WAITING FOR AUSPICOUS MOMENT:
The talk about imminent breakthrough in
Sino-Indian relations has been in the air for over a decade now. In these
columns of rediff I had arguing the case for it in Jan 2001 and so have
been many others. If the Indo-Soviet friendship is our past, Indo-US friendship
is the present ( with a pinch of F-16s) then surely
Sino-Indian friendship is the future. We Indians have a habit of being caught
in the time warp. With all due respects to the Mahatma, his decision in 1942 to
launch Quit India moment in 1942, was most inopportune and proved disastrous
for the country. We lost the support of the US and gave the
crafty British free run to divide our country. Our Anglophile leadership hardly
read the writing on the wall…….the later half of the Twentieth century belonged
to the Americans…….
With Uncle Sam ( again) ready to play
Santa Claus with F-16s, it is time for the Indians to realise that the US has
decided to make our turbulent Western neighbour as the Western fulcrum of its
Central Asia policy………hunt for Osama is an excuse for
the consumption of the gullible. The forthcoming visit of the Chinese Prime
Minister to India in first week
of April 2005 provides yet another opportunity to med our fences on the
India and China, two of the
world’s oldest surviving civilizations have had remarkably peaceful relations
throughout their long history. The formidable barrier of Himalayas bordered by
high Tibetan plateau and long distance from the heartland of China are the
reasons that remain valid to date. There were sporadic military expeditions by Mohhamed Bin Tuglaq in 13 century
and Zorawr Singh in the 19th century. Tibet itself
remained in semi-independent state as and when the central power in China weakened. The
border between India and Tibet, in these
remote region remained undefined and inconsequential with no vital resources or
A brief look at the history of border
dispute is necessary to understand the present state of relations between the
two countries. The Sino-Indian border dispute centres on the remote areas of Aksai Chin lying North of Ladakh.
The origin of Indian border being placed on the remote Kun Lun
mountains goes back to the early 20th century when the British, afraid of
the Russian expansion in East and a possible Russo-Tibetan alliance, placed a
wedge of Aksai Chin between Sinkiang
and Tibet. This was
done with the tacit understanding of the Chinese government that was weak and
saw in this move a benefit of weakening Tibet As the Russian threat waned it
essentially remained a border only on the map, and the truth is that neither
British India nor Tibet attempted to exercise any effective control over this
inhospitable region that proved to be of no strategic significance. There the
matters stayed right till 1956 when China built a
highway linking its two troubled provinces of Sinkiang
and Tibet, primarily to
facilitate military movement. The peculiar geography of the area is such that
it is only through the area of Aksai Chin that this
link is possible. The link is of obvious strategic importance for the Chinese.
Indian position in Ladakh
was precarious as there was no road link to Leh.
Nehru realised the Indian weakness and tried to downplay the issue but goaded
by an uninformed media and vociferous opposition,
embarked upon a ‘Forward Policy’ of establishing small posts with 5 to 10 men
in the areas claimed by the Chinese as theirs. These posts were militarily and
logistically unviable. Under amateurish advice, India
activated the border in NEFA ( North East Frontier
Agency) to ‘divert’ Chinese attention from Ladakh. In a
military sense it is illogical to expect any effect of events in NEFA on Ladakh, the two area are nearly a thousand
miles apart. China has always
laid claim to the entire NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh)
but this was bargaining ploy to get Aksai Chin in
which she was interested. As the events unfolded, inept military leadership led
India into a
disaster in NEFA. The Chinese were careful to synchronize their attack with the
Cuban Missile Crisis of Oct. 1962 and acquired enough territory to safeguard
the Aksai Chin highway and that is where they stay
today. Status quo on border suits the Chinese.
In popular mind the 1962 conflict
evokes the memories of an unimaginable defeat. This is not strictly true. In
the Northern sector, on Ladakh front, the Indian
army, despite heavy odds gave a good account of itself and Chinese gains were
small. The airfield at Chushul, one of the major prize, remained in Indian hands. The impression that it was
an unmitigated disaster is fostered by the Indian rout at Sela.
But for the Sela defeat and panic retreat, 1962 would
have at worst been classed as a setback but not a disaster. But the biggest
‘mystery’ of 1962 is the non use of offensive air power by India. The whole
conflict was being run as a personal show by individual Generals and there was
very little co-ordination with the air force. At that time the Chinese had
barely two airfields in Tibet and their
fighter aircraft were decidedly inferior to the Indian British made Hunters.
