When Narasimha Rao visited China

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When Narasimha Rao visited China

Sunday, 12 February 2017 | Excerpt

When Narasimha Rao visited China

Dragon on our doorstep

Author- Pravin Sawhney, Ghazala Wahab

Publisher- Aleph, Rs799

Former Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s 1993 visit to China complicated the border resolution by adding an additional military line to the PlA’s advantage, PRAVIN SAWHNEY and GHAZAlA WAHAB explain how. Edited excerpt:

If Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 China visit downgraded the border dispute, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s 1993 visit complicated the border resolution by adding an additional military line to the PlA’s advantage. Rao went back to the Nehru approach of minor territorial (sectoral) adjustments instead of a ‘package deal’ for border resolution. China responded by saying that the entire border should be called the line of Actual Control, without prejudice to the border positions of the two sides. China told India that with the lAC in place, troops could be withdrawn sector-wise instead of waiting for the entire lAC and border agreements. The agreed sectors could then have ‘mutual and equal security’ as agreed by the two sides. The hand of the PlA was evident in the Chinese offer, while India-much like during the Nehru years-did not consult its army while making its border policy.

Rao and his civil advisors failed to understand that the lAC by definition would be easier to alter than a disputed border even if it was not agreed on maps or on the ground. The resolution of a disputed border is expected to follow tradition, history and the international principles of geographical determinants such as crest-lines and watersheds, which is not the case with the lAC. Being a military-held line, it can be changed by force.

The Rao Government fell for the Chinese ploy and the two sides signed the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement during the Prime Minister’s China visit in September 1993. With a stroke of the pen, the entire disputed border was renamed the line of Actual Control. Hitherto, the lAC had meant a mere 320 kilometres from Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) to Demchok in ladakh (Western Sector) which had come up after the 1962 war. In the Eastern Sector, India continued to refer to the border as the McMahon line, a colonial term unacceptable to China. Thus, after the signing of the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement, the disputed border acquired three lines: The border as perceived by China; the border as understood by India; and the line of Actual Control as agreed by both.

The Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement added to the operational woes of the Indian Army in three areas: renaming of the border as the lAC, the sector-by-sector approach and the concept of ‘mutual and equal security’ (Article II of the agreement). For example, between 1962 and the 1993 agreement, there were two recorded border skirmishes or show of strength incidents: The 1967 series of firings at Nathu la and Cho la in Sikkim and the 1986-87 Sumdorong Chu crisis in Arunachal Pradesh. However, after the agreement was signed, and especially after India’s nuclear tests in 1998 when relations between the two countries nosedived, the number of Chinese transgressions inside Indian territories increased manifold. India’s figures show that Chinese transgressions (which they claim is patrolling within their own territories) have become brazen over the years. The PlA’s version of ‘forward policy’ had begun and continues apace.

Starting in 1998, Chinese activities both in the Western and Eastern sectors continued to be aimed at asserting their claims up to their perception of the lAC irrespective of the mutually agreed ‘disputed pockets’ where both sides should be exercising equal levels of jurisdiction. For example, