The Doklam Standoff: Hot And Cold At The Creeping Tri-Junction

My ‘Realpolitik’ column published July 23, 2017 in, at


The Doklam plateau is far from being in a touch-trigger situation as many Indian commentaries and the Chinese government’s version of RK Karanjia’s Blitz – Global Times suggest. Nothing is likely to happen other than more ejections of more hot air and gas from the Chinese side. This is so, mainly because China is rattled. The developments around Doka La have got Beijing’s goat, and China finds itself pushed into a corner and facing a dilemma – damned if it acts and double-damned if it doesn’t.


Beijing was stunned by the speed and the stealth displayed by the Indian Army’s Bhutan-based infantry brigade in its proactive intervention on Bhutanese territory to prevent the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) construction crews from completing a serviceable track across the Doka La watershed. The Indian brigade is notionally part of the Indian Military Training Team in Bhutan. The school-boyish pushing shoving recorded on mobile cameras had a message for the PLA – the Indian army was ready for a rumble. Then, having belied Chinese expectations, Delhi proceeded to play it very cool – not at all ruffled by the growing crescendo of accusations, threats, and fulminations that had the Chinese Foreign Office in Zhongnanhai sounding verily like the Global Times. Delhi’s low key statements that have sought to keep a lid on the issue, infuriated Beijing even more as it realised that its threats were being ignored.

Delhi’s studious unwillingness to take the Chinese bait even as Beijing rhetorically raised the ante meant that Delhi had forced China into the unenviable position of having to deliver on its threat of initiating war against India or eat crow.

 Union Minister for Home Affairs Rajnath Singh chais an all-party meet on the Doklam standoff between India and China, on July 14, 2017. (Photograph: @HMOIndia/Twitter)
Union Minister for Home Affairs Rajnath Singh chais an all-party meet on the Doklam standoff between India and China, on July 14, 2017. (Photograph: @HMOIndia/Twitter)


There are some in the Indian commentariat who, perhaps, unwittingly echo Chinese sentiments about the illegality of the Indian intervention when, actually, international law entirely backs the Indian army’s actions on the Doklam plateau.

Under international law, it was the sovereign right of Bhutan to ask for a friendly India to come to its rescue, protect its territory, against a predatory China.

Bhutan has no formal diplomatic relations with China. Having been a protectorate of British India, Bhutan has, post-1947, permitted Delhi to conduct its foreign relations – something that irks Beijing. China has waged a campaign to get Thimpu to establish an embassy in Beijing and for this purpose has cultivated the Bhutanese elite and intelligentsia in various ways, including irregular financial subventions.


The Indian government has been mindful of the Chinese plan and this is among the reasons why Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Thimpu and announced a billion dollar aid package in June 2014, just a couple of weeks after taking office. The trigger for this trip was the Bhutan-China parleys were scheduled a month later for defining the border between the two countries – a forum that had produced little by way of results over the previous 20 years. Nevertheless, Delhi didn’t want any surprises. The Bhutanese government has naturally become adept at playing India off against China to get better consideration from Delhi, and India has never been found wanting in its generosity.

It is Indian-funded hydroelectric projects and a scheme to buy the excess electricity produced at a good rate, that has been responsible for increasing the per capita income of Bhutan to a point where it is the highest of any country in greater southern Asia, including, incidentally, India.

It is an economic development model Delhi has so far failed to sell to a more suspicious Nepal.


A section of the Punatsangchhu hydro-electric power project stands under construction in Wangdue, Bhutan, on February 11, 2012. (Photographer: Adeel Halim/Bloomberg)
A section of the Punatsangchhu hydro-electric power project stands under construction in Wangdue, Bhutan, on February 11, 2012. (Photographer: Adeel Halim/Bloomberg)

The absence of agreement on a formally delineated border, however, has not made China any less reluctant to progressively annex piecemeal more strategically-placed Bhutanese territory and attempt to move the tri-junction in the southerly direction by building border roads and presenting a new fait accompli to Thimpu each time. This is how the earlier tri-junction on the Batang La line at Gymochan – consolidated by a motorable border – is now sought to be pushed to the Doklam plateau. Such aggression has been happening in the face of the standstill accords of 1998 and 1999 signed by China and Bhutan. The two sides had agreed that pending a final resolution of the border, neither would disturb the status quo. In the event, when Thimpu complained of the Chinese road building around Doka La this time, the Indian army sprang into action. The rest is recent history.


