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 The 1895 Anglo-Chinese Treaty that China keeps harping on has long been superseded by the 1998 and 1999 agreements Thimpu signed with Beijing that requires both sides to respect the status quo pending the delineation of the formal border in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.




About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was 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 Air Force, Indian democracy, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Israel, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, South Asia, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Eyeballing in Doklam or Free pass to China?

  1. MS says:

    PMO should read this particular piece. Only then justice will be done-to the good broadline tactics that you have picturised here. Countries are indeed beahving like what we see in the school backyard. And bully China will not stop if we decided to just survive for a few days(year) and live in a situation where no one wil respect us-neither small country nor big. More than that, it is our interest at stake that you propel us to move further up north if there comes the chance or the need.

    Is it really so that China is stronger despite India having lost 10 years ? Would it be wrong, if I say India has an advantage-we have what they have. What will happen to China and its exports if missile start flying all around? The chinese do not want both India and China to go back 100 years and start again. The whole thing will go up in smoke.

    If you were there in the PMO, would you have plotted a scenario where this could infact turn out to be a chance to settle the score in Himalayas in our favour and Bhutan’s? I w’d like to beileve India has an advantage this time if we show the resolve.

    The need of the times is to co-opt people like you and the few handful who are not only knowledgeable but confident that we could make China retreat, in the Blue room(lets give the room a name :-), drawing plans to reclaim our presence in the world. Yes, retreat, not just stop.

  2. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    I wish though that you had not written this piece. I was enjoying the little back and forth hoping it would all eventually turn into, a monster. You destroyed that one little hope I had. Surprising thing was that lazy fellow who somehow always ends up with some big ministry ended up riling the usually calm and collected chinese. Loved that needling part. Jai ho..

    But my guesstimate, dono taraf fattu baithe hain, there is no climax to this flick.

    And sorry, but the chinese offensive electronic measures downing the IAF Su-30MKI is the reason why there is no limits to the shenanigans of these fattus. Here we have hierarchy that can think of nothing, except forever congratulating their leadership. So the chinese must have learnt from us and created their own version of leadership-worhip. They already have the vast internet resources at their disposal and it is easy to create a hawa about supposed secret capabilities. Its just that season where everybody is willing to feel happy celebrating false credit even if the real cause was merely the butterfly in guatemala.

  3. Vihan says:

    Dear Bharat,

    Who knows, this crudeness, over confidence and bluster may just cause the Chinese to do something really stupid; following which we can restart nuclear testing and finally have a multi-megaton warheads for the Agni instead of bare bones 20kT and alleged 100-175kT quasi-dud’s. The crisis is a great opportunity, I hope our people capitalize on it. The hope remains eternal.


    – vihan

  4. Raj_ryder says:

    You seem to be highly optimistic that in a case of actual war, the indian military will triumph over the chinese. I wonder where you’re assessment comes from. China is not pakistan. Care to elaborate?

    • @Raj_ryder — Let’s stay with your implied premise — very wrong, by the way — that the Indian land forces in Doklam are no match for PLA. Even so, the three plus Indian Army Divisions that can be quickly concentrated in that extended sector and augmented constitute too big a physical mass for the Chinese to move against.

      • Siddharrth says:

        I do agree with your assessment of Doklam scenario with Indian Army and Pla. But what worries me more is our eternal enemy pakistan has always been waiting for such a situation. If pakistan jumps in to seize an opportunity then wouldn’t it be a huge pressure for our Indian Army maintaining a two front war. I wonder How well is our Army equipped for that kind of situation and the geographical advantages(if any) we have? Hope to know your insights on this in your future articles.

      • Oh, please stop! Pakistan is a ridiculously thin threat for India, the Indian govt, and Indians to be worked up about. That Pakistan has got us all to this state is, as I have argued, our neighbour’s greatest foreign and military accomplishment.

      • Raj_ryder says:

        But arent you presuming that the war will be restricted to doklam? And considering the economic mismatch between the two countries to say nothing of the technological mismatch, a conventional land war would be handily won by the chinese. What india needs is a change in military doctrine(technology centric networked warfare) and infrastructure in that part which is solely lacking. An indigeneous MIC which as of now doesnt exist. In both those areas, the chinese are light years ahead.

