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Asserting control

India facing heat of aggressive military diplomacy

After lulling India into slumber with its Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), the Chinese have done something that was typical of its foreign policy-it announced a ‘no fly zone’ over the disputed islands of Senkaku/Diaoyu which is currently under Japanese control but is claimed to be part of a Chinese Emperor’s empire in ancient times.

Taken within the confines of Sino-Japanese relations it would be seen as another spike in the deteriorating relationship between the two countries. However, taken in the context of the growing India-Japanese strategic ties it is clearly an attempt to show how little one or the other can do against a militarily assertive China.

Simultaneously, the Chinese Navy sent its sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning accompanied by two destroyers and two frigates to hold exercises in the South China Sea where it disputes claims on outlying islands with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines. The Chinese are conducting aggressive military diplomacy against nations with which India has recently accelerated strategic relationships as part of its “Look East” policy.

It needs to be recalled that among the many local and bilateral reasons for the Chinese attack on India in 1962 one was the close relations that the former Soviet Union and India had developed under Nehru characterized not just by a rupee payment arrangement for commerce but also promises of across-the-board military cooperation.

The Chinese showed how such burgeoning relationships can be nipped in the bud if Beijing perceives even an iota of threat to its own interests or scheme of things.  

Border control

The BDCA comes after a series of events along the Line of Actual Control. Each of these events was related to an event within the Indian security perimeter- disgruntlement of troops with their seniors (as at Nyoma) and a breakdown of surveillance as at Chumar.

These attacks have tended to exploit the weaknesses in the Indian defence system and showed up the inadequacies of the Indian border management system. Part of the inadequacy lies within the realm of absence of infrastructure and the BDCA is intended to institutionalize the lack of infrastructure on the Indian side.

It was noticed that even as the instability along the Line of Actual Control with China was being played out, the Pakistan Army under express permission granted from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through the creation of the ‘Kashmir Cell’ within the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence scuttled the prevalent ceasefire agreement and launched massive infiltration at various points along the Line of Control and the international border.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in their interaction on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York had decided that the Directors General of Military Operations of the two countries would be entrusted with settling the issue.

Nothing significant has come out of that suggestion. Even the limited agreement on restoring the sanctity of the international border in the Jammu segment has relapsed into unprovoked shooting from the Pakistani side. The DGMOs have not been able to find time to discuss the situation along the Line of Control. So when the snowfall began in late October everything has been left in suspended animation, as it were.

Experience has shown that such half-finished business is carried over into the next post-winter season. It happened in Kargil in 1999. The year before Pakistan had consistently shelled the township of Dras in an attempt to drive away the predominantly Shia population of the area.

Army HQ thought that the worst was over and when it came out of hibernation in April of 1999 information came trickling in through nomads that “someone” had infiltrated in large numbers in the 60km x10km area of all high crests overlooking the road to Leh. It took weeks to even establish that the infiltrators were actually regular members of the Pakistan Army Northern Light Infantry, a largely Shia fighting force drawn from the local people on the other side of the Line of Control from Dras. They were not, as first presumed, mujahideen fighters.

That border management was a total mess implicitly recognized by the setting up of the Kargil Review Committee and the Group of Ministers who made the final recommendations for improvements not just on the periphery but also internal security and Centre-State relations in national defence and security.

Mumbai happened in 2008, reminding us of the gaps that still existed all along the periphery of peninsular India as well as with the land borders shared with Pakistan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

There have been in recent months almost daily reminders that something is radically wrong in the manner in which we are supposedly defending ourselves.

Our enemies know when our troops are sleeping on their job; when a rotation of guards is taking place; and whether we are even aware of where our claims lie along a totally amorphous Line of Actual Control where an intrusion of even 16 km is not noticed till the Chinese say “Boo!”  

Major problem

Among the malpractices that have continued to be employed by the top brass of the Indian military establishment is the vacation of forward posts during winter. That was what facilitated the Kargil invasion and that is what is going to cause us major problems when the snow melts in the Himalayas along both the Line of Control as well as the Line of Actual Control in 2014.

Both the Chinese and the Pakistanis are going to complete the unfinished business of 2013. There is a certain amount of coordination in that either one or the other makes intrusions at certain points of time and place keeping the Indian Army perpetually in disequilibrium.

Far from being able to retaliate we are on the back foot as we saw during the whole of 2013 when China executed more than 300 intrusions along the Line of Actual Control and now, Pakistan, with an encouraging ‘go ahead’ from Nawaz Sharif is preparing for a major attack beginning with probing attacks by up to a platoon strength of regular soldiers camouflaged as jihadi fighters.

The Indian Army has been forewarned that a new tactic that the Pakistan will very likely employ against India is the use of deep tunnels as the Taliban (their progeny) used so effectively to extract their hardcore fighters from the Kandahar jail. That Pakistan is now not willing to differentiate between the international border and the Line of Control is an ominous development as is seen in the sporadic inter-action between the DGMOs of the two countries. The DGMO of Pakistan is in total state of denial-which the barbed wire fence is intact and, therefore, what is there to talk about- and India should not expect any good to come out of these contacts.

China, on its part is beginning to flex its long-range muscles by sending its carrier task force into the so-called South China Sea. By the time the snows melt by March/April next year, it would have prepared its land forces to operate closer to the Line of Actual Control which, through the BDCA mechanism it is trying to obliterate even where  there is no sign of Indian troops.

The 300 and more violations have happened because there were no Indian troops to accost and confront the Chinese. Wherever Indian troops were present they were not allowed near the Indian claim line thereby extending the so-called LAC deeper into Indian Territory.

Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has drawn the government of India’s attention to fresh distortions in the LAC brought about by these Chinese tactics. Basically it means that if Indian troops now try to assert control of what has long been taken as granted, there could be a confrontation very much on the lines of what the Chinese are doing vis-à-vis Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and with the ASEAN in South East Asia.

India needs to be clear about how it intends to defend itself. When the snow melts we will be tested to the full.