Indian foreign policy analysts and experts categorise our policy into three distinctive phases of evolution. The first phase was the Nehruvian era based on idealism, the foundations of which were shattered by the Chinese aggression and India suffered a humiliating defeat in 1962. Then came the second phase, a period of real and power politics that started somewhere in the late 1960s and lasted till the end of 80s. In 1991 came the much awaited economic reforms, initiating an era of pragmatism; the third phase.
As an ex-military man the period of the seventies and the eighties excites me the most. During this phase India liberated Bangladesh and a new country was carved out of Pakistan. In 1974 India exploded nuclear device and further in 1984 we displayed our ability to fight at altitudes up to 21000 feet by capturing the Siachen Glacier. India displayed its hegemonic status in the region when the Indian army entered Sri Lanka with a peace keeping force in 1987, aimed at ending the Sri Lankan civil war. In 1988 the Indian armed forces intervened in Maldives and the coup d’état against Gayoom’s presidency failed. We displayed to the world our capability to handle adverse situations simultaneously on two fronts, while India was conducting its largest ever military exercise under code name operation Brasstacks near Indo-Pak border in 1986, the Chinese intruded into our area of Sumdorong Chu valley in Arunanchal. Indian political and military leadership responded expeditiously and mobilised troops under operation Falcon followed by Exercise Chequerboard to counter the Chinese. India not only contained the belligerent Chinese action but also set in motion a diplomatic exercise that resulted in various agreements on border issue and de-escalated the tense situation amicably .
In the present era of pragmatism, our economic interests guide our geo-political interests. Whatever may be the guidelines of the phase three of our foreign policy, India can ill afford to trivialise the Chinese intrusion in to our territory as a routine and a localised affair, arisen due to differing perceptions of the LAC. Lately our country has witnessed meek responses to the Pakistani or Chinese sponsored crisis. Be it the terrorist strikes by Pakistani non state actors, or Chinese violation of LAC, or their veiled threat to our growing cooperation with Vietnam in oil exploration in the South China Sea, India has displayed lack of will in sending strong signals that should radiate from an emerging regional super power.
Before suggesting a response to this intrusion in Depsang Valley it is important to visit certain timelines in the history.
Quing dynasty invaded Tibet in 1910 and annexed it. The 13th Dali lama, ruler of Tibet, fled and took refuge in India.
Three years later he returned triumphantly and reclaimed his throne and authority; a historical reminder that keeps China worried, in the present contest of 14th Dali Lama and his government in exile at Dharamshala.
China never recognised any boundary agreement between British India and the Tibet in 1914 Simla convection.
British India also changed stance over the perceived boundary in the western sector in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Initially in 1865 it was the Jhonson line along the watershed of Kunlun mountain range and later a revised boundary Macartney- MacDonald line generally same as the present LAC.
Finally at the time of independence we inherited a boundary which was a mix of Jhonson and McDonald line in Ladhak region and a vague McMohan line in the North East Frontiers of Arunanchal.
China annexed Tibet again in 1950 and India provided asylum to the Dali Lama and his followers. This Irked the Chinese and the build-up of events thereafter led to a humiliating Indian defeat in the 1962 war.
There was a standoff between the two armies in 1967 at Nathu La in Sikkim and later in 1986 at Sumdorong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh.
The decade of 90s saw a number of agreements between the two neighbours for maintaining peace and tranquillity over the border and instituting various Confidence Building Security Measures.
Today China is the fastest growing economy with growth rate of 10 per cent roughly double to that of India. China has a defence budget of 115.7 billion dollars, nearly three times more than the Indian spending on defence. It sees India as a competitor in this region and a hurdle towards realisation of her super power aspirations. The rising Dragon foresees future conflicts with India over energy security in The South China Sea or the Indian Ocean and therefore wants to keep alive the boundary issue. This is intended to be used as a leverage by the Chinese in containing the rise of India. The strategic encirclement by the string of pearls is in sync with their overall strategic vision against India.
As we analyse the historical past, the Chinese behaviour is on the expected lines in conformity to her aspirations in future. India needs to explore some hard options by gtting down to real politk. In my opinion India has three options.
First Option – Indian acquiescence to the hegemonic stature of a belligerent China over the boundary situation and seek a quiet solution.
Second Option – India to take actions on the lines of 1986 Sumdorong Chu intrusion and enter into a dialogue from a position of strength.
Third Option – India to carry out action as stated in option two. In addition undertake extensive joint military training exercises by the army and the air force all along the LAC. The Indian Navy simultaneously to carry out training manoeuvres in the South China Sea. This way a strong message will go across the Himalayas and establish India as an emerging regional and a global power.
Whatever decision India takes and whichever option it opts to overcome the perennial Security threat emanating from China, our actions will be closely watched by the countries of this region who are threatened by the hegemonic stature of the Dragon. Any move by India asserting its national interest will set the agenda for future dealings with the Chinese in the decades to come. This intrusion is more than acne on a scared face and the beauty restoration would require serious therapy rather than a pimple cream.