Wen it’s time to talk… - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 19 October 2009

Wen it’s time to talk…

Photo: courtesy Ajai Shukla
At a frozen waterfall, in Arunachal Pradesh last winter, near the Line of Actual Control with China

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Oct 09

Indian policymakers have always been better at formulating strategy than at moving on after it has served its purpose. In so many of our engagements --- non-alignment, nuclear non-proliferation, trade talks and climate change, for example --- our intellectually and morally grounded positions have been policy rocks that withstood decades of pressure from competing interests. But, when changed times demanded changed strategies, Indian policymakers --- entranced perhaps by the beauty of their creations --- remained leaden-footed in responding to new realities.

Nobody would advocate a continually shifting policy framework, and the role of parliamentary resolutions in immobilising Indian policy is well understood. Despite that, New Delhi must wonder at its flat-footedness in seizing fleeting strategic opportunities.

One such opportunity will again arise on Friday, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, at the ASEAN summit in Thailand. The meeting, requested by Chinese officials, will almost certainly focus on the escalating rhetoric between India and China and the need to cool tempers. Dr Manmohan Singh has two clear choices: on the one hand, he could repeat India’s oft-repeated position that Arunachal is an integral part of India; that the Dalai Lama is a religious head who is free to travel anywhere in India without engaging in political activity; and that peace and tranquillity should be maintained on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

That would constitute a missed opportunity. A more pro-active strategy would use this opportunity to persuade China to cooperate with India in defining the LAC.

The present undefined situation on the LAC contains the potential for an armed clash, something that would dramatically inflame current tensions. Despite the “Peace and Tranquillity Agreement” of 1993, and the “Confidence Building Measures” of 1996, patrols from both sides routinely “intrude” into each other’s territory in nine separate hotspots where India and China disagree about where the LAC lies. Since 1988, Indian officials in the Expert-Level Sub-Group of the Sino-Indian Joint Working Group (JWG) have argued for clearly delineating the LAC. Only then would the potential for patrol clashes be eliminated.

For twelve years, Beijing resisted that Indian argument, believing that by leaving the LAC ambiguous, China would retain the potential for extending its holding later. Only in 2000 did China agree to a “sector-by-sector” exchange of maps, with each country marking its perception of the LAC. Negotiations were to follow to agree upon a common LAC, aimed at ending “patrol intrusions” by creating for both armies a line that they could not cross.

In the 8th JWG meeting, in late 2000, India and China exchanged maps of the relatively inconsequential central sector (on the Uttaranchal-Tibet border), marked with the respective perceptions of the LAC. But, even for the central sector, no “agreed LAC” has yet been negotiated. And China remains unwilling to exchange maps of the western sector (the Ladakh-Tibet border) or the eastern sector (the Arunachal-Tibet border).

Influencing China into delineating the LAC, important as it is, requires a major mental shift amongst Indian negotiators. Over decades, beginning with the 1962 conflict, skilful Chinese manipulation has induced the Pavlovian mindset amongst Indian interlocutors that raising issues forcefully with Beijing would invoke some form of diplomatic punishment. On the other hand, relatively anodyne statements and actions from New Delhi would ensure the relationship remained “on track”.

Consequently, until last year, China never faced “destabilising” political visits to Tawang, Indian troop increases in Arunachal, the refurbishment of border infrastructure, or even a modicum of political freedom to Tibetan refugees. This self-imposed Indian restraint has inhibited the timely resolution of problems; instead, issues fester until a breaking point is reached.

As New Delhi acts more vigorously to assimilate Arunachal, its diplomacy must acquire a matching assertiveness. Beijing must be frankly told --- not through the media, but face-to-face --- that raising the rhetoric will invoke a robust diplomatic response from New Delhi, not the back-pedalling that China is used to. And Beijing must be certain that an armed patrol clash, stemming perhaps from an undefined LAC, would greatly inflame Indian public opinion.

Such a shift in India’s engagement with China requires skilful diplomacy. National Security Advisor, Mr MK Narayanan, who is sufficiently preoccupied with internal security, cannot realistically continue as India’s special representative in the flagging political dialogue to resolve the border issue. Since 2005, this political initiative has only gone backwards; the recent discussions in New Delhi eulogised China’s “shared vision” with India and the “strategic and cooperative partnership”. But, for a dialogue mechanism set up to negotiate a breakthrough on the border dispute, little was said about the border.


  1. A very well written article Ajai. But is anyone in the PMO or MEA listening? India must be firm in it's dealing with China and other countries without pussyfooting about such crucial issues. However, at the same time India should also move beyond the useless rhetoric and xenophobia. India is 2009 is not the India 1962 that Chinese can just run over and snatch whatever they want. India is a great nation and should act like one. Media should also play a constructive role in the Sino-Indian relationship. It is time that India and China resolve this border issue once and for all, without the accompanying war or bloodshed. The cost of not doing so now can be catastrophic for both the countries and the entire world.

  2. I could not agree more. Your voice stands alone in this agre of nationalistic chest-thumping media.

  3. Talks with China should also focus on proliferation of nuclear weapons to Pakistan. China cannot hope to solve its problems with India if it keeps pumping Pakistan with nukes and India specific missiles. Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Taliban is a threat to both India and China.

  4. A very excellent article Ajai.
    india must concentrate more against china as pakistan is suffering from its own problems and china is provoking us.
    on a different context recently IA has issued a tender for 300 light tanks to be deployed in the north east good to see IA and the govt ultimately rising up.
    regarding the MBT matter we know that india is producing T-90 MBT and ARJUN MK1 MBT, can you tell us how IA is modifing the T-90 according to their requirement
    as we all know and you have said that ARJUN is much superior than T-90 so why is the army still inducting about 1650 T-90.
    ARJUN MK1 is rolling out but what about ARJUN MK2 when will the first prototype roll out and how it will be different from ARJUN MK1.What happened to the trails between ARJUN MK1 and t-90 is it going to happen or not.
    I thing MBT should be the main focus for the IA and they should back indian product and try to rectify them as a full out war with CHINA is not so likely we need some good tanks like ARJUN MK2,modified T-90 and T-72MI CIA in border skirmish against the giant PLA army .

  5. Ajai Ji,
    No matter what,reality is overflowing the bowl of fantasy .

    And the reality is biting the Indian dimwit politicians who only care Gandhi but not his country.

    There is no serious responce to the Chinese processing of visa to kashmiris on a seperate piece of paper depicting/considering Kashmir as a seperate country.
    Chinese maps provided to tibetans and tourists in china shows Kashmir as a seperate country.Arunachal Pradesh as a part of Tibet.
    Not one, there were 100`s which China is pushing its forces for the ultimate end of the ball game to achieve a clear victory .If things goes well according to the chinese play, It will shoot 2 birds(Kashmir and AP) with a single shot.

    Atleast these gutless ,ball less and unethical politicans/leaders have to respond.Esle it will see a real revolution all over the country with Tamils opting out and so.

    What should be our responce to the so called chinese started game?

    One option available at any given time is using Dalai Lama card.his highness has to show his faithfullness and loyalty to the people of India for letting him stay will all rights at his disposal.Change the Indian maps and reprint them with Tibet and xinxiang as seperate countries.Roll back to 1990 maps.Educate the masses.

    Start openly supporting Taiwan and improve diplocacy and trade cum defence ties with the island nation.

    Take control of Coco islands which Nehru donated to Myanmar.

    Increase defence ties with vietnam.Ask for a naval/AF base.Strengthen military co-operation.Sell them Arjun/Akash/Tejas/.....with little or no profit in the initial run.

    Lets start moving aggressively atleast from now on.Sign defence pacts with cambodia,laos,and all south-east asian countries that show even a little respect for Indians.

    They started the game.and We will finish it with victory.


  6. Negotiation can only succed when both sides have something to offer in exchange. After recognising Tibet as part of China, Inida has no cards left. With its military, economic and political power in south asia, China dose not need to be on the table to settle bounary issue. They have much more to gain with unsettled boundary then India. Shortsightedness and political/diplomatic timidity has cost India a lot in dealings with China and now we are left with no bargaining cards.

  7. Great article. the only point that needs a little more strssing is about the chinese statement mentioned in this article. It argues that India needs to mend its ways with China and Pakistan to realize its dreams of being a superpower. I think the statement should be analyzed carefully. IMHO, the statement acknowledges out capability to be a superpower and it correctly states that for that to happen, we need to solve our issues with neighbors. Without neighbor support, we are going to have hard time achieving our goal. While the statement is correct in its underlying logic, it is wrong in its approach (intimidation). The positive is that China recognizes India's wish to be a global power. It is up to us to change our approach to our neighbors for our own good and cannot expect our neighbors to take the first step so we can be a global power.

  8. Hi Ajai

    I am not sure whether to completely agree with what you write for the following reasons
    1) No government would want to miss fleeting strategic opportunities. India perhaps has been mild more on account of our internal fears our economic policies and our psyche, which has its roots in the way we were ruled by the British. We are changing in many ways and perhaps in future we would be more bolder

    2) Manmohan Singh repeating Arunachal is an integral part of India etc etc, will always be so, what other public statement can he make. What he says internally to the Chinese is something I cannot know in any way

    3) I am sure the MEA has competent people who know what needs to be done. I cannot imagine the best of IAS officers doing nothing at all. After all not doing anything does not benefit them in any way

    4) The present LAC contains a potential for an armed clash. I am not sure how big the potential is. I cant imagine the chinese thinking that we need to attack India in a big way once and for all, help them break into smaller independent pieces etc. Without China itself suffering a huge economic cost for an export dependent economy. I havent been to Arunachal and have contacts like you have. But to me it seems beyond common sense that apart from talks they can be anything else possible

    4) As to the rhetoric, I mean most initial reports were from the Indian side, with reports of stone throwing etc. I am sure all these reports are following a chain of command and this information is being deliberately leaked to the media. One explanation I read was to get road projects etc in north east approval, which seemed fair to me. As I do feel the Indian GOvernment is mild when it comes to defence

    5) Lastly how skillful one needs to be. I mean I dont know how the system works at the top, but imagining such important negotiations with the PM etc involved, the skill set has to be there

    6) To me if all your statements are right, it seems more like we need to train and have better people in the MEA than anything else

  9. And in todays HT Editorial some Prem Shankar Jha wrote about pacifying China by postponing the Dalai Lamas visit !

    Sigh !
    These Gandhians will screw it all i guess !!!

  10. There are so many such old agae peaceniks who think India subjugating to China will bring peace between the two countries. Dalai Lama is like Gandhiji but here he has something more challenging. The Chinese communists. Brutal oppression against anyone who speaks against the communist leaders and their ways.

  11. Pakistan is nothing in front of India but PRC is the potential number one enemy and they deserve that place. We have to learn many thing from this enemy. Dealing with this enemy will also lead us to a new development. While quarreling with Pakistan we loose dignity.

  12. We should divert the focus from Arunachal to Tibet. That can be done by various international forums and NGOs as well as human rights activities to put pressure on China. Also take consideration of Tibetans as well. We should also get closure to Taiwan. A defending India will always bring a war. PRC now wants to talk because of sudden improvement in border security and India's attacking mode.

    Above all immediately arrest those part of the politics and media which supporting PRC against Indian nation. Its serious...

  13. Indian political leaders has done a lot of harms by recognizing Tibet as a part of China. On the other hand they never recognize Kashmir as a part of India, while Kashmir is traditionally part of India and PRC attacked Tibet. But now China project Kashmir as a separate country. Further provoking the issue.

    There are something fishy going on. They wants to put pressure after Bush is gone. Obama will not react to any thing PRC do. They are taking this chance to separate India from USA.

    Our 70+ aged politicians never shown any maturity to be a great leader and lead a country like India to be developed one. For that they have to come out from Ghandhian Truth era and face the reality of real world. Where every country developed some way after independence but not India. We are still one of the poor in the world. This is the main weapon in the hand of PRC communists.

    The second weapon is our corrupted politicians which still love PC more than India. Their love gets some pump when there is some war of words between India and China. They cannot reduce the love for sake of the motherland also.

    GoI and Indian people should take care of these two.

  14. Intresting article. I think China, India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and have huge forces. So in a way they shoudl see eachother as superpowers. There is not going to be a win on any side if the s hits the f. Reading some comments about China dumping something to Pakistan. Well, the whole world is dumping cause it it is a profit. India buys tanks, airplanes, rockes, radarsets, choppers, subs, AC and then we are talking about big tickets and not some outdated few... So baliming others is the wrong way to start anything. Every nation has the right to buy weapons. I do not think that it is bad cause it is a way to start TOT and industries that can improve oher sectors. And whether it is huge... It is huge for the nations but if you look at the world then it is still not extreme. All three nations are evolving into modern defence. They all still have large junk of material tha needs to be replaced.

  15. Truth for India:

    If you have to post multiple comments on a single subject (can't understand why all that gibberish couldn't be compiled into a single post) at least get your facts right.

    China does NOT project Kashmir as a separate country. China's position on Kashmir is that India and Pakistan should decide the future of Kashmir through peaceful negotiation.

    This is not a state secret. Anyone who is inclined to do even a tiny bit of research can access this fact.

    Next, what is the logic behind your statement that China plans to separate India from the US by provoking India. Most people with an IQ above that of an earthworm would realise that if China's provocations rise to threatening levels, India would be driven into the US fold.

    And finally our politicians (whatever the hell you mean by terming them "corrupted") are far from Gandhian in their approach to China. The Jan Sangh and Congress hardliners have already driven India into one war with China; and they seem quite ready to do it again.

    Much like you, apparently. Can't understand why you believe they are in any way different from you!


  16. Ajai - Nice article and good job keeping us posted. Obviously the articles you post here are not meant to bring you fame or recognition as a defense writer as you obviously write for a well respected and read newspaper. I believe you have this blog to interact with your readers and get their feedback...otherwise why even have a comments section. I can understand after reading some of language in some of the comments that it can get tough at times trying to decipher what someone is trying to convey. But pray, answer me this...is it because this is your blog, you believe it gives you the right to call folks names if you do not agree with the totally incredulous argument being put across by them???? If that's the case do yourself and the regular followers of your blog a favor and remove the comments section. In my view you are demeaning yourself by calling people names...you obviously know your stuff or believe you do...but that doesn't give you the right to be obnoxious to your readers. As for your comment that "China's position on Kashmir is that India and Pakistan should decide the future of Kashmir through peaceful negotiation" is concerned, I believe the reader you reacted so harshly to was referring to news reports about China's Kashmir visa move - where China is issuing separate visas for Kashmiri people.
    Do me a favor - do not come back with the lame excuse that this is your blog and I can keep away if I don't like the way you react to people!!! I have great respect for you and believe you are a professional who will make note of this criticism and make adjustments accordingly.

  17. Mike D, thanks for your obviously well-meant suggestion. I absolutely will NOT say that you can stay away if you don't like how I react.

    What I will say is that I believe we are all entitled to post our views frankly. This is the internet. Visitors to this blog have long been free to post whatever they like about me... and if you go back a few posts, you will find that they don't exactly hold back in telling me when they think I'm a nitwit.

    So in this gloves-off medium, where anyone can react to my posts with outright rudeness, surely I have the right to react equally frankly to what people post. I can promise you that I don't edit out comments that don't agree with my viewpoint. I only screen off obscenity, irrelevance and outright stupidity.

    I believe that post was not just uninformed and factually incorrect. I think it betrayed a seriously paranoid worldview with astonishing recommendations about arresting politicians and mediapersons, ganging up with Taiwan against China, and implying that anyone above 70 is fit only for an old-age home!

    C'mon folks! Just because you are posting anonymously doesn't mean that you can abandon basic norms of conduct and good sense.

