Postcard to Mr Khurshid - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 29 April 2013

Postcard to Mr Khurshid

Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid will visit Beijing on May 09

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30 Apr 13

Dear Mr Khurshid,

I wish you a fruitful journey next week, when you visit China to apply ointment on the "beautiful face" of Sino-Indian relations, which you observe has been marred by the "acne" of China's military intrusion into the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector in Ladakh. You and the prime minister have wisely downplayed the intrusion so far; inflammatory public statements would only make a happy ending more elusive. But please do not display the same forbearance in your official conversations in Beijing.

Be certain that the Chinese will blame these occasional confrontations on the Indian army's insistence on building up forces and infrastructure on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). You will hear that the best way to de-escalate is an immediate mutual cap on troop numbers and military infrastructure. Such an understanding, your counterpart will sagely observe, can maintain the peace until a wiser generation can resolve the border dispute (or, as India calls it, the border question).

Hon'ble Minister, do not allow yourself to be sidetracked from the central issue of the moment: a flagrant violation of the status quo through the occupation of territory that both sides claim. This is no routine patrol incursion, which is common since both sides routinely patrol up to their perceived boundaries in order to keep alive their claims. Instead, this is an escalation that establishes "facts on the ground" that would materially affect an eventual territorial settlement. Remember the Wangdung intrusion, near Tawang, in 1986? That pocket, where the Chinese had pitched up a few tents, much like they did at DBO last fortnight, continues to remain with them.

In contrast to the furious Indian response at Wangdung, where the army built up forces aggressively to dominate the Chinese camp, the Indian army has fallen in line with orders from the top, refraining from a troop build-up or even tough talk that could shut the door to a face-saving de-escalation. But remember, the Chinese style is to keep testing an opponent's resolve. In DBO, China is "taking the temperature" again. You must make it clear that --- even in the absence of a Wangdung-type troop build-up --- all options remain on India's table. The "proportionality" that you have advocated could involve a similar occupation of disputed territory by Indian troops at a selected time and place.

Naturally Your Excellency would never use crude threats, but a man of your sophistication would find the diplomatic language to indicate to Beijing a red line --- consolidation of the intrusion. If the Chinese patrol replaces tents with permanent shelters, the Indian army will conclude that they intend to remain there through winter. In that case, it will be difficult for the government to explain to voters why it is not reacting militarily to a Kargil-style occupation of Indian territory.

Your counterpart will undoubtedly repeat the statement that Chinese soldiers are on their own side of the LAC. Your response should be: "Well, what do you believe is the alignment of the LAC? You cannot claim simultaneously that your troops are on your side of the LAC; while also refusing to share with us your perception of that line."

The starkest lesson of DBO is that, without mutual agreement over where the LAC runs, or even "agreed disagreement" over both sides' view of their frontier, the uncertainty becomes unmanageable. There is the ever-present danger of routine patrols being seen as "intrusions", and a new encampment like the Chinese one at DBO being seen as territorial aggression, triggering an armed face-off.

Your Excellency, make clear to Beijing that it must exchange maps with India on which both sides have marked what they perceive as the LAC. For over 30 years now China has refused to spell out what it believes is the LAC despite repeated requests from New Delhi since December 1981, when the first round of boundary talks took place.

Article 10 of the solemn bilateral agreement of 1996 says: "the two sides agree to speed up the process of clarification and confirmation of the Line of Actual Control." China ignores this, as also repeated Indian requests in meetings of the Joint Working Group (JWG).

China has benefited from this lack of clarity by continually shifting its claim line westwards. Last Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said he had "asked the Chinese side to maintain status quo in this sector, and by status quo I mean status quo prior to this incident". The problem is that there are multiple status quos in this area. China keeps changing its patrolling pattern and India is left guessing. Today China can occupy practically any hilltop in southeastern Ladakh and claim that it is on its own side of the LAC.

For all these reasons, Mr Khurshid, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) cannot continue with its misplaced satisfaction at having activated the joint consultative mechanism. While this talk shop convenes and both sides reiterate boilerplate positions, the Chinese patrol remains in Raki Nala.

Finally, Your Excellency, the timing of this incursion --- a month before Premier Li Keqiang's visit - is hardly coincidental. China's new regime is clearly testing New Delhi's resolve, checking to see whether the MEA's wish to make the visit a success will induce it to meekly accept the incursion at DBO. Your discussions in Beijing will set the tone for the next 10 years. We are confident you will flash the steel that your predecessor, SM Krishna, did in reminding the Chinese that our sensitivities in J&K matched Chinese sensitivities in Tibet; coming closer than any Indian official before or after to reopening the Tibet question.


  1. Arun RajKumar l29 April 2013 at 20:04

    Ajai Ji ....i was a real defense enthusiast...but my perception changed from a btech student, as i entered working class....

    Corruption is every where and we wont change and that is only reflected in our foreign policy........

    This country will always be like this ....Thanks to the ideals of MG.....i mean it..non violence my ***

  2. Correct and timely. We need to change the prevailing perceptions that India is a push over incapable of a befitting response or else the Chinese would not have intruded. If the present stand off does not get resolved peacefully and the PLA troops do not vacate the Raki Nala intrusions, India must be ready to tell the Chinese PM that he is not welcome. Air Cmde (Retd)Ramesh Phadke

  3. How many educated people (or for that matter people in the MEA or the even MoD) know our own perception of the LAC. I wonder how there people are going to defend themselves in the negotiations when even they don't know where they stand.

    Its a spine less govt.