      • It is Doklam, or general war. China is in no condition to wage the latter, even if India is able to do so even less.About network-centric warfare and all that — in theory yes. But so capital intensive beyond our means. and given the nature of the border and the dispute, boots on the ground are at a premium.

      • Raj_ryder says:

        Actually network centric warfare tends to be cheaper and more effective in the long run. The inability of the indian government/private sector to manufacture indigenous armaments is one of the biggest problems that the military will face in any war. Would you be in favour of relegating the current LOC along the chinese border as the defacto border and sign a permanent treaty if the chinese were so inclined?

    • Rupam Das says:

      Bhartji is it safe to assume that if New Delhi has the mind to order, the armed forces can effectively seize back control over the Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad kashmir area without letting it escalate to a war with either China or Pakistan. Also if such a action were to be done how much time would it take the armed forces to approximately clean and sanitize the above to areas of terrorists,pakistan and chinese army personnel and also erect the border line.

      • With difficulty, but, I believe, yes.

      • Rupam Das says:

        Bharatji since by your estimates it is doable albeit it will be difficult, i think India has been presented with a rare opportunity where may possibly be able to achieve what i have mentioned above. Since the chinese are currently making a ruckus related to Doklam and Bhutan and are going out of their limb in issuing orders, they would not expect the army to try and retake Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad kashmir area. I think Modi can further strengthen India’s and Israel’s ties by signing MOU or partner a defense PSU with it to understand the technology behind its high tech border walls and how it can be used as a base to create something for our borders as well. New Delhi can also push our private sector to partner with Israel to setup its industry in drone manufacturing and the likes that are highly useful in these mountain regions where human personnel will be quite difficult and time consuming to move and also not that stealthy in order to check the mountainous areas of POK.

        In this case in order to put China on the backfoot so that it does not do something rash, i think the only way to stop it from organizing these incursions time and again and trying to gain more land New Delhi should give the army and the special forces green signal to also try and setup bases in the Chumbi valley so that to keep China on its toes. The only way to stop a bully is to hit back and let them keep guessing as to what we will do next.

        What do you think?

  5. Rahul(Kol) says:

    Offensive electronic attack downing the Su 30 MKI is now a real possibility…As parents of one of the deceased pilots have confirmed that the coffin sent by IAF to carry the dead body of their son was empty…Which means the bodies of the pilots have not been found, which means the IAF top brass and GOI is deliberately hiding something to the public…

  6. andy says:

    ‘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.’

    Well said!!!

    china needs a reminder that after 1962 there was 1967 and 1987 when they had to eat humble pie.

    In 67 the indomitable Major General Sagat Singh ,GOC 17 mountain division refused to vacate Nathu la(which the Chinese were demanding)ultimately resulting in a show down resulting in about 400 Chinese and 80 Indian casualties.The chinks have never had the guts to ask the Indian army to vacate Nathu La ever since.

    In 87 COAS General K.Sunderji airlifted an entire brigade to Somdurung chu in Arunachal Pradesh to confront intruding Chinese troops.All western diplomats predicted war as the Chinese statements became shriller,invoking the 62 Indian defeat,but the General stood firm and even asked a senior Rajiv Gandhi aide to look for better professional advice if GOI was not satisfied with his.The Chinese relented.

    History, as the saying goes always repeats itself.If the Modi govt can learn something from these two incidents,then there will be no backing down.Hopefully,India can stare down the dragon this time.Otherwise its just the tail between the legs syndrome for GOI,as was prevalent during various spineless Government that were at the center and never had a clue how to tackle china.

  7. Pratap says:

    Dear Bharat,
    Do you see any specific reason in the Chinese selecting this region(Doklam) to needle India?Is it a good option for India to minimize issuing statements and focus on staying strong on the ground? Hope the Modi govt shows spine compared to the previous administration..

  8. Arijit Chakravorty says:

    Hi ,

    Lets hope the Govt of India has the spine to do what is required as is required in any situation. But what is the actual reason for China to be so belligerent at this time just before the G20 summit ??.

    International politics is based on cold calculations and not on theatrics we see on Indian TV news channels at 9 pm our daily dose of soap. Its meant for the chattering classes who have little or no clue either of History or events and somehow believe that we are holier than the water of the Ganges and everyone in the neighbourhood is wrong and this attitude passes off as us being a morally superior democratic society .