India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has calmly explained in Parliament that India will be happy to talk with Beijing, but only after it drops any preconditions and withdraws all its troops to the Batang La line, simultaneous to which, Indian troops would get out of Doka La. Beijing doesn’t have an option other than to agree to this offer. The PLA simply cannot muster the forces necessary to overcome the three Indian army Divisions in the Doka La vicinity in a short, intense, war. Delhi has publicly indicated that its military jump-off threshold would be if elements of the two Tibet-based group armies (each the size of an Indian division) begin crossing any of the 11 bridges over the Tsangpo River that runs parallel to the Line of Actual Control and enters India as the Brahmaputra.

Because the PLA has refrained from this provocation, India has been restrained as well.

But assuming it can mobilise and deploy the forces necessary to take on the Indian Army, the PLA will have to brave a very difficult logistics problem that its units will face.

The PLA has just about another month to start an affray before the weather begins closing in. Beijing apparently doesn’t rate the PLA’s chances highly. Otherwise, it would, by now, have done something instead of just raving and ranting.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bhutan, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Nepal, society, South Asia, Tibet | 14 Comments

Dok la

The Quint asked three of us — Ajai Shukla, P. Stobdan, and yours truly the same questions on the standoff in Dokla, at Responses reproduced below:

Experts Decode China’s Doklam Dare: Troops Won’t Wait Indefinitely


A month into the Doklam standoff, India is still refraining from calling it a “war-like situation” or even a “conflict”. This, despite reports of China conveying to foreign diplomats in Beijing that troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been waiting patiently but may not wait indefinitely.

With Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj warning that India could face a security challenge if China unilaterally changes the status quo in Doklam, we asked three experts just how seriously should we consider China’s rhetoric.

By adopting a threatening tone, is China trying to posture or is India being complacent in thinking that China will not follow up its threat with military action?

Ajai Shukla: India’s reactions cannot be predicated on whether it thinks China is bluffing or serious. India’s reactions have to be guided by a clear understanding of what its national interests are, and whether it is worth risking a confrontation with China over the Doklam plateau – a 89 sq km territory. It goes without saying that China will need to measure its reactions in light of the same calculations. I find it hard to believe that China will attack India or risk a war with India over an issue which is essentially a small border problem. Both sides have resolved border problems like these in the past, and there is no reason why they will not do so in the future. But if India believes its interests are such that it does not warrant a withdrawal from the Doklam plateau at this point in time, it must be prepared to go to war with China, if China initiates war.

Bharat Karnad: This is major Chinese bluff and bluster. If the Chinese are letting off some gun powder in an exercise in hinterland Tibet, Indian troop concentrations are not lazing around either. In the Dokla region, Indian forces hold the high ground and any adventure by PLA will prove very dear for China. In that extended region there are in excess of three Indian army Divisions, not something the PLA will be able to tangle with, let alone overcome.

Phunchok Stobdan: We’ve been dealing with China in an ad hoc manner since 1959. Perhaps this is because we do not understand China like we understand Pakistan or the Western world.

Moreover, India has ambiguously pursued a firm Tibet policy rather than a China policy. This became the root of misunderstanding and strategic mistrust has only grown since. In fact, nobody has even thought of questioning our China policy. China, on the other hand, has followed a dual policy of engagement and containment with India.

Therefore, direct face-offs have been avoided or have been resolved using diplomatic means or via BPM-level meetings.

The Chinese stance now is that the current standoff is unique because it is along the internationally defined boundary. One cannot therefore predict whether or not rhetoric will be followed by action.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchange greetings at the BRICS leaders’ informal gathering hosted by the China, in Hamburg, Germany on Friday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchange greetings at the BRICS leaders’ informal gathering hosted by the China, in Hamburg, Germany on Friday. (Photo: PTI )

After Nepal and Myanmar, is China now drawing politically closer to Bhutan? There are indications that except for the King and to some extent the current Prime Minister, a large swathe of mainstream Bhutanese political opinion could be swaying towards China. If that change is indeed occurring, what should India do?


Ajai Shukla: Bhutan, like every small state that is in the vicinity of two conflicted larger states, is playing the game with both India and China.

