INDIA’S CHINA PROBLEM
The newspapers are full of Chinese incursions, again, into Indian territory in Ladakh. The new age media thankfully is occupied with IPL match discussions and as long as china does not play cricket the television anchors will not give it more than a minute’s attention. So it’s left to the print media to remind us of china’s aggression and intransigent behavior. Fifty years after the debacle of 1962 when the Indian army was trounced by the Chinese hordes pouring over the border, the LAC or the line of actual control still remains fluidic and unmarked on maps. This allows the Chinese to claim that they are not crossing any international borders but are merely patrolling their own territory. And as long as the border issue remains festering with no demarcation on ground level, then the chances of any eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation escalating into something more always exists as a possibility. But while all this happens on the eastern border where are the guardians of our national honor? Our honorable politicians and ministers and ruling dispensation? Where else but looking west as always.
The tragedy of Indian foreign policy is the fact that the politicians who drive it are all obsessed with Pakistan. To put it more bluntly Indian foreign policy will not shift its Pakistan-centric views till an entire generation of old politicians who were born on the other side of the border have died out. Men like Manmohan Singh, L.K.Advani, I.K.Gujral (thankfully deceased now) were all born pre-partition in Pakistan. They are either nostalgic for their places of birth and want peace at any cost or on the other extreme, blame the Pakistani’s for partition and want revenge (re-unification). This sentimentality in dealing with an alien state interferes with the hard-nosed pragmatism which is the hallmark of foreign policy generally. So unless and until all these old politicians and Lahori-lovers die out, it would be impossible for any practical solution to be found for our Pakistan problem.
Pakistan is just one border state, just like Bangladesh, just like Sri Lanka, just like Maldives and just like China. Pakistan deserves no more or no less interest than all these other states. While the Indian foreign policy in regard to all these other border states is nuanced and practical, it turns emotional only when Pakistan comes into the picture. As an example, even Bangladesh was partitioned out of the older United Bengal province of British India. When was the last time that you heard any Bengali bleat about the age old links with Bangladesh and how Dhaka was their karma-bhoomi and how they are living to see the day West Bengal is re-unified with Bangladesh? Ever heard anyone say that? But you see this everyday with politicians born on the other side of the western border. And so unless a time comes when these ancient politicians exit the stage in favor of younger people who were born and brought up in India, we would be forced to endure these periodic Pakistan love-fests and the consequent neglect of relationships with all other neighbouring countries.
To come back to the current problem, the situation at the Ladakh border is not just about territory- about the 17 km or so that the Chinese army has encroached on the Indian side of the border. Its far more complex than that and we should not be making the same mistake we made in the Nehru era when rhetoric was mistaken for realpolitik. For those who are unaware of what happened in 1962 (or forgotten) – this is an action replay of the events then. The Chinese army had entered into Indian territory and on being questioned about it in the Indian Parliament, the then Prime Minister Nehru had thundered that every inch of Indian territory would be defended and the Chinese army to be thrown out. Against better advice and warning from experts in the know, the Indian army under a political appointee, General BM Kaul (a Nehru family relative), who had to follow the dictates of his political masters over the wiser counsel of his subordinates, ordered the army to escalate the confrontation and throw the Chinese patrol out. The People’s liberation army of China which was looking for just such an excuse , was happy that the Indians had bit their bait and declared an all out war with the result that the Chinese who had before the confrontation occupied a few abandoned posts inside Indian territory had by the end of the war occupied over 4000sqkms of Indian territory in the Aksai Chin region. If this was a chess match, then the Indian king would have been forfeit after the Chinese checkmate. But Prime Minister Nehru survived and declared in parliament that there was no loss to the country because not a single blade of grass grew in those 4000 acres in Ladakh taken over by the Chinese. This was like saying that even if my wife got raped, thank god she didn’t get pregnant by the rapist. And even after this statement, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru continued to be prime minster happily till his death and protecting everyone involved in this debacle -which could have happened in no other country in this world except in Mera Bharat Mahan.
Post-mortem analysts had extensively commented on how unprepared the Indian army was for battle at high altitudes and how incompetent the military leadership was in leading the battle. And as time went by news emerged (from western sources) that the Chinese had not been specifically looking for war as such but had merely been interested in browbeating India and establishing their supremacy in Asian affairs and the Indians had walked into that trap with eyes wide open. This is a perfect example of what happens when sentimentality intrudes on clear headed thinking in foreign policy.
And now to come back to the current situation- the parallels with 1962 is eerily similar. The Chinese army- the People’s liberation army has trained and trained and is at peak levels of efficiency. They have developed their Tibetan territory with roads and railways to move troops and weapons for any rapid response tactic. While our Indian army is still pathetically dependent on foreign weapon purchases, most of which have been paralyzed for various scams. According to informed sources, the Indian army at current levels of preparation can at a pinch beat the Pakistani army, but not the PLA. Humiliating though it is to admit, that’s the solid truth. And this makes it imperative that we look for a political situation for the current impasse rather than going all jingoistic and try to use the situation to score political points as already some politicians are doing.
But, what do the Chinese want? Why are they going all aggressive on us at this juncture is a question which has to be asked first. The answer is simple- money as always. Like the rest of the world, the Chinese have their economic problems too – their economy is stagflating badly and they think to bully their way out of it. In recent months they have been on a path of confrontation with Japan, Vietnam and Taiwan. India is just one more to add to the list. As world wars 1 and 2 proved, wars are good for the economy if you are a military power with an indigenous weapons production capacity (look at how the American economy thrived from those wars). The new Chinese leadership wants a war. They want to kick start their economy with a war effort. They want to raise their international prestige with a military victory. And they want to put all the pretentious little kids in their place just like any school bully. So they pick on the be-spectacled little nerd, to provoke and then beat the crap out of, as a lesson to the other kids. The wiser heads at the foreign office realize this and hence are trying to cool things down despite the escalating rhetoric of armchair warriors, of whom there are plenty in India.
Finally, how does India escape this opprobrium of being the kid who always gets picked on? Only by concentrating less on talking and actually doing something. The world respects real strength and not pious words and good intentions. When and if the Indian defence industry becomes self sufficient – the world will pause and take a better view of India’s strength. The failures of the DRDO (the indian defence research and development organization responsible for weaponisation in india)- missiles which fail to fly and useless entities like the LCA and Arjun (main battle tank) have just made us go with begging bowls to the arms market. Unless and until we start building our own tanks, planes and guns in-house- which should not be difficult with so many engineering colleges in the country- we will always be the laughing stock of Asia and have to go around afraid of being picked on by every bully boy looking to make a name for himself. Currently, we ask the world to respect us for our democracy and our population (market size). But unfortunately, international politics does not work that way – only strength begets respect. And i hope someone dins this lesson into the ears of the powers that be.
p.s. I am open to debating this issue in more detail, if you can just leave your comments in the comment box