India has become the punching bag of South Asia. While Pakistan routinely sends its agents into its territory to kill Indian soldiers, the Chinese PLA treats the Line of Actual Control as an abstraction. Manmohan Singh has proved as indecisive on security as he has been with the economy
Pakistani troops have in recent months crossed the LoC repeatedly, and even mutilated and beheaded our soldiers. Now China has since April begun its incursions across the LAC in both sectors, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Even smaller neighbours such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Maldives have ceased to care about Indian interests.
These forays have coincided with India’s declining economy and waning international status. Internationally, India now looks pathetic, unable to retaliate, like a maimed animal being poked in the flesh by ravenous birds, and hence groaning helplessly.
Is there any other large country in the world which is being treated like this? We will soon become qualified to be called as the “punching bag of Asia”.
Why should there be such a situation today? After the Bangladesh War in 1971, the Pakistan Prime Minister came to India to beg for return of 100,000 troops taken prisoners. He came as a meek petitioner. Of course, India’s Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi was pressured to return not only the troops but as well the territory taken during the war, which was Indian territory (of the State of J&K) in illegal occupation earlier by Pakistan.
And without a substantive quid pro quo India handed these back as an act of magnanimity. But now Pakistan claims not only equality with India in every forum, but mutilates Indian soldiers while aggressing across the border.
In the case of China too, regarded last two decades as India’s non-identical twin —two large neighbours and economic superpowers in the making — had good and peaceful relations based on mutual respect and cultural exchanges. Now, the Chinese PLA regards us contemptuously, and walks in and out of Indian territory for exercise and for destruction of property.
The key question today is what prompts China to make a grievance of a long past “historical injustice and unequal treaties enforced by imperialists on a weak China”, while China ignores such past injustices in case of others such as in the now settled China-Myanmar border dispute accepting the same Macmahon Line arising from the same unequal treaty?
All this does not answer the question as why China, having obtained willingly India’s concurrence for Tibet’s assimilation into PRC, chooses to make the Sino-Indian border an issue of such serious contention and distrust after two decades?
Time has come, therefore, for us Indians to bring some fresh air to re-assess and formulate India’s China policy. China’s stated intentions may be not to go to war with India, but it is to needle us and make us seem nervous to the world.
How can other countries trust us to defend them against China if we too seem nervous and appear frightened by their threats?
Of course, while we should not be nervous we should also not relax because of China’s growing military capacity to wage war with India, and hence we have to prepare our defense accordingly.
Blood and sweat
As the saying goes: “We must sweat in peace so that we do not have to shed blood in war.”
What should be of concern today is not China’s suspected perfidy and India’s assumed collapse, but the implication of India’s current militarily and psychological preparedness.
It is important therefore that we wipe out from our sub-conscious mind the humiliating defeat of 1962, and also act in a manner that China understands that never again it should dare to remind us of 1962.
Moreover, the challenge from China to India arises from UPA government’s abdication of vital national interests for its domestic political survival in power. This has enabled China to multiply its strength vis-à-vis India and extend its influence in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
For example, India rebuffed pro-Indian elements in Nepal and instead helped Maoists, who lean to China, to usurp power in that country because of what the then coalition partner, the CPM, of the UPA had wanted.
Again China was invited by Sri Lanka to build a naval base in Hamantota which port is just 35 miles east of the Tamil Nadu coast, because India declined to help — since another partner, the DMK, had wanted to help the LTTE and not Sri Lanka.
Today not one of India’s eight neighbours with common borders with us supports us against China. Recognising this factor is crucial for our preparedness against China.
We should start now to correct for our neighbours’ hostility to us.
China has us ringed in today with naval bases from Gwadar in Baluchistan, to Humantota in Sri Lanka, to Coco Islands in Burma. Hence, for the first time China is positioned to attack us from the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and Bay of Bengal.
Since India today is encircled by China from the north with the help of our neighbours and from the south through its naval bases provided by the same neighbours, we have to take appropriate steps to develop our navy and air force to face this new situation.
We should therefore develop a strategic cooperation with Indonesia to monitor the Malacca Straits that is very close to Indira Point, and through which straits pass 90% of China’s energy supply in oil tanker ships. If we manage to do that, we can anytime blockade China’s energy supplies and choke China’s trade with the West.
A challenge from China arises from its consistent arming of Pakistan even with nuclear weapons technology — according to well known and well-placed whistle blowers in Pakistan.
This may be in Chinese national interest to keep a flank against India opened.
The present Nawas Sharif government in Islamabad is however de facto a puppet government of the Taliban — compliant forces in that country — the Mullahs, Military and ISI. There is now no point in speaking to the “elected” government of Pakistan since it is elected on the mercy of these Talibanic forces.
Pakistan is now the base and crucible for Islamic terrorists who periodically carry out horrendous terrorists acts on Indian soil. Sooner or later, this terrorist activity will spill into Xinjiang in China.
Then a well-prepared India will get an opening to disrupt the Pakistan-China compact, and forge a India-China-Russia front against Islamic terrorism which can defend Afghanistan against a Taliban take-over.
Those who had been dreaming of the US siding with India against China should wake up now after the US-Chinese Presidents meeting in Beijing recently. That meeting has made it clear that the US recognises a veto for China in South Asian affairs.
For India, the best answer today to the needling of China and brutal audacity of Pakistan is to design a national security strategy based on an appropriate economic policy, massive defence build up with a conciliatory foreign policy whereby we do not react on a daily basis to every media report emanating from either side and not keep running to US for solace.
We should strive for peace on our frontiers without letting down our guard on the capacity of the aggressors to cause us harm and not being swayed by stated intentions of our neighbours.
(The writer is a former Minister and with the BJP)