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Dokalam diplomacy

Dokalam diplomacy

Ever since the Dokalam crisis began this summer, strategists in India have been hostage to a virtual 'Little Wars' mindset. For a majority of the part, the military debate has centred on the prospects of a limited border war or a protracted but non-violent stand-off. Though Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has assured Indians this is not 1962; the Ministry of External Affairs has studiously realised the threats emanating from Beijing. Referring to the ongoing standoff with the Chinese People's Liberation Army at Dokalam, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday told Rajya Sabha that war was not a solution and wisdom was to resolve issues diplomatically. She further said that patience was the need of the hour and India was not going to use any aggressive language in its response to the standoff at the Bhutan-India-China tri-junction. "We should be prepared for war, but war is not a solution. Even after the war, you have to sit for a dialogue. So why not look for a way out without going to war. We don't want to win our neighbours by military power but by being an economic superpower. It is a reality that China has invested $160 billion in India, while three years ago it was $140 billion," Swaraj said, responding to a statement by Opposition leaders during a short duration discussion on India's foreign policy and engagement with strategic partners.

She, however, attacked Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for holding secret meetings with the Chinese ambassador. "When China attacked India in 1962, Atal Bihari Vajpayee wrote a letter to the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru to call a special session of Parliament and the latter obliged. What did the Congress vice-president do? He should have understood the Indian government's stand before listening to the Chinese Ambassador," she said. Fear is the key to understanding China's behaviour: While its neighbours see a fire-breathing dragon, the dragon sees the glint of spears and sabres. The current troop standoff with China at Dokalam offers India important lessons that go far beyond the Chinese intrusion into this Bhutanese plateau. Unless India grasps the long-term threat posed by an increasingly muscular China and responds with an appropriate counter-strategy, it is sure to confront much bigger problems than Doklam. Unfortunately, institutional memory in India tends to be short, with a mindset of immediacy blurring the bigger picture. Remember Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's recent statement in which she said that China is prying in her state; this was seen as signifying a new trend. In truth, China has long been playing the Kashmir card against India. In 2010 it honed that card by aggressively adopting a stapled-visa policy for J&K residents. To mount pressure, Beijing has tacitly questioned India's sovereignty over the 45 per cent of J&K under Indian control and officially shortened the length of the Himalayan border it shares with India by purging the 1,597-kilometre line separating Indian J&K from Chinese-held J&K. China's Kashmir interference would only increase as a result of its so-called economic corridor through Pakistan-held J&K, where Chinese military presence is growing, including near Pakistan's ceasefire line with India. India now faces Chinese troops on both flanks of its portion of J&K. By drumming up the Naga and Mizo insurgencies, China taught its "all weather" client Pakistan how to wage a proxy war against India. China still fans flames in India's northeast. For example, Paresh Barua, the long-time fugitive commander-in-chief of ULFA, has been traced to Ruili, in China's Yunnan province. Some other Indian insurgent leaders have been ensconced in Myanmar's Yunnan-bordering region controlled by the China-backed Kachin Independence Army. The illicit flow of Chinese arms to India, including to Maoists, had been confirmed by the authorities of Home Ministry on many occasions. On the other hand, the deepening China-Pakistan nexus presents India with a two-front theatre in the event of a war with either country. No one can know for certain how far China might go to deliver on its warnings, but India needs to be crystal clear about how it might deal with escalation, each step of the way. However, India's anaemic military modernisation stands in stark contrast with Jaitley's fighting words. Beijing and New Delhi must make the effort to engage in a creative dialogue about how a changing Asia's tensions will be managed — aware that the price of a single misstep can be mass death.

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