Solving the problem: don't just keep adding layers of CBMs - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 23 October 2013

Solving the problem: don't just keep adding layers of CBMs

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Oct 13

It is heartening that New Delhi and Beijing are not allowing the breadth of their engagement to be constrained by the border question, which has not moved closer to resolution since 2005, when the two sides agreed on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles that would inform an eventual solution. Since then, “special representatives” of both governments have labored unsuccessfully to arrive at an “Agreed Framework” for a settlement. Only after that can a mutually agreed border be delineated on a map, and then demarcated on ground.

The Border Defence and Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) that was signed on Wednesday as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Beijing takes the two sides no closer to a final settlement. All that it does --- like the earlier agreements of 1993, 1996, 2005 and 2012 --- is to bolster a relatively benign operating environment on the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC). This imposed calm is essential for curbing hotheaded tactical commanders; violence between patrols that come face-to-face in disputed areas can easily blow up into full-scale diplomatic crises.

But the BDCA does nothing to address the root cause of tension on the border --- an absence of clarity on where the LAC runs. With both sides needing to demonstrate physical presence and control up to their claimed LAC, this gives rise to accusations of “patrol intrusions”, perceptions of aggression and mal-intent, concomitant insecurity, and the consequential massing of troops that heightens the probability of escalation.

Agreeing on an LAC is far simpler than agreeing on a border. But, so far, India and China have shared perceptions on the LAC only in the inconsequential Central Sector, i.e. Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. In the Western Sector (Ladakh) and Eastern Sector (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh), which is where the real disagreement lies, Beijing has resisted the exchange of maps marked with each side’s claimed LAC alignment. It is unclear whether this is because China wants to retain the option to expand its claim later, or because of the apprehension that this would lead to unrealistic claims that would complicate the situation further.

The absence of an agreed LAC blocks many of the de-escalatory measures spelt out in the CBM agreements. The 1996 agreement explicitly states “the full implementation of some of the provisions of the present Agreement will depend on the two sides arriving at a common understanding of the alignment of the line of actual control.” New Delhi must press Beijing to move forward with the map exchange. True, this might result in identifying more areas where the Indian perception of the LAC does not align with that of China. But pretending that the LAC is disputed in only 14 areas (the currently identified differences) is hardly a substitute for ascertaining the real magnitude of the dispute. Once the situation is clear, solutions could be tailored to de-escalate the disputed areas without prejudice to either side’s claims.


  1. Another incisive post by Col. Shukla, going to heart of the matter. If the Chinese wished to avoid incidents, there is no need for yet more CBMs. They simple have to stay on their side of the LAC as established in 1962.

    If the 1962 line was good enough for them, why have they not stayed with it? If they genuinely wanted to settle the border issue, how does every square meter of territory matter? A little give and take, and the matter can be sorted out.

    The sole point for India to note when dealing with the Chinese is this: they will not settle the border issue until we agree to their claim over the Aksai Chin. Since we cannot agree to that, they will keep pushing. The stronger they get and the more pathetic we act, the more they will push.

    Realistiucally, there is nothing to negotiate if we are not agree to their terms. They certainly will not agree to ours (i.e, withdraw from the Aksai Chin). There is only way the matter can be settled, which is war - and which is the way the Chinese settled it in 1962. Since the Indian leadership faints at the thought of war, there can be no resolution.

    Also please to appreciate; in 1950 India agreed that Tibet belonged to China even though Tibet has as good a claim to independence as many independent states in the world. If the Chinese had the least goodwill, could they not have said: we have problems with the demarcation of the McMahan Line, let us negotiate. Some give and take, and the issue could have been settled.

    Instead they Chinese grabbed what they claimed, even as they misled Nehru (though to be fair they never actually lied) that they agreed to the MM line.

    China will not respect anyone's borders. It wants the China Seas to be declared as Chinese exclusive zone, in contravention of laws of maritime passage. When the time comes, they will reopen the border issue with Russia - the Chinese have from time to time controlled considerable areas in Siberia.

    The sooner India disabuses itslf of the notion China can be negotiated with - any more than Pakistan can be negotiated with - the sooner reality will arrive.

    And the reality is that the Chinese respect only force. Same with the Americans before the Chinese. Same with the British before the Americans. Same with the Spanish, the Ditch, the French, the Turks, the Mongols, and so on however far back you want to go.

  2. I forgot to add: I've spent the last 4-months looking at what it will require to decisively retake all Kashmir (Pakistan and China occupied. Half-a-trillion dollars in expansion and reequipment of the armed forces, 8 years for an accelerated buildup, 5% of GDP on defense, and 250,000 casualties. That's for taking Kashmir. Pakistan will not be a factor after that. China will try and grab its claims back, in which case there will be a Phase II of the war. Havent worked out what that will involve.

  3. On the Indian side there are two other factors to be taken into account: one is the political class and the other the media.Both need to be enlightened and thereafter to be co-opted towards a solution.With the decision to raise a mountain srike corps, there should be no illusions about defending our interests physically on he ground. But a firm and steady step-by-step negotiating process is the need of the hour.

  4. A lot of Discussion takes place over the alleged intent, goals and execution plans of the Chinese. What about us - do we have a clear stand of what we want to do in each of the areas? Even if our stand is Status Quo - the idea of what we mean by status quo has to be defined, planned for, and executed to a timetable. Leave alone the Govt, i am not so sure that even our Mil Cdrs are quite certain of what our stated posn is!That it must incl details of what that means in clear terms - measurable, reasonable, achievable and Time- Bound......


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