Crouching Tiger, Bullying Dragon

Picture this. You are like any normal 5th grader going to school. And there is this big bully twice your size who steals your pencils. And there’s this obnoxious guy half your size who steals your lunch. What do you do? It’s obvious in the case of the small guy; You shove him around, show him his place, take your lunch back. But what to do with the big bully? Do you go try punch him in his face but instead you yourself return home crying with two blackened eyes and a broken wrist? Or do you complain about it to the teacher and make sure you get back your stolen pencils? Or do you gang up with your own well built friends and scare/beat the shit out of the big bully? And additionally scare him that you would take his pants the next time if he dares mess with you again and strut around the school with your newly formed league of strong schoolboys with whom no one will mess up ever again?

Now replace yourself as India, the obnoxious weed as Pakistan, The Big Bully as China. Your league of   strong schoolboys as The USA, Russia, UK, Israel, Japan, etc. and your stuff that gets stolen is India’s border/LOC. Putting these in context of the current Indo-Chinese border crisis. We have been seeing our Facebook Walls, Twitter Timelines and New Channels with angry war cries. But do we realize that when it comes to China, The Big Bully things get a little complicated. The war isn’t a feasible option against an enemy whose Army is twice the size of us, whose weapons are superior than us and whose logistical know-how and infrastructure near the border is ‘God-knows-how-many-times’ stronger than us. In our sudden bursts of Patriotic jingoism we fail to look at the sad but true facts. We have already lost a war against the dragon state. Can we afford to go heads on with them again, especially when we haven’t learnt much from the past defeat?

After independence territorial expansions happened both in India and China. India concentrated more in protective annexing of Kashmir, Arunanchal Pradesh (Claimed as South Tibet by the Chinese),etc. China similarly annexed its peripheries like Tawang which was under the control of the Lhasa Government.  Interestingly the current Arunanchal Pradesh was under the control of the Lhasa Government during India’s Independence. This is believed to be one of the root causes of the underlying hostilities between the two countries.  China has been the imperialist aggressors; Illegally occupying Tibet, attempts to steal the Senkaku Islands from Japan, Spratley and Paracel Islands from Vietnam and some Philippine islands. The British empire presumably foreseeing such confrontations had tried to lay down regulations. Sir Henry McMahon, British India’s foreign secretary drew the now famous ‘McMahon Line’ which we hear in the media almost daily. It is a 1360 km border on the map at the 1914 Shimla Convention attended by British, India, Tibetian and Chinese delegates. It added almost 130,000 square kilometers to the Indian Territory. Though the Chinese Representatives agreed to the map, later the Chinese government disavowed it. China has historically never recognized the McMahon Line. China never recognized Tibet. Conventions, Global Pressure,  International regulations meant squat to them. Till date China doesn’t recognize this boundary officially, though most of it are de-facto Line of Control.

Build Up to the 1962 Sino-Indian War at Pangong Tso

Going into a small recap of the unfortunate 1962 Sino-India War. Skimming through it, India and China didn’t have a mutually recognized border. To top that India, being the Good Samaritan in the world stage gave refugee to The Dalai Lama and the Tibetians when they were on the run from the Chinese. Talks Failed. Diplomacy Failed. China Attacked. India was living in denial. Unprepared, under powered, India neither had the numbers nor the technology to face the Chinese onslaught. Additionally the Indian soldiers weren’t provided the equipment to fight the harsh and cold high altitude Ladakhi winter. No reinforcements and supplies could reach our soldiers due to the non existent road infrastructure in North Eastern Kashmir and NEFA. In Rezang La under the command of Major Shaitan Singh, the Indian troops did give a commendable 300esque resistance but we sadly lost the war. Among the few positives were the formations of the SFF, The Special Frontier Force, an elite military wing formed exclusively of Tibetian exiles for behind the enemy lines covert operations.

During our Patriotic Blood-lust for War, we forget about who it really impacts on. The ultimate sacrifice by an Indian Army Medic at the Battle of Rezang La, where they fought to the last bullet, till the last man.

The horrific Realities of war. Our Army fights two enemies out there; The Chinese and the weather. After the Battle of Rezang La.