    Do we have in either the media or in public or even in the Govt / MEA any expert on our neighbouring countries ?? and please spare the West Punjab vs East Punjab jingoism that passes of as patriotic conversation…..

    How many of our intellectuals or erudite people are around to give us a perspective on actual historical reasons behind the events that seem to pop up in our neighbourhood much to our
    chargin ??
    Unfortunately people like Mr Bharat Karnad and others seem to go unheard to our policy makers .

    We in the Public simply have no idea of china ….just as every North eastern person is a ” Chinki ” we have little or no clue of the working of the Chinese govt and live and make our opinions based on hearsay and prejudices . Today the assumption is that the thinking in MEA has changed since the fantastic days of Mr Swaran Singh to say nothing of Mr Krishna Menon. Such are our learned folks .

    Make no mistake most of the decisions the Chinese have taken since the late 1970s have worked for them and they have the added advantage of being a non democratic society , thus do not need to justify to anyone except to the politburo.

    India was caught off guard in October 1962 in the NEFP while the US and the USSR squared off with each other on the Cuban crisis . The expectation was the US would bail us out . Kennedy could do little.

    If we expect the world to come to our rescue or see our ” morally superior position ” , then we might as well all go home and watch ……well…..cricket .

    And Incidents like Nathu La , Sumdurong Chu and the odd skirmishes in Ladkkah region will continue…

    This time with a stronger Govt in New Delhi …lets hope we show maturity for a change and the Chinese show caution as this is not 1962 .

    The other issue is we have been bought up since 1971 to believe in the infinite capabilities of our Armed forces . The reality is much more sobering …..

    The real problem is if we back down then the Modi govt will look as if it gave into Chinese pressure , China after making belligerent / provocative statements and movements , if it backs down it will look foolish and the Neighbourhood is watching .

    Was It not Churchill who once said ” Men and Nations behave themselves once they have exhausted all possibilities ” ?

    As of now be rest assured all the possibilities have not been exhausted ….will it play out like Dallas and Dynasty soap opera ? or like a Alistar Maclean novel ?

  9. Maximus says:

    i)1962 was not entirely a fiasco for the Indians. Remember Rezang La.Maj.Shaitan Singh defended Ladakh with 120 brave men against thousands of Chinese soldiers. Approx.1400 Chinese soldiers were killed in action.10:1 ratio.
    ii) Is the belligerent dragon testing grandiose statement of Indian Army chief:.. we are prepared for 2.5 front war?Are you indeed? If you want peace, don’t appease.
    iii)Chinese strategy: first send some nomads/ herders/fishermen to land/ sea for grabs. Show map of 6th century that this land/sea belonged to the Manchu forefathers. Claim land/ sea as disputed. Offer honest negotiations to resolve. Hope GOI will see through these machinations and call the bluff.
    Si vis pacem para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war.

    • Arijit Chakravorty says:

      1962 was not a debacle for the India ?? Really ??

      Are you aware of what happened at Nam Ka chu river ? or Sela Bom Dila ? Chushul ?

      India lost over 30,000 sq km of land in NEFP and Ladakh combined….Indian Army was humiliated……over 1300 dead . Certain posts were simply run over ….Chinese came upto Tezpur ( Assam ) and halted only after the United States started airlifting troops from Dum Dum airport in Calcutta and since they had achieved their objectives.

      This was seen by Ayub Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan , this debacle made Pakistan launch Operation Gibraltar and subsequently operation Grand Slam in 1965 .

      This is the problem we have in the subcontinent …..rhetoric which passes of as analysis…Major Shaithan and his men fought valiantly and despite being out numbered by huge chinese numbers . But it was inevitable as the position of the 13 Kumaon was untenable to begin with . In a battle achieving objectives is the number one priority . The Chinese achieved it . They got the land , we go the Medal . The cold truth simple.

      What needs to be thought over was why were the 13 Kumaonis in such a position to being with ??

      Why almost every Indian position was vulnerable ?

      Soldiers don’t go to war to get killed and win Medals ….Such thinking only evolves in cocktail parties. Soldiers and their families hope and pray they come back , if lucky in one piece .

