Millennium Post

India needs to bolster its diplomatic acumen

That no ‘consensus’ has been achieved on the border disputes between India and China even after 17 years of commencement of an agreement and about 15 rounds of talks since 2005 is what explains the ongoing stand-off.

Provocation from China is not a rare act but Indian government’s ostensible absence of commitment and adherence to postponement strategy is what ails foreign policy.

Even though after a fortnight long stand-off the Chinese on Sunday finally withdrew their troops from Ladakh, labelling it as a success would be a mistake as such situations would continue to emerge unabated until a stand is taken.

Soon after Chinese incursion (upto 10 km of Indian territory in Ladakh on 15 April) the Indian government was quick enough to cite Article 10 of the agreement which was signed in 1996 between the Republic of India and People’s Republic of China.

The Article 10 of the agreement states: 1) Recognising that 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 (LAC) in the India-China border areas, the two sides agree to speed up the process of clarification and confirmation of the LAC. As an initial step, they are clarifying the alignment of the LAC in those segments where they have different perceptions. They also agree to exchange maps indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the LAC as soon as possible. (2) Pending completion of the process of clarification and confirmation of the LAC, the two sides shall work out modalities for implementing confidence building measures envisaged under this agreement on an interim basis, without prejudice to their respective positions on the alignment of the LAC as well as on the boundary question.

Arriving on a common understanding is far-fetched; doubts persist whether there has at least been any headway on clarifying the alignment of the LAC. As per the ministry of external affairs officials there have not even been exchanging maps suggesting that things have not moved much.

Whether China is apprehensive to provide maps to India or India hasn’t asked, Indian diplomacy owes an explanation in both situations. Dragging of such a contentious issue has given a chance to China to self-suitably orchestrate its moves. The blunt rejections of all intrusion reports, including this recent one legitimise the benefit that China enjoys.

India External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid promptly took refuge in the technical complexity of the situation and said that there are no proper demarcations on the LAC. A line more by him on how they plan to achieve that would have been appropriate. But buying time on issues demanding swift action is seemingly what suits diplomatic battles. It is imperative to note here that before the withdrawal of troops from Ladakh three flag meetings had been suggesting the growing friction between the two countries. The Indian government had also referred to Article 4 of a 2005 protocol which states that if the border personnel of the two sides come to a face to face situation on the alignment of the LAC, they shall exercise self-restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid an escalation of the situation. Expectedly, the Indian government had asked their Chinese counterparts to maintain a status quo in the sector. A border management mechanism was also set up to sort out potential threats to ‘peace and tranquillity’. Despite the presence of such mechanisms, results are dismal. And it becomes more cryptic when such issues are compared with other bilateral ties between same countries for relations in trade which have grown to a point where they are routinely cited as a model.

According to reports, the instance of intrusion by the Chinese army had gone up from 180 in 2011 to over 400 in 2012. Some prior reported incursions by China include a 3 October 2012 face-off when a team of Indian Army personnel, engaged in the repair of a road in the Chumar sector in Ladakh, was questioned by a patrol party of China’s People’s Liberation Army. Even though Indian armymen, under strict instructions not to exacerbate tension on the border, demonstrated restraint, the PLA troops reportedly painted Chinese letters on the marking stones in red and destroyed a map made by the Indian troops. On 8 July same year, a PLA patrol painted China on the rocks near Charding-Nilung Nala in Demchok in Ladakh.

This happened again in August, making clear the intention of the PLA to lay claim to the area. On 27 May, two face-offs were reported in Dokala, in the western sector where a PLA patrol removed Indian demarcation claims leading to confrontation with the Indian army-men. There are several more to list and this perpetuity of events raise questions on vulnerability of India.

Time, perhaps, has come to inject some subjective swiftness to actions that are undertaken. The withdrawal of troops may have provided a temporary relief as the two countries prepare themselves for upcoming bilateral visits, but if this self-admitted ‘acne’ by the foreign minister Salman Khurshid is not greased with diplomatic ointment it could soon turn into a wound.

The author is principal correspondent at
Millennium Post.
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