If they wish to go down that route, there is nothing India can do about it. But it suffices to say that there are other countries that have gone through that route – Sri Lanka and Myanmar for example. All of them have realised that playing footsie with the dragon is not without cost. So if Bhutan wishes to go down that road, that is a part of the political development of that country.

Bharat Karnad: It is true Beijing is cultivating the Bhutanese elite. But Dokla plateau is Bhutanese territory that the Indian military is trying to protect against forcible Chinese occupation. This is well appreciated by everyone in Thimpu.


Phunchok Stobdan: It is hard to access the mainstream perception of Bhutan about its ties with India – owing to the lack of proper information from Bhutan and the government’s tight control over its media.

However, social media and personal blogs have helped bring the thoughts of important Bhutanese commentators into the public eye. I would say we misunderstood their silence and took their traditional adherence towards India for granted. My understanding of the Bhutanese mind is that they are extremely sophisticated and subtle in their thinking. I would say that an ordinary Bhutanese person still respects and loves India – owing to their spiritual affinity with the land of Buddha and Padmasambava. In a critical situation, they would prefer to defend the land of the Buddha over the land of Mao. But is Buddhism taken into consideration when India examines its ties with Bhutan?

The diplomats posted in Bhutan rarely have any political, strategic and spiritual nuances. It is about fixing the relationship, not building it. We don’t have diplomats in the country to deal with a country like Bhutan, which is far more challenging and difficult than dealing with Pakistan or Nepal. Of course, there are a number of ways to restore respect for India among the Bhutanese. But I don’t think our government is thinking that way because we’re dealing with Bhutan in a tactical and operational way.

Recently, Chinese state media asserted that J&K (Ladakh) is not an India-Pakistan bilateral dispute but a trilateral dispute between India, Pakistan and China. I think we lack proper understanding on the trans-Himalayan Indo-Tibetan borderland. Often our ignorance, or lack of understanding on China, is conveniently interpreted as a threat from China. This is a flawed mindset. Many more complications are going to unfold in the coming years and these will have adverse implications on Indian security. The current Indian policy suits Chinese interests. Clearly, we need to rethink our China policy. The more we ignore it, the more mistakes we will commit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders at the informal meeting of leaders of the BRICS countries. 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders at the informal meeting of leaders of the BRICS countries.  (Photo: PTI )

Has Bhutan done enough in this standoff to “be seen with India”, or is it playing a “tactically silent” role as a signal of its growing closeness to China? Is this the reason that China has upped the rhetoric so much in this instance, since it may be a bit more confident about its growing proximity to Bhutan?


Ajai Shukla: Bhutan will always play a tactical role because every country acts in its national interest. But when Indian troops crossed into Bhutanese territory – to confront Chinese road-building parties and troops in the Doklam plateau in territory that Bhutan claims – Bhutan was very quick to issue a statement. Bhutan said China was in violation of the 1988 and 1998 agreements between the two countries that provided sufficient political cover for India to justify its entry into that area. I think Bhutan has done what it needed to do to support India.


Bharat Karnad: Thimpu’s silence should not be mistaken as some ruse suggestive of sub-surface collusion and so on.

Phunchok Stobdan: We do not seem to know anything about what transpired between Bhutan and China between 2008 and 2013. I am sure they reached an understanding on the boundary issue. China views the absence of clear statements from India as a sign of India losing confidence with Bhutan.

 Chinese media issued a warning and stirred nationalist sentiments by republishing photographs from the 1962 Indo-China war in the course of the ongoing Doklam standoff. 
Chinese media issued a warning and stirred nationalist sentiments by republishing photographs from the 1962 Indo-China war in the course of the ongoing Doklam standoff.  (Photo: Reuters) 

How do you explain China pulling “Kashmir” into the narrative, something it has not been that keen on doing in the past?


Ajai Shukla: China is playing a game of brinkmanship here. It is going further on several counts than it has ever before and there are probably good reasons why the decision makers in Beijing have decided to do so. India is in a confrontation with China over Kashmir from the statement that it issued while deciding not to go for the Belt and Road initiative in Beijing and that is how it’s going to go in the future.


Bharat Karnad: For whatever reason that China has raised the Kashmir issue, the Indian government should seize upon it as an opportunity to make it clear to Beijing –assuming Delhi is able to muster the guts and the gumption – that if China does not support the “one India” concept and it shouldn’t expect India agreeing to “one China” either.