Indian air force was guaranteed a virtual air
superiority on the battle filed. With air power on its side, India could have
overcome the tactical disadvantage of lack of artillery in Ladakh
and could have intercepted the foot and mule columns of the Chinese in Towang area. But such was the irrational fear of Chinese
retaliation against Indian cities that India did not use
its air power.
At the very basic level, the Indian
army was fighting a repeat of 1947-48 Kashmir war, a
campaign against the Tribal invaders. While the Chinese, veterans of Korean war, were a well oiled military machine.
The story of 1962 can be summed up in
one sentence, while the Indians were foolishly provocative, the Chinese were
more calculated , efficient and therefore successful.
At tactical level China had the
advantage of operating on the Tibetan plateau while India had to cross
the formidable Himalayas to reach the border. China had a major
strategic disadvantage as its bases were far and ill connected but this was
obviated as large forces were already stationed in Tibet to deal with
the internal situation.
IMPACT OF 1962
CONFLICT ON INIDAN PSYCHE.
20 November 1962 was the darkest day in the history of Independent
India. The previous evening, a distraught Nehru addressed the nation. “ Huge Chinese armies are marching into North East of India
……yesterday we lost Bomdila, a small town in Kameng division…..my heart goes to the people of Assam!”
whole nation was stunned by the reverses on the battlefront. Rightly or wrongly
from military point of view at least), people perceived that the very existence
of India was at stake. But in thess
otherwise dark winter days, there was a silver lining. As if in a flash all
internal bickering and fights ceased. On
23 October, the guard at Teen Murti house, the Prime
Minister’s official residence, was confronted by an elderly couple, obviously
from rural area around Delhi.
When they demanded to see the PM, the sentry directed them to his officer,
thinking that they must have come with some petition. The officer was stunned
into silence when the old man took out the papers donating his land for the
defence of the nation. Women gave their jewellery including even the ‘mangal sutra’ to National Defence Fund to buy guns to fight
the Chinese. In Rajasthan, 250 families from village Bardhana
decided to send one son from each family into the army. All over the country
people queued up to join defence forces. Trade unions all over India gave up their right to strike till the national
emergency lasted. The donations in cash were more than 220 million $, the total
amount needed in the supplementary budget.
ON 1962 BORDER CONFLICT.
1962 India-China border conflict is a classic case of misunderstandings, lack
of effective communication and mutual mistrust. In the initial stages when the
Chinese Aksai Chin highway was discovered, Indian PM
Nehru tried to play down the issue by stating in Parliament that Aksai Chin was a useless area where ‘not a blade of grass
grows’. But soon the issue was seized by the opposition parties and Nehru was
forced to take a stand. While the border tension was increasing, the situation
in Tibet worsened and Dalai Lama fled to India. Given the ancient cultural linkages between Tibet and India and also Indian tradition of never refusing an
asylum, Dalai Lama and his followers were given a refuge in India. In 1960 King Mahendra of Nepal took over direct control of the government and when
pressured by India to restore democracy, began to play the China card. China escalated the border dispute by claiming the entire
NEFA area (modern state of Arunachal Pradesh) and
repudiated the MacMohan line.
silence his domestic critics Nehru embarked on the legalistic ‘Forward Policy’,
a form of political brinkmanship without the backing of military force. Given
the Indian relations with Soviet
Union and the US, he felt confident that ‘there will be no open war
with China’. The Chinese mistook Nehru’s move as some sort of
‘Grand Design’ by India to interfere in Tibet and Sinkiang. When Cuban Missile Crisis
of October 1962 engaged the attention of US and USSR, China seized the opportunity and brushed aside the posts
in Akasi Chin and secured its highway. The inept
Indian operations in NEFA gifted it a victory that it possibly did not even
effect in India was dramatic as the people were jolted out of
euphoria of ‘Hindi Chini Bhai
Bhai’ ( Indian and Chinese
are brothers) and there was a sense of betrayal. For the first time after
independence in 1947 Indians sensed a threat to their country. The situation
was akin to what the Chinese must have felt on 24 November 1950 when General Macarthur began his offensive to go
across the Yalu river.
Chinese unilateral cease fire on 21st November 1962 and subsequent withdrawal in NEFA to the Mac Mohan
line coincided with the end of Cuban Missile crisis. In dire military straits, India requested and got massive military aid from the US and for a brief period India became a virtual US ally against China.
is noteworthy that while fighting raged in Ladakh and
NEFA areas, the Central Sector, opposite Indian state of Himachal
Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh as well as areas bordering Sikkim remained peaceful.
