The Depsang Valley incursion
They came, they stayed and they returned at will. That was how another episode in the long saga of Chinese violations of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the India-China border ended as dramatically on May 5, 2013 as it had started on April 15.
Things have almost returned to normal since; exchange of sweet pleasantries, visits of dignitaries, trade and commerce et al. This was neither the first nor the last episode of the serial well scripted by the creative Chinese strategists now and then. (On our side of the control line such a talent is seldom noticed.) To create special effects, this time the Chinese had done some homework with regard to timing, selection of location, depth of incursion and the length of their stay.
During the twenty odd days of the spectacle, much was said and made out via the electronic and print media as if the two countries were at the brink of war; while the nation was kept engaged by indigenous script writers of different kind through the second phase of the Budget Session of Parliament. Not many mustered courage to say that the issues of national security having been shifted to the back burner by the government for long the tragedy was bound to visit sooner or later. With both the events coming to a happy ending, it may be desirable to do some serious thinking on a few riddles left behind by this unsavory incident on the border so as to evaluate and strengthen our vigil out there.
The issues that need to be probed into objectively and thoroughly are: firstly, what was the aim of the Chinese to enact this drama some 50 years after the earlier encounter in 1962? Viz was it an isolated, localised and run of the mill incident or a deliberately fired tracer bullet for sight correction for more to follow in some other form? Secondly, were they able to achieve their objective and at what cost to us in all its dimensions? Thirdly, was the response of the Indian State strategic, operational, diplomatic, military, political and media timely, appropriate and adequate? If not , then who pays the price? And fourthly, what deductions have been made and what structural changes need be initiated to ensure better response?
That there was some kind of a deal made in zipping the whole affair is quite on the cards. It is hard to believe that the astute bargainers that the Chinese are, they would wind up their camp and move out from an entrenched position without any quid pro quo. For answer to this question, one will have to see the larger picture, perhaps away from the wilderness of Ladakh. Remember that the South China Sea, the Asia Pacific Region, the Indian Ocean, the Chabahar port of Iran, the impending vacuum in Afghanistan, the tottering Pakistan and not the least their unfinished agenda in Tibetan Autonomous Region are the kind of issues that engage the immediate attention of the new dispensation in China and not a few kilometers of land in a disputed area. Also remember that a compromised India can play a much more significant role to bolster the economic and strategic diplomacy of a rising China. All such aspects have to be factored in to find the answer to the first question raised supra.
That the Indian response was neither quick nor adequate nor appropriate is obvious. Barring some breast beating we had nothing concrete to show. Moving a small body of personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police merely at one place and then withdrawing it in compliance is tantamount to relinquishing our territorial claim. The Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir was right when he asked the question whether we were withdrawing from our own land. Demolition of bunkers at Chumar too tells a similar story. The Chinese are supposedly irked by the steps taken by India to upgrade its infrastructure along the border. What did we do when they were doing much more not only within their own territory but also in the Indian Territory illegally ceded by Pakistan to them? Our response has always been tardy and timid. On the pretext of being a peace loving nation, we have been hiding our lack of foresight and absence of guts and in the bargain sacrificing our national interests always and every time.
The Chinese ingress in the Depsang Valley was a wakeup call, perhaps the last one as that. The visit of the Chinese Prime Minister and the follow up action thereafter will decide in great measure as to what kind of niche India chooses for itself in the comity of nations.
(The writer is a strategic analyst who has been writing on strategic issues and giving a wake up call to the nation. He is national Convener of BJP Defence Cell.)