      Another Illusion we have is that somehow Nehru and Krishna Menon did not plan well thus the Chinese won . That’s so convenient . In the Korean war which started in 1950 the Chinese troops ( Yes Chinese , not just North Koreans ) halted the allied forces which included 13 countries after a see saw war for 3 years , which resulted in over 56,000 American deaths . Over 64 years laters officially North and South Korea are still at war . Bottom line the Chinese succeeded in their objectives. North Korea is their satellite state.

      I suppose our perception of events soften out with the passage of time , the angularities single out …calling The Chinese attack in 1962 was entirely not a fiasco is delusional and dangerous .

  10. andy says:


    Could COAS Rawats statement regarding Indias preparedness for a 2 and a half front war have anything to do with the above story?Wonder…..but nonetheless its heartening news.

  11. raja says:

    Someone should atleast show the bell to the cat!

  12. Apna says:

    Your delusuon knows no bound which is inexcusable in you because unlije average Induans you are much knowledgable.
    First under anerican encouragement India has been goading china through media propaganda and in south china sea.
    Second capability of ibdian armed forces us such tbT ibduan air firce is truly a camel airforce.
    Indian army has no big guns .
    In fact ibdia has wasted a full 15 years ubder traitor mmsing to undermibe her defence capability in order to please americans
    Even terrorusts do the kill ratio of more than one for ibdian soldeir.
    Forget china
    India will lose the battkes easily if she fights against pakistan let alobe against china.
    Do not flatter yoursrlf like most of idiit indians do ,please.

    • andy says:

      Re:”Even terrorusts do the kill ratio of more than one for ibdian soldeir.”

      Oh yeah?Even super heroes wouldn’t stand a chance against the bad guys if they had to fight with one hand tied to their b.lls.When have the armed forces been given a free hand to tackle terrorists may I ask?The only time this happened was during the Khalistan movement and the Punjab police under KPS.Gill was more than enough to scare the living daylights out of the so called terrorists and send them packing to hell,the Army wasnt even needed.So what are you talking about?

      And who won the wars in 1965,1971 and 1999 for India,it was the armed forces isn’t it?Unless some unfathomable delusion causes you to think otherwise.Kindly get your facts straight before making sweeping statements.

      Just recently the forces have been given some freedom to act proactively in Kashmir and 92 terrorists have been neutralized so far in 2017.

      Oh and before you start calling Bharat delusional it would be advisable to read some more of his writings that hes been publishing the past few decades, they should be an eyeopener for an dimwitted upstart who has such an inflated opinion about himself that he finds no wrong in calling Indians idiots, when the same would be an apt title for himself.

  13. Apna says:

    IN the whole decade of 80s when usa was using China against russia it was usa and her stooge inside India who were forcing American govt. To be very friendly to China and be distant to Russia; So much so that they forced rajiv Gandhi to accept Tibet as part of China in autumn 1988.
    So much for American propaganda now to make enmity between India and China because they want India to be American pasty and fritter away the military and economic power of both Asian countries that anglosaxon hegemony remains as parasite on the world.

    China should not get trapped

  14. Apna says:

    Narendra modi now gives bribes to usa in form of immediate decisipn to buy spy infested american junk weaponary costing billions of dollars all within 2 years without any tender.
    With spy infested american junk you expect india to win war ?
    Number does not win war -preparation and good arms do apart from discipline.

  15. raja says:

    Who created ISIS?

  16. Shekhar Sinha says:

    Very apt articulation Bharat

  17. Rahul says:

    Pls have a look at articles like this:


    China and chinese think tanks,never seem to acknowledge any disputes and never seem to admit any mistakes.They seem more inclined to take a technically or morally right position.Is this some tactic of politics or international affairs or just some disruptive behaviour.I want to know the thinking behind this.If we see this behaviour has been consistent over the last six or seven decades.How to analyse this?

    • Shaurya says:

      Perfect. So could India to protect the “autonomous” nature of the Tibetan people from the tyranny of the Huns. Now you know why was Bharat saying all along to focus on building mountain strike forces and not plains centric ones.

  18. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    See this is what I told you on July 6, 2017 at 10:06 am


    Har shaakh par fattu baitha hai.

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