  18. 1962 debacle was not entirely the result of hardliners in Congress and the Jana Sangh. The un prepardness of the army was a fact. The poor support for equipping the forces from the Nehru government is a fact. The absense of road infrastructure is a fact. Instead of identifying the causes of the defeat, you have chosen to pin blame on the final trigger. Please read "Guilty men of 1962" and "Himalayn Blunder" for a balanced perspective. An equally pliant Army top brass have to shoulder blame. China was prepared for the offensive for months. Jana Sangh did not force the army into the conflict. Nehru was aware of the border transgressions by China and the illegal occupation of Aksai Chin, yet he chose to sing Bhai-Bhai. If an opposition like Jana Sangh is not allowed to raise topics of national interest, then who will?

    As regards, the abuse heaped on "Truth for India" , he is obviously referring to the Chinese practice of issuing paper visas to the Kashmiris. There have been reports of Kashmir shown as a separate region in Chinese maps. Cant see the reason for the abuse heaped on the guy apart from the age old disdain that current and retired defense personel have for tax paying citizens (aka bloody civilians). A remainder of the Raj probably?

  19. By the way, Mike D, congrats on a very skillfully written comment. It's always a pleasure to encounter subtlety in phrasing a viewpoint or suggestion.

    You might well have influenced me, even if I don't admit it just yet!

  20. And here's another character who has read two books and thinks he's an expert!

    Anjaneya, you have the most astonishing view of "balanced perspective" that I've ever encountered. Do you really believe that the brigade commander who lost his battle in 45 minutes... has an unbiased viewpoint. Oh man!

    Sure the forces were unequipped; sure the roads were not constructed; sure the army brass was pliant. But these were not the REASONS FOR THE WAR. These were merely some of THE REASONS WHY INDIA LOST THE WAR.

    Think about that, Anjaneya. And if you ever want a reading list on the 1962 war from relatively unbiased (I don't believe anyone can be entirely unbiased) authors, tell me and I'll give it to you.

    Nehru was not the idiot that idiots think he was. It is well documented that the reason why he was singing "bhai-bhai" was his knowledge of how totally unprepared India was.

    If Nehru had his way, he would have struck a deal with Chou En-Lai in 1959/1960. But when he broached the subject tangentially, he was shouted down by the Indian polity and media. Not so much the Jan Sangh, though they were there too. More so by the hardliners in the Congress Party.

    Read more, Anjaneya, my man, read some more. And this disdain is not the one that military men have for civilians. It's the one well-informed people have for the partially-informed.

    P.S. I pay taxes too... perhaps not as much as you... but certainly more than I can afford.

  21. @ "paying more Taxes than you can afford"

    I could be of some help here Ajai ....

    I could help you with your Tax planning,if you arent seeking professional advice....

    Taxation is part of my acads ... :)

  22. This is beginning to deviate form the topic, but let me clarify.
    The 2 books mentioned - "Guilty men of 1962" and "Himalayan Blunder" both go into some depth about the background, operational issues and conclude with an analysis of the outcome. Brig John Dalvi clearly explains and validates the issues he faced in getting men and equipment. If you will please go through Neville Maxwells report on this whole episode, you will see the hapless Brigadier in a different light. (If you have access to the Henderson brooks report, well even better but lets just leave it at that..)
    My suggestion regarding the books earlier mentioned was for readers who are interested in knowing more. It might have appeared to be a condescending suggestion (in my earlier comment) to Sri Ajai Shukla. It was certainly not intended to convey that message. I would be delighted to pickup books that you suggest. I do believe, though, that Maxwells books IS the authority since he had access to the HB report.
    Poor preparation IS the reason for war. The Chinese made meticulous preparations fully aware of poor Indian capabilities. Would China have continued provocations if it knew the capabilites on the Indian side were adequate? Would Indian polity have responded with ham handed approaches to what was a resolvable issue? Nehru was no idiot, however, he did have delusions of leaving a legacy of fine statesmanship (example NAM). In his hurry to do so, he forgot to keep the powder dry.
    And does it really matter if i have read 2 books or 20? I was not there when the shots were fired, and when Krishna Menon berated/bullied the army chiefs, but then again neither were you Shuklaji. So let us both be a little humble here.
    I am in agreement with the contents of your article though. It is certainly time for a fresh look at resolving the issue. Both countries need to move on with other pressing issues each faces. I do believe the current GOI is moving in the right direction.

