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"Dragon on Our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power" | Grave errors in dealing with China

A dear friend, dead now, used to say the Indian generals are usually all gung-ho about taking on Pakistan, while they seem to quake in their boots the moment you utter ‘China.’ That was a result of the drubbing, the incipient Indian Army received in the hands of the PLA. We can call this our very own ‘‘China Syndrome’ – in lines of the US armed forces’ ‘Vietnam Syndrome.’

Price:   799 |  13 May 2017 2:00 PM GMT  |  PINAKI BHATTACHARYA

Grave errors in dealing with China

A dear friend, dead now, used to say the Indian generals are usually all gung-ho about taking on Pakistan, while they seem to quake in their boots the moment you utter ‘China.’ That was a result of the drubbing, the incipient Indian Army received in the hands of the PLA. We can call this our very own ‘‘China Syndrome’ – in lines of the US armed forces’ ‘Vietnam Syndrome.’ 

But those times are ‘achanging.’ A large section of the Indian elite seem to think that China bugbear will continue to contain India in the sub-continent, with big dollops of help from Rawalpindi. So, the leadership of the country has begun to focus on building the three services – army, navy and air force for what the controversial chief of army staff, General Deepak Kapoor, now retired had talked about a two-front war. The army has taken a few steps forward towards taking on China on the Himalayan heights. Two mountain corps are well on their way to be raised – one to be based in West Bengal’s Panagarh. There will be two independent mountain brigades. The various advanced landing grounds (ALGs), which were in disrepair for a long while have now been reactivated both in the Northeast of the country and the extreme north. Both the frontline heavy lift aircrafts procured at great cost from the USA, C-230J and C-17s have landed on some of them. In fact the IAF have even landed the first type of aircraft on a dirt strip.

Diplomatically, India has grown close to the USA and Japan. In Vietnam, India is trying to do a Pakistan on China’s eastern frontiers. Sawhney and Ghazala, however, begin their book on a pessimistic note. The authors of this important book chronicle what they consider to be grave errors in dealing with China – beginning with Nehru to Narasimha Rao and right up to AB Vajpayee. You may agree with them, or, you may disagree. On page 44-45, they say that Rao’ Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement’ had created the middle sector of the border abutting Uttarakhand, disputed. They also say that the border, which had remained disputed, after the agreement became Line of Actual Control (LAC) – thus could be breached at will.

Now, there could be two lines of reason for this assertion of the authors. First is a legal definition of a border and a LAC. No dissimilar legality can really exist between the two notions – precisely because they are notional. On top of that, no maps have been exchanged between the two on even the demarcations of the LAC. For that matter the middle sector where the border was largely stable, the two countries have not gone through the ‘delimitation’ process. Secondly, the author’s claim that McMahon Line – a British legacy that Nehru had claimed for independent India, has also been turned into LAC, thus leaving it up to competing interpretations. A senior general of the Indian Army, once commanding the III Corps, based in Nagaland’s Dimapur, had told this writer in clear terms that the Indian interpretation of the LAC matches the watersheds and crests of the McMahon Line, with little approximation. And the army patrols right up to the McMahon Line, whatever may the semantics that are chosen by the diplomats. The rest of the book is equally rich in detail in terms of China’s grand-strategy, India’s options and the sharp criticism of various regimes in New Delhi for lacking strategic thought is well made. 

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