THE ROAD AHEAD!
the height of the border conflict, on 14 November 1962, the Indian Parliament passed an
unanimous resolution stating that India will recover every inch of territory lost to the
Chinese, ‘howsoever long or hard the struggle may be!’ Post conflict India embarked on major military modernisation and
development of communications on the Himalayan border. However despite the
parliamentary resolution, in the last 43 years, India has taken no offensive action against China.
China continues to occupy areas claimed by it in Aksaichin area but not anywhere else, including the Arunachal border despite its claim to the entire state. Nor
has China taken any offensive action on this claim.
the border remained peaceful, the relations between India and China went into a deep freeze right till 1986. First the
two countries found themselves on the opposite side of the fence in intra
Communist feud between erstwhile Soviet Union and China. Later as a tacit alliance between the US and China
came into existence India found itself firmly in the Soviet camp, more out of
compulsion than choice. The US-China front versus Indo-Soviet front also
spawned policies in the Indian subcontinent that engendered nuclear and missile
proliferation to the detriment of Indian security. The border dispute as
conflict over land receded and it became a political dispute between India and China with wider regional and global ramifications. India responded to this challenge by developing its own
nuclear and missile capability. The Chinese liberalised their economy in late
1980s while India began this process only in 1991. Chinese economic progress was
spectacular and India has only lately begun to catch up. Despite the political dispute India and China began to expand bilateral trade with annual trade
reaching 13-15 billion $ by 2004.
Cold War ended in 1992 with the collapse of Communism in Soviet Union and end of Russian empire. It would NOT be an
exaggeration to say that very few countries had anticipated this and the world
was slow to change. Since the demise of Soviet Union was not anticipated, countries round the world,
including China had fashioned their long term policies on that
current state of relations between India and China does not cater to the shift in Global economic
balance from Europe to Asia. It is also certain that the shift in economic
balance will be followed by the changes in military balance that would then
impact on the world’s geo-politics. It is natural to expect that this change
will be resisted though various means by the existing power/powers. If India and China could mend fences, it would be possible to face this
challenge and maintain world peace, so necessary for the progress of India and China.
India and China both see mutual advantage in friendly relations in
future then the first step has to be to deal with the legacy of border dispute.
the popular perceptions level it is necessary to have ‘closure’ of the memories
of war. This could be achieved by both the countries expressing ‘Regret’ for at
the 1962 border war
that took place due to misunderstanding, misperceptions and
brinkmanship. A public declaration that both countries wish to put the past
firmly behind would then set the stage for resolution of the border dispute.
India China border dispute has to be seen in context of the Himalayan kingdoms
as well as relations of both the countries with other peripheral powers in the
region. Peace on border would only be possible if both the countries show
sensitivity to each others security concerns and avoid promoting proxies to
oppose each other. In absence of this neither would have the incentive to end
the border dispute as that serves as a ready excuse to directly target each
border itself has three district parts,
Areas bordering Arunachal Pradesh. Here while the Chinese claim the areas
right up to Brahmaputra river, it not in occupation of any Indian territory. The MacMohan line that defines
the border and runs along the watershed has been accepted by China in case of Myanmar.
that includes areas bordering Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal
Pradesh. In these areas as well there is no major dispute about the border
alignment and Chinese also do not lay claim to any areas. There is however a
dispute regarding the status of Sikkim.
Aksai Chin area. Here the
Chinese are in occupation of sizable areas that India claims as its own. However the Chinese are satisfied
with the areas that they control as that serves their strategic need for a road
link between Sin kiang and Tibet.
the dispute over Aksai chin area may encounter legal
hurdles on Indian side, it could well be ‘frozen’ for next 100 years and Actual
Ground Position Line ( AGPL) jointly demarcated and
accepted by both the sides.
border in central sector and in Arunachal could be
dealt with separately and jointly accepted by both sides as International
border. To avoid unnecessary confrontation ( like the
one at Sumrodongchu in 1986/87) both sides could
agree for demilitarisation and also permit each others national, specially
graziers, a limited access. The essential principle is that finalisation of
border in other areas should be de-linked from the dispute over Aksai Chin.
Closure of 1962 conflict and demarcation/freeze on
border dispute would lay the foundations for a friendly and
peaceful relations between the two great countries of India and China and be a guarantee peace in the ‘Asian Century’.