  23. Good article Ajaiji - Some general comments about the Chinese mindset and ways to tackle them, as I have worked with quite a few of them and observed their behavior closely :
    1) They follow a herd mentality - where the bigger objective should be a collective gain - they are great communists! good for long term benefits to their country and people.
    2) Individually, they are pretty much average, as far as mental or physical prowess is concerned (Name any chinese who is famous at the global level or a household name?) individual Indians can be far more sophisticated and enterprising, but bad communists (or nationalists).
    3) When dealing with them, it is wise to show some tenacity of purpose, steadfastness and a collective voice. Even they cant stand a firm opposition too long (whatever you do, just dont bend over). It is also not a bad idea to hire some Japanese scholars for ideas on dealing with the Chinese (they are the only country, China is really afraid of and the Japanese know them better than anyone else).

    I hope MMS prepares well, when he meets his Chinese counterpart - they need to be tamed with some clever verbal sophistication, not the usual cliches and statements, for which the Chinese will have prepared counterarguments.
    Goodluck! The Dragon can never be as smart as the Elephant, when the Elephant is wide awake and fast on its feet :) (Not an easy task, but give it a good try)

  24. "Individually, they are pretty much average, as far as mental or physical prowess is concerned (Name any chinese who is famous at the global level or a household name?) individual Indians can be far more sophisticated and enterprising, but bad communists (or nationalists)."
    Unfortunate that ignorant like you exist in india.Please leave the cyber cafe and travel around.Good to be proud of ourselves.But such pathetic views on our immediate neighbor and it's people.

  25. Anjaneya!

    Even Neville Maxwell, who you cite as THE authority on the 1962 war, does not support your thesis that poor Indian military preparation was the reason for the 1962 war. Read (or if you've actually read India's China War, re-read) Chapter III: The View from Peking.

    To save you some trouble, here's an excerpt from Page 275: "There is no reason to believe that if at any time before mid-October 1962 India had changed her policy towards China, either by agreeing to negotiate a general boundary agreement or even by simply suspending the forward policy, China would not have responded and encouraged Sino-Indian relations to simmer down".

    To get a better understanding of India's internal tensions, which prevented Nehru from doing what his successors have done (i.e. begin negotiations with China on the boundary, something that would have immediately defused tensions in the 1950s and, most likely, resulted in a settled boundary), read Steven Hoffmann, "India and the China Crisis".

    Neville Maxwell's book is a fine work, but NOT because he had access to the Henderson-Brooks report. The HB report is valuable only in that it documents the military follies that led to the debacle in NEFA and the defeat in Ladakh. HB does not touch on the political dimension of the sorry story. (I know that is contrary to accepted wisdom, but you'll just have to accept my statement that in his introduction to the report, HB clarifies that his terms of reference were confined only to the sphere of the military and, therefore, he would not include the political dimension in his report. In any case, how would a general investigate a dimension in which the PM, the Defence Minister, and the Home Minister were key players?)

    I happen to know something about what I'm talking about because I have spent the bulk of the last 13 months living and working in Arunachal Pradesh, researching all the local and central archives, and reading practically everything that has ever been written on 1962 and its aftermath. I intend to publish my book next year.

    I may not have been there when the shots were fired in 1962, but I've interviewed enough people who were. And not just brigadiers and generals who wrote to resurrect their sullied reputations!

  26. Shuklaji, agar article nahi toh kam se kam yehi bataa dijiye ki Arjun Tank ko kab tak cover karenge?

    I know this will possibly irritate you, but what to do, my moniker says it all.

  27. Mr Shukla,
    are you a vegetarian by any chance?
    just asking..thnx!

  28. China does not treat Kashmir as a separate country??? Then why are they giving visas to Kashmiris on separate slips??? Time you too got your facts straight and developed a bit of moral courage to publish embarrassing blogs. You may also try and write simple English without resorting to relying on highsounding,hyperbolic and meaningless words like you did in your military days while writing inane 'on order military papers'. Read 'My Experiments With Truth ' and see what the author has conveyed in the simplest English.Want to delete it?? Go ahead. Enjoy yourself


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