Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir offered his state’s accession to India in September 1947. Nehru refused for his “blood brother” Sheikh Abdullah was in jail. It was thus a deadlock. By next month, Pakistan’s raiders from North West Frontier Province had penetrated up till the outskirts of Srinagar, looting, pillaging, killing and raping along the way. On October 26, Hari Singh had agreed to sign the Instrument of Accession to Indian Union.

On the same day, Lord Mountbatten, the governor general, called an urgent meeting in Delhi. Nehru was his typical ambivalent self. Sardar Patel, the home minister, lost his cool. Sam Manekshaw, then an army colonel, was to later recall: “As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God Almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said `Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir or do you want to give it away?’.” Nehru was thus pinned into taking an action and thanks to Sardar Patel, troops were flown to Srinagar and the airport, the only link with New Delhi, was saved.

In just a few weeks, in December 1947, Nehru had committed his grave blunder for which successive generations of India are still paying the price. He referred the matter to United Nations—there was no need for Kashmir was literally India’s “internal matter” since Maharaja Hari Singh had already acceded the state to Indian Union.

Why did Nehru go to United Nations? There are two explanations forwarded: one, he wanted Sardar Patel out of Kashmir for the latter fed up by Nehru’s antics had offered to resign just a few days before in December 1947; two, Nehru walked into a trap laid by Mountbatten who wanted UN to mediate.

(The truth is, India didn’t need Mountbatten as its Governor General. Pakistan never considered a similar option for itself. Mountbatten then maneuvered himself as head of India’s defence council).

Nehru then approached United Nations for arbitration. In the first few months of 1948, the folly had begun to hit Nehru in the face. The British stance in front of UN was completely opposite to what Mountbatten had led Nehru to believe. The Indian complaint was ignored; instead UN Security Council began adopting anti-India resolutions.

The cat was out of the bag. Despite India’s protestations, Pakistan was firmly in control of “Azad Kashmir.” India had to lose Gilgit-Baltistan region. UN and its plans for a plebiscite went kaput. India’s next generations had been condemned with the festering wound of Kashmir. Terrorism and internal security, if not secession, are everyday issues emanating from the Valley.

India’s China War of 1962

This refers to India’s political and military humiliation at the hands of China during the 1962 War. The impression successfully perpetuated all these years is that it was all China’s aggression which didn’t respond to Nehru’s brotherly overtures. The truth is more nuanced.

Britain didn’t leave India with any boundaries. India were left to settle matters with Pakistan, Nepal and China. While the first two nations didn’t cause any problem, China was a different matter altogether. They were not prepared to let Nehru get away with his “forward policy” of aggression.

India inherited the McMahon line on its eastern border with China which British had created in mid-1930s by seizing the Tibetan territory, renaming it NEFA. The Chinese government’s plea for renegotiation was turned down by Nehru who latched on to London’s fake claim of Simla Conference (1945), legitimatizing the McMahon Line. Nehru topped it with his fake claim on Aksai Chin—a claim which even the British hadn’t made on a territory China had termed its own for over a hundred years.

Then on its Western (Ladakh) border, Nehru’s “forward policy” in September 1962 tried to force the Chinese out of territory it claimed as its own. Nehru announced on October 11 that the army had been ordered to “free our territory.” That’s how the war began with China reacting to the situation.

China fought the 1962 war while in the throes of economic hardship. It’s forces were hardly elite, mostly comprising regiments of local military. Their equipment and logistics were poor. Yet they overpowered the Indians. In that short war of two weeks—China called for a unilateral ceasefire as quickly as it had gained ground—India lost 1383 of its soldiers; 1047 were wounded, 1696 were missing.

Our only clue to 1962 China War is a book by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell: India’s China War. He could pen it down by accessing the Henderson (Brooks)—(Premindra Singh) Bhagat report which had been commissioned in the wake of 1962 War disaster. Even Maxwell could copy only a part of the report which the Indian government had classified as “top secret.”