Phunchok Stobdan: Of course, we have been ignoring or avoiding the China factor in our Kashmir discourse and treating it only as an Indo-Pak problem. But in our rhetoric, we’ve been claiming that China has occupied 39,000 sq km territory of Aksai Chin in Ladakh and 5,000 sq km Skysgam Valley of Jammu and Kashmir.

Second, the India-China border dispute in the Western Sector is a contest for J&K land in eastern Ladakh. Third, a new twist has come from Beijing after India allowed the Dalai Lama’s representative to hoist a Tibetan national flag on the bank of Pangong Ladakh in J&K. We should understand that the Chinese claims on Indian Territory –whether in Tawang or Ladakh – are based on the history of the fifth Dalai Lama.

Tibetans have been historically claiming Ladakh since the 1680s and have launched several military attacks on the Kingdom of Ladakh. In fact, the Dalai Lama, through his Mongol troop’s contingent, snatched more than half of Indian land stretching up to Kailash and Taklakot near the India-Nepal-China tri-junction. But for the military support offered by Aurangzeb in 1683, all of Ladakh would have been part of Tibet – and thereby China today. By implication, the PLA troops would have been along the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh.

Similarly, the Sona area of Tawang region (Monyul) was snatched by fifth Dalai Lama after establishing a Dzong (fortress) in Tawang. From Tawang to Ladakh, the key Indian monasteries are now controlled by Tibetan Lamas. This makes it easy for China to assert its claim on Indian territories in the Himalayan belt. Clearly, the Chinese have been successful in creating strategic depth for themselves at India’s expense. It is a classic Chinese game of converting challenges into opportunities.

Clearly, India will flounder strategically in the long term. It is only a matter of time before our flawed policy complicates the entire Himalayan theatre.


India says it is defending the chicken’s neck region that connects the north-east. Is there any other strategic reasoning behind India’s decision not to back down?


Ajai Shukla: I do not buy this argument that India is defending the chicken’s neck region. The chicken’s neck region is not under threat from the Doklam plateau. Chinese forces would have to first overcome Indian forces in that region and then advance through very difficult terrain for 100 km, outpace their guns, their logistic support and be exposed to Indian counter-attacks all along the advance to the Siliguri corridor region. This is not a possibility that any reasonable tactical assessment would support.

In a sense, demonstrating that it would support any treaties that it enters into with regional countries.


Bharat Karnad: From Doklam, PLA weapons would have line-of-sight targeting capability to disrupt traffic through the strategic Siliguri Corridor (or chicken’s neck) – whence its military value to India and Delhi’s determination to prevent the plateau’s occupation by the Chinese.


Would India’s decision to not back down constitute a miscalculation in the future?


Ajai Shukla: Whether it constitutes a miscalculation will be determined by the outcome of this crisis. However, successive governments have already miscalculated in allowing an unacceptable shortfall in India’s defence preparedness – and successive governments have created that capability gap in the military. There will be deficiencies that will become apparent if push comes to shove at the border and this government and the preceding one are fully responsible for that.


Bharat Karnad: No. It’d be a huge mistake if India permitted China leeway on Doklam.


In the event of an escalation in the region, can India take on China? What does India stand to lose or gain?


Ajai Shukla: Both countries, India and China, stand to lose a great deal if it comes to war. I don’t believe that any action on the border – on the lines of a Chinese attack – would be a walkover for China like it was in 1962.

It would be a far, far tougher battle for China. Despite the equipment shortfalls I mentioned earlier, I think Indian forces are in a much better position to take on the Chinese military. The outcome will be along the lines of a stalemate rather than a clear victory for either side.


Bharat Karnad: Yes. But ask what China stands to lose – $60.1B (in 2016-17) of export trade with India for starters.


Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, China military, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, Tibet | 11 Comments

The Arms of Others

Image result for pics of the Indian quick reaction missile tests

(Test firing of the indigenous QRSAM)

In the defence sector, India’s import fixation is taking a toll


As on some of his earlier foreign trips, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised Israel, the host country, rich contracts for military hardware, in this case for joint development of medium range and long range surface-to-air missiles (MRSAMs and LRSAMs), and for off-the-shelf purchase of the Israeli Spyder Quick Reaction SAM (QRSAM) for the army.

Why do these deals stick in the throat? The Modi government approved them earlier this year even though it knew the indigenous QRSAM, for instance, was on track and would be tested soon. Both its first test firing on June 4 and the second, pointedly, on July 3, the day Modi left for Israel, went off without a hitch. A third successful test-firing and this locally made missile would be ready for series production and induction. Acting Defence Minister Arun Jaitley praised DRDO for the successful tests, but didn’t take the next, logical, step — scrapping the contract for the Spyder that would have saved the country in excess of $2-3 billion, and given a fillip to the local armaments design and development efforts at the heart of Modi’s flagship Make in India programme.

There was no need to go to Israel for 500 units each of MRSAMs and LRSAMs either. The Akash short range missile is already operational with the Indian Air Force. True, this missile’s performance is deficient owing to a sub-par Russian radar seeker, but there’s little else wrong with it. So, a sensible solution would have been for the indigenous Akash project to be tasked with developing scaled-up medium and long range versions of the missile within the timeline given to the Israelis. A more narrowly defined deal with Tel Aviv to co-develop a radar-seeker for the Akash missiles could then have been signed at a fraction of the $5-7 billion cost of MRSAM-LRSAM.

The Israeli contracts to win goodwill are like the PM’s announcement in April 2015 in Paris to buy 36 Rafale combat aircraft. These are too few in number to have any sustained impact in war and too costly not to divert scarce funds from the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which is technologically the same as the 4.5 generation Rafale. But because it is an Indian design, it can spawn a whole bunch of air force and naval variants in the future.

India’s purchase of the Rafale prevented the French company, Dassault Avions, from closing down its combat aircraft development complex, because until then no country had bought this inordinately expensive fighter plane. The Indian contract will fetch France Rs 1,750 crore per Rafale, for a minimum payout by India of Rs 63,000 crore.

Incidentally, this is about the cost of raising 17 Corps, the army’s first large offensive mountain warfare formation which Jaitley, wearing his finance minister’s hat, had earlier rejected as unaffordable. Now the Chinese are acting up in the Doklam area and India, as ever, is bereft of forces to take the fight to the PLA on the Tibetan Plateau.

And while in Washington, Modi promised US President Donald J. Trump consideration of the 1970s vintage F-16 fighter plane for assembly in India. Lockheed Martin will make billions of dollars from shifting the worn out F-16 production line to India. The F-16 has no realistic chance if the IAF has any say in the decision, but the Saab Gripen is likely to get in as the single engine aircraft choice of the IAF, again at the expense of the Tejas LCA.

Modi is not the first prime minister to be profligate with the country’s resources. In 1995-96, the Congress PM, P.V. Narasimha Rao, rescued the Sukhoi Bureau and manufacturing plant in Irkutsk from shuttering with a generous subvention of Rs 6,000 crore. In return, he did not contractually demand Intellectual Property Rights for the Su-30 technologies developed there, or that Sukhoi share the design work load with Indian aircraft designers in the Aeronautical Development Agency in Bangalore, who created the LCA, or that technology be fully transferred, including source codes, to Indian agencies, or anything else remotely to advance India’s defence industrial capability.

Between an imports-fixated Indian military and an Indian government that seems incapable of thinking straight, the country is fated to remain an arms dependency.


Published in the Indian Express, July 17, 2017,


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Making examples of the Adarsh military scamsters?

Image result for pictures of General NC Vij

It has been about a week since the report of the investigation ordered by former defence minister Manohar Parrikar and conducted by a panel including a serving Lieutenant General, Ravi Thodge, into the Adarsh housing scam, became public. As expected it damned in particular General NC Vij who as army chief and previously as GOC-in-C, Southern Command, had provided,  as this report says, the “protective umbrella” for efforts facilitating the “alienation of the land in question“, a very desirable piece of real estate in Colaba, Mumbai, in the face of Navy’s “serious security concerns”. The 31-storey apartment building overlooks naval installations. (Originally, the Adarsh cooperative housing society was set up to house the widows of the heroes of the Kargil border war.) But the Government has not reacted so far.

My concern is not with the bunch of politicians –four former Maharashtra Chief Ministers — Ashok Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Shivajirao Patil and two former Maharashtra Urban Development Ministers, Rajesh Tope and Sunil Tatkare, and 12 bureaucrats, who too acquired some of the 124-odd flats that were up for grabs — politicians and babus are a soiled and useless lot any way, very few among them with even a shred of integrity, but the military officers involved in this fairly brazen attempt at illegal self-enrichment.

Among this latter sad group are other than Vij, two other retired service chiefs — General Deepak Kapoor, and Admiral Madhavendra Singh, and three retired Lt. Generals G S Sihota (ex-GOC-in-C, Southern Command), Tejinder Singh (ex-IDS) and Shantanu Choudhary (ex-VCOAS), and four Major Generals — A R Kumar, V S Yadav, T K Kaul and R K Hooda. Also fingered are two Brigadiers — T K Sinha and M M Wanchu, and Col R K Bakshi.  These dramatis personae had been mentioned in the 2011 internal Army inquiry submitted to the defence ministry as well.

So far there’s not a squeak out of the Modi government about how it means to deal with these military miscreants. There’s a view that because most of these officers are now retired nothing much can be done punitively against them. On the face of it that’s not quite correct. The Government of India has every latitude to make glaring examples  of these officers who were sworn to uphold the highest standards of propriety but didn’t.

Trivially, it is surprising, for example, that Vij has stayed on as head of the Vivekananda International Foundation, the thinktank NSA Ajit Doval presided over. He should be fired forthwith by the trustees of this institution, in case he refuses to resign.

So, what should exemplary punishment be?  Because they cannot be divested of the last last rank they held, this entire group of scambags should have their retirement benefits reduced by two ranks retroactively from the time they individually entered unlawfully upon the Adarsh deal. In other words, the pensions and all pecuniary and other benefits, etc, of Messrs Kapoor and Singh should be pegged downward to what’s normally owed a retiring Major General/Rear Admiral. For Vij, however, that should mean from the time he was a three star general and offering the protective “umbrella” to the deal drivers, which will require the pegging of his pension and benefits to that of 1-star Brigadier rank. Similar demotion should see Adarsh scam stained  Lieutenant Generals also getting pensions, etc., slotted at Brigadier rank, Major Generals at Colonel-rank, Brigadiers at Major rank, and the lone Colonel involved at army Captain rank.

Moreover, GOI should issue instructions that hereafter these scamsters are to be denied use of any military-run facility, including clubs, etc., as a means of formally stamping them as service outcasts.

This treatment should become the new normal to deal with military officers caught in the web of corruption of their own making when in service.

It is reasonable action for the Modi government to take considering it has made the elimination of corruption a central plank in its governance agenda. The armed services should, in theory, welcome such initiative to pillory senior officers for bringing their respective services into disrepute.   The question is can Prime Minister Modi muster the iron will to ram this measure down the military system and set a precedent for severely punishing military men who fail to maintain a high level of probity during their careers?

Corruption is spreading in the military, and if this trend is not arrested, and the wrongdoers not legally brought to book and saddled with the additional stigma of demoted pension and other benefits, and the bestowal of service outcast status, there’s no knowing how bad the situation can become.


Posted in corruption, Decision-making, domestic politics, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, society, South Asia | 27 Comments

Another TV discussion

‘We, the People’ on NDTV had a discussion on Modi’s foreign policy.

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TV curtain raiser and Modi trip assessments

Several Rajya Sabha TV panel discussions — ‘Security Scan’ & ‘The Big Picture’ aired over the last three weeks, regarding PM Modi’s trips to the US, Israel, and the Astana summit of SCO.


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Eyeballing in Doklam or Free pass to China?

Image result for pics of chinese troops in sikkim border


It is surprising to see the increasingly truculent, even provocative, statements being made by the Zhongnanhai (Foreign Office) in Beijing, with the line obediently parroted by the Chinese ambassador in Delhi, that — and this is the latest — that India should stand down from the stand-off with PLA on the Doklam Plateau, withdraw from the forward position held by the Indian forces, before the Chinese will deign to sit down and talk to the Indian side. In the context, moreover, of the previous statement reminding Delhi not to forget the lessons of the 1962 War, it almost amounts to a challenge.

Meanwhile, the silence from the MOD, MEA and the Indian government, generally, is deafening, with Foreign Secretary K Jaishankar in Jerusalem refusing to say anything about the unfolding events in Bhutan. Is this silence by design or because a fearful government has lost its wits?