  4. Sir,I too think that Diplomacy should be Given Chance,but here Our Ext. aff.Minister is ensuring their stay on our peìce of land By delaying his visit.We already had 1 major war and 2 other Face Offs before the Present DBO imborgilo..nw its in News that they have Erected their 5th Tent & using More Sniper dogs & 1 4 wheeler,1 6 wheeler troop carrying vehicle & 1 8 wheel heavy truck,they have even Erectd a Signboard claiming that its their our Army & itbp troops r only 50-60 in Number.why is it so ? Why the Government is downplaying the Incident Over & Over Again.I am Not asking for Sudden Military adventure but of steadfastness and strength in Govt's action.Chinese use this sort of tactics everywhere whether It in South China sea or East china sea or In Diayou.There Make their Offence camouflage as Defence and draw consensus.Why our Leadership is so weak ?.why they cant reap benefits out of situation like chinese do ?.If Govt. Will not show iron fist n determination then The future Incursions will be meant to GRAB LAND

  5. Empty threat, no substance. The world knows including China that the Indian Army is equipped with second world war weapons and has no night fighting capability. Is commanded by men of straw. The moral of our soldiers is at its lowest web. The political leadership is so corrupt that their backbone does not exist. In such a scenario it would be wise to swallow our ego and bend to the Chinese wishes. Let the sleeping dragon lie!

  6. hope... this is not... an exercise... like distributing... wheel chairs... strechers... to able bodied... persons...

  7. Bravo Ajai. This is the type of men India needs at the moment. The Gandhi-PM nexus is ruining our great nation to a pile of garbage. In the quest for the elusive financial growth sans jobs and only assurances to the "common-man", this party of frauds is cheating Indians. It is repulsive to even think of the meek and abject surrender by our Netas before the Chinese. I don't understand how Indians vote again-and-again for such frauds. There is certainly something wrong with India and Indians. India needs to rattle its nuclear sabres by doing aggressive military training throughout the Chinese border. Keeping the nuke launchers ready even escalate the stakes by successfully implementing the "forward policy". This time, make sure our men and women liberate Tibet from Chinese occupation.

  8. During Wangdung India had no agreements with China but for Raki Nalla to happen about three agreements are in place...

    So far as Chinese perception of LAC is concerned India should also not accepat any thing less than what is published in Indian maps as boundry..

    Status quo on ground also suits India as the chinese are not going to give anything by talks or negotiations

  9. The sooner this UPA government is booted out the better. A spineless PM along with his equally incompetent defence minister and foreign minister have just mislead the country on this fiasco right from day one. The Chinese are humiliating us with these well planned incursions along the LAC. The babus in the MOD and MEA have always been under the misconceived notion that our defence forces should never adopt any proactive defence strategies to counter the Chinese for fear of not giving them a face saving non confrontational pullback option. By the looks of things the Chinese are there to stay the best we can do is reinforce our troops there with overwhelming capabilities in form of mobile brigades and attendant on call air support.

  10. Very Well Written!!

  11. Please inform the honourable minister the "acne" got bigger.Maybe it's time to change the"ointment"or is it time to change the doctor as well?

  12. The Chinese are on a roll -militarily, economically and politically.In South Asia their aim is to dominate our neighbours and minimize Indian regional influence.They have done that pretty well in Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal and are getting going in B'desh and Bhutan.
    I agree with you that they are "testing temperatures" . And with just 50-60 men they have managed to get the govt of a nation of a billion plus people into a cold funk.
    What happened to all that breast beating by the COAS sometime back when he said that"I expect my commanders on the LOC to be aggressive"??
    Given our penchant for behaving like a dove,the MEA and not the MOD will have the ear of "the powers that be".There is a power game on between the two ministries. Meanwhilst the mandarins in the MEA are loving their time in the spotlight -for some, it might be a vision of their "finest hour".
    Lets await and see if the Foreign Minister can show the Chinese that we are a country with some "b***s"

  13. @Anonymous 11.10; Whatever you may feel about the political leadership, the country and the world are well aware of the indian Army's capabilities-remember VP Malik's 'we will fight with whatever we have'at the time of Kargil- you may be aware of the options that the Army Chief has given to the govt in this incident.Even if the govt may be disinclined to act- public pressure will force them to.

  14. Give the Chinkis an ultimatum - get out within 1 hour, or else.

  15. Friendhsip is amongst the equals where the situation is weak vs strong it is fight for survival of the fittest alway have to remember this while dealing with the Chinese as it is their policy

  16. Good luck to Mr Khurshid on DBO, I highly doubt China has any plans to get out of there via the "talk" route. It's stretegic failure on the Indian side for sitting idle while China built infrastructure around the border region. Now we are playing catch-up. Unless India is able to defend the remaining LAC, and take similar steps by moving into undefended Chinese lands, I think there is no chance that the Chinese are going to step away from DBO anytime soon. Shanti-giri only works when both sides want it, clearly not the case here.



  18. Begging will never work... only strength will respect strength. I truly ashamed to be an Indian.

  19. If India supports the Tibetan, Xingiang and Balochistan movements, it can put China in it's place. China is a bully. We should never have built trade and diplomatic relations with a bully. It is like a woman allowing a molester to be her 'friend'.

  20. Ajai: what exactly is the reason for this blog post at a time when we are in a face-off with the Hans in Ladakh?

  21. Let me give a pointer in this regard which will describe present time dealings with Chinese military
    Mr. Khurshid, please read this or have it read it out to you!

  22. You are reading the obvious and this definitely is not sufficient for the Foreign Minister to push the case.

    One needs inner working knowledge of the other side before one can hope to win a dialogue.


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