The decision of both China and India on 28 August to disengage their respective troops in the Doklam area puts an end to over two-month long standoff between the two countries and hopefully paves way for peaceful negotiations depending on the goodwill from both sides. However, prior to that the ongoing India-China standoff in Doklam, a trijunction between India, Bhutan and China, and border skirmishes in Ladakh had reminded us of the sequence of events that culminated in the outbreak of 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, which served as background for Chetan Anand’s classical movie Haqeeqat released in 1964.
In order to dent India’s growing international status and undermine the personal reputation of the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, China invaded India in October 1962 and India’s military debacle in the 1962 Sino-India war did help China attain both, along with sizeable territorial gains.
The scenario in 2017 is the same albeit Haqeeqat or ground realities are different. India’s economic prowess, international standing and personal reputation of present Prime Minister Narendra Modi are in ascendance to the utter dislike of the contemporary Chinese leadership because India is seen as a challenge to the Chinese expansionist designs in Asia. India’s military might, though asymmetrical in comparison to China, is capable of meeting any challenge.
In the wake of Doklam standoff, Beijing was harnessing its belligerent and ballistic mechanisms to its best along with psychological warfare strategy, asking India “to come to senses”, reminding us of 1962 – and issuing threats of war.Viewed in a broad perspective, Doklam standoff is not a new development but a continuation of the Chinese strategy since 1962 – Nathu La in 1967, Sumdrong Chu in 1987, the Depsang Plateau in April 2013, the Chumar-Demchok area in September 2014, and the Doklam incident happened around the time of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the United States. Many experts opine that Beijing’s ulterior motive of resorting to such tactics of postures and standoffs and even ‘limited aggression’ is to demoralize Indian troops.
However, despite all these provocations, India continued to keep its cool, refusing to respond to any Chinese threat, much less withdraw its forces.
The Doklam standoff has been seen by many experts from a domestic Chinese perspective, especially in the wake of forthcoming 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), where President Xi Jinping’s image as a commanding leader, along with the presumption of China’s regional dominance, could come under scrutiny and Doklam is seen as a face saving mechanism to evoke nationalist upsurge that may help present Chinese leadership get a fresh lease of life.
Many strategic analysts are of the view that China, despite its overall military superiority, is hardly in a position to serve India a decisive military blow in a Himalayan war, in the wake of India’s fortified defences along the border. One strategic thinker maintains that even localized hostilities in the hilly terrain would be beyond China’s capacity to dominate, because the Indian Army controls higher terrain and has greater troop density.
Some experts point out that even without actual outbreak of armed hostilities between India and China, the latter stands to lose because Beijing’s confrontational approach could push India closer to the United States, China’s main global rival. Besides, it could be detrimental to China’s own commercial interests in the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with which it has trade surplus of over $ 60 billion and which sits astride China’s energy-import lifeline. Some experts don’t rule out the possibility of China’s ‘confrontational’ approach undermining Beijing’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) network proposal under which it has offered sops to countries to accept its regional dominance, to be perceived as a hegemonic power.
Undoubtedly, until recently India has been following a policy of appeasement in its efforts to engage China and frequently responded to Beijing’s misadventures in the form of crisis management; nonetheless, in the wake of China’s continued hostile attitudes in recent times, time has come for India to evolve a pragmatic China policy based on its core nationalinterests.
In view of China’s continued policy of asymmetric coercion, some experts want India to develop strategic partnerships, initiatives like ‘Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor’, ‘Act East Policy’ and counter balancing strategies. One expert has emphasized on clear articulation of India’s national security policy based on a realistic threat assessment and streamlining decision-making process in defence organizations along with a holistic review of the current format of military modernization.
Another defence expert suggests the formulation of a ‘joint military doctrine’ ‘tri service theatre commands’ as prerequisites for synergised application of the war waging potential in an era of ‘limited wars’. This expert also emphasizes on revamping the border management mechanism under the aegis of a single nodal agency to coordinate the functions of various defence organs, along with operational control astride the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to be vested entirely with the Army.
Under the prevailing situation, some experts feel that China is unlikely to change its confrontational approach in the immediate future. Some experts even predict that it will soon move forward with a “small-scale military operation” to expel the Indian troops currently in its claimed territory. While conceding that such an attack is unlikely to do China any good, much less change the territorial status quo in the tri-border area, some experts also point out that it certainly won’t make it possible for China to resume work on the road it wanted to build.
Some experts opine that present India-China impasse at Doklamentails the potential of having several long-term geopolitical implications for bilateral, regional, plurilateral, and global relations. While not ruling out the possibility of Doklam becoming the graveyard of pan-Asian solidarity, these experts also predict that it could lead to the demise of the painstakingly crafted BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping; and end the concept of classic nuclear dyad relationships (given China’s concerns vis-à-vis the US and India’s consideration of both China and Pakistan’s arsenal).
While advising India to effectively leverage its soft power in addition to its hard power when dealing with China, some experts suggest getting the narrative right domestically right should be the first crucial step. These experts also don’t rule out the possibility of China helping India’s secessionist elements in the North-East and along the Siliguri corridor and use its cyber capabilities to damage any national-level IT-enabled systems in India.
While according preference for a negotiated settlement of outstanding issues with China on equal terms, some defence experts have cautioned India to be prepared for all eventualities. Doklam is a wakeup call for India to its defence capabilities and foreign policy vis-à-vis China because Beijing is expected to continue with its policy of sidelining India politically in the international fora, while securing its economic interests from a negative fallout.
One can hope that in the wake of easing of tension in Doklam, the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Modi to participate in BRICS summit in China would afford an opportunity for both sides to undertake steps to bring bilateral relations on an even keel.
While according priority to defence modernization programmes, adequate steps are also needed to boost the morale of our Armed Forces. One is reminded of Lata Mangeshkar’s immortal song Aye Mere Vatan ke Logo, which reportedly had brought tears into the eyes of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and paradoxically many jawans sacrifice their lives every other day in J&K and even crocodile’s tears are not shed.