General Bipin Rawat visited Sikkim, conferred with the XXXIII Corps senior officers, and especially with the GOCs of the Mountain Divisions on the Chinese forward line in the extended area. One wishes the COAS had said something to the effect that the Indian Army would welcome any opportunity to back defence minister Arun Jaitley’s contention that 1962 was a one-off fiasco. That disaster involved no more than a Division and a half in actual ops and, in hindsight, can be seen as nothing more than a fairly minor affray. Sure, PLA too has improved since then as Beijing reminded India, but the Indian military has enough forces to blunt the PLA group armies aggressing at full tilt. One assumes that, unlike in 1962, the IAF will go into action right off the bat.

But what’s the legal basis for the loud and cantankerous calls by Beijing to India to withdraw? None, whatsoever. The 1895 Anglo-Chinese Treaty that China keeps harping on has long been superseded by the 1998 and 1999 agreements Thimpu signed with Beijing that requires both sides to respect the status quo pending the delineation of the formal border in the underway bilateral negotiations.  If India has intervened on Bhutan’s behalf it is because, notwithstanding a similar understanding in another area, the PLA went ahead and constructed a loop road, and presented Thimpu with a fait accompli the Bhutanese could not overturn. This is precisely what the Bhutanese government doesn’t want to see happen again. Reason why the Indian army is on the Doklam high ground — at the express invitation of Bhutan, which is unable to protect its sovereign territory all by itself. Under international law, this is perfectly permissible — a weak country can call on military help and assistance from a friendly strong country to fend of the actions of a proven regional bully, in this case, China.

The problem though is this: China has publicly gone so far out on a limb, loudly threatening India with all kinds of retribution, with edgy statements being daily issued by some Chinese source or the other, that it has now engaged its national ego. Backing down would incur a loss of face, not doing so  could lead to a situation spiraling out of Beijing’s control. It will be interesting to see how China resolves this mess they have willfully created for themselves.

At one level, the silence from the Indian quarter serves the purpose of goading China into a shriller stance, which shows up that country’s essential inability to handle a crisis with a modicum of grace. On the other hand, the Indian government’s reserve could be interpreted by Beijing as diffidence that it could decide to exploit by trying to pressure India into doing its bidding. It is this last possibility that’s most troubling because there’s every reason to expect that as a result the Chinese PLA may opt to scale up the school-boy type shoving and pushing on display to some serious military hostilities. And it is hostilities the army better prepare for.

Some say MEA is using these incidents to gauge how its strategic partners, in the main, the US and Japan will react, whether they will show any signs of support. This sort of passive/defeatist thinking of the China Study Circle-influenced Indian government,  is what India can do without. Assuming such thinking is actually on, then may be MEA mandarins should be assured in the strongest terms that, as I have maintained over the last 25 years of writing, nobody but nobody — least of all India’s latest “true friend”, Trump, will join India in the possible fracas with PLA, and we will have to do the fighting, heavy or light, by ourselves.

The other reason some have speculated for this show of bellicosity is as a reaction to India’s turning down the OBOR invitation. This is even more nonsensical. How pray would badgering and threatening to beat up on India convince Delhi to toe the Chinese line?

But in the worst case, and the worst case may transpire, and shove comes to stomp, the army will be able to test how well its Mountain troops can pull off the mobile warfare tactics they have been practicing for many years now. The IAF has to get into the game. There was some chatter in China which hinted with a wink and a nudge that the crash of the Indian Su-30 in the border Kameng District of Arunachal on May 23 was due to offensive electronic measures mounted by a forward ground unit. This cannot be discounted because the PLAAF too flies the same plane, and has worked up its ground-based and airborne EW capabilities very well. It may also be no bad thing for the Indian Navy to aggressively tail the 13-odd warships — very, very far from their logistics base — being tracked by the Indian naval surveillance satellite, and make clear what could happen to them in case the PLA starts acting up in the hills. And ships out of Port Blair should begin steaming towards the Malacca Strait, just in case.

One hopes Modi will not back down and equally that he will not prevent the Indian army and IAF from responding in kind and with force should the PLA cross the Rubicon. The only way to react to a bully is to counter-punch him in the face. And India is surely well-placed to do that.




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