It’s been over a half century yet the Henderson-Bhagat report as well as various correspondences of Nehru are out of reach—being treated as “private property’ of Nehru Library, a private trust. The papers of India’s first prime minister belongs to his family and not to the state!!! The classified secret clause of “30 years” is long over yet the report isn’t being made public.

That’s how truth in this country is treated. Everyone tries to muzzle changes in school text books and academia in light of new findings so that their narrative remains perpetuated. Doesn’t the history of this country deserve a revision when important annals of this country are being kept locked in the form of documents inside safety vaults?

Russia need be a India-China mediator

The Russia-India-China (RIC) meet of its foreign ministers in Moscow is unlikely to have thawed the freezing relations between two Asian giants, China and India.

 

The same is true of the simultaneous visit of India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar to China where he met his Chinese counterpart Gen. Chang Wanguan and stated India attaches highest priority to its relationship with China.

 

Both China and India suffer from a trust deficit though the niggling issue is simple enough: Both China and India need to look at each other’s territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin plateau in a spirit of cooperation and resolve the long-standing dispute.

 

As a nation which stands to gain the most through India-China alliance, Russia could offer its own example: the Russian-Chinese borders were formalized in 2004 after 40 years of bad blood between the two nations.

 

The last fortnight has been particularly frosty: China blocked India’s move in United Nations to have Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief and allegedly Pathankot terror attack mastermind, Masood Azhar be designated as terrorist,

 

India, on their part, went ahead a signed an agreement with the United States on sharing military logistics in Indian Ocean, the area which is strategically and economically lifeline to Beijing.

 

But the RIC meet is unlikely to have much influence. Despite it being a foreign ministers’ conclave, it largely deals with the economic, and not security, issues.

 

The economic prospects of trade between India and China are mammoth. It’s already worth $100 billion and given their market and areas of strength, it holds immense possibility.

 

India could offer its Information Services strength and avail China’s expertise to build high-speed rail network in India. China’s excess production could also be easily absorbed within India.

 

India is extremely touch on matters of terrorism and finds itself regularly frustrated by China on international forums. Last year, China had blocked India’s bid to question Pakistan over the release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a commander in Lashkar-e-Taiba, which had carried out the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks that claimed 160 lives.

 

A leaked cable of US State Department in 2010 had revealed that China had in the past blocked UN sanctions against Lashkar-e-Taiba and the al-Akhtar Trust (a charity front for Jaish-e-Mohammad). It had also blocked India’s request to list Syed Salahuddin, a terrorist wanted in relation to numerous Hizbul Mujahideen attacks.

 

Though China’s moves were procedural within the UN sanctions committee, it was in opposition to the stands of US, UK, France and Russia all of whom were willing to back India on the issue.

 

China has a history of shielding Pakistan-based terror groups from sanctions under resolution 1267 even though it hardly ever uses a veto—exercising it only 10 times in its 70-year history of UNSC. It parrots the same line in defence that Pakistan does: “Pakistan is a terrible victim of terrorism itself.”

Such acts hardly endear China to India. It also reveals the closeness between Pakistan and China in modern context. India feels hemmed in between its two nuclear-armed northern neighbours. All it is doing is to drive India into US’ arms which dread the prospects of close India-China relations.

It still is encouraging that RIC has shown its concern on terrorism and a willingness to use international forums, such as BRICS, SCO, East Asian summits and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) to get the three nations closer.

Russia is keen to play a mediator’s role between China and India. It won’t be Asia’s century unless India and China draw closer to each other. Joint enterprises, preferential trade system and a common trade currency offer a huge opportunity.

China’s Great Silk Road project involves a huge territory—from Southeast Asia to the Caucasus. Russia, like India, isn’t yet a part of it even though a cooperation between the Silk Road and Russia-inspired Eurasian Eonomic Union exists.

There is a need to cool down the tempers from both sides. Says NewsBred columnist Shen Dingli: “China actually has many ways to hurt India. China could send an aircraft carrier to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. China had turned down the Pakistan offer to have military stationed in the country. If India forces China to do that,” there could be a threatening navy at India’s doorstep.