A few other border skirmishes have happened in the future; This time with better results for India. In 1967 China tried to annex Sikkim which was India’s protectorate at that time. India managed to drive back the Chinese in a Day long operation known as the Chola Incident. It wasn’t until 2003 when China finally recognized Sikkim as a part of India. Again in 1987 another border skirmish happened. The Indian military held a border exercise known as Operation Checkerboard to see India’s ground preparedness along the NEFA regions. Naturally this escalated tensions at the other side of the border. One thing led to another and yet another war like situation arose leading to Operation Falcon. Anyway, needless to say after days of talks and diplomacy, the War-like situation was suppressed and things went back to  normal  complicated.

Fast forward to 2013. The road network to the Ladakh region from the national capital is still so pathetic that it is famous in the motorcycling tourism circuits as one of the toughest roads of the world. Though it boosts our tourism industry, it certainly is a matter of concern that even after so many years we haven’t been able to lay a major fast moving road network in the region that needs it the most. Even today the so called road remains closed due to snow for half of the year. In case of the war, we might lose it even before the first battle starts due to the delay in movement of troops and supplies. Funny thing is that China now even has something than can be best explained as a ‘Cyber-Terrorism Cell’.

National Highway 21. The Road that connects Ladakh to the India.

About the current border crisis, when we look at the facts about the disputed territory, things are pretty much more complicated than what our mainstream media has been portraying. No one actually lives there. Worse, human habitation isn’t remotely possible over the disputed areas. That place is like the moon. It’s simply a misinterpretation of a border; There is no border line at all. The border exists just on the basis of perceptions of the two countries. The troops from both sides have been showing the strength on the No Man’s Land from more than half a century. China, having the advantage of a plateau terrain on their side have been the aggressors while lady luck has been tricky on our side with jagged mountainous range and inhospitable climate. Add to that even the Indian Government plays safe. A little too much at times for the sake of not angering the sleeping dragon. For instance, tourists visiting the Pangong Tso (Aruably the world’s most beautiful lake), The Rezang La War Memorial at Chushul, Khardung La (World’s highest motorable road), Nubra Valley,etc need special permits issued by the Indian Army to gain access to these places even if they are well inside the undisputed territory. Heck! Even ‘Sadda Haq’ from Rockstar which became the anthem for The Tibet Liberation Cause (Dont believe me? Go visit Dharamsala and McLead Ganj. This song will be playing in everything from Paan Shops to swanky ice-cream Parlors) was censored at places just to please the Chinese.

Neither country would want a war as India’s major trade partner is China. Apart from that both countries have enough nuclear heads to send us back to stone age. And a war under the prevailing conditions will lead us to mutual destruction if not certain defeat. China is India’s largest trading partner at $80 bn. Again there is a significant likelihood of a political regime change in India soon. So the incumbent Congress would not like to accelerate its departure by a military humiliation in 2013. If and when a new political party comes to power in India after May 2014, it would ALSO be keen to avoid a military humiliation at the start of its tenure, given the military asymmetry China retains in its favor  So, the ruling political party, be it the Congress now, or the BJP afterwards, in India would NOT want to fight China in 2013, or in 2014. In My honest opinion the best way to deal with the bully is to lay our stamp on the region in terms of culture and development. Instead of imposing restrictions on our own people the government should start the Cultural Invasion in the disputed areas. Open tourism, dump the tedious red tap involved in obtaining permits to visit our own country, market the beautiful parts of the disputed areas to the outside world for tourism, celebrate the heroics of our Army in the 1962 war, 1967 Chola Incident, 1987 Operation Checkerboard. Make all weather roads connecting Delhi to Ladakh, Srinagar to Ladakh and other interior regions, more high capacity aerodromes, more tunnels along places like Rohtang La, Baralacha La, etc. Gather international Visibilty, Put the ‘Indian’ in Ladakh instead of driving them away.

Pangong Tso. Separating India from China.

We can be the classic of the bullied who grows up to become the boss of the bully who will bring the tea and sweep the floor of us. But for the time being the way ahead on the India-China border disputes is to accept ground realities and a pragmatic approach based on maintaining the status quo, rather than a legal-doctrinal solution which either party can enforce on the other.

 Originally posted in on 5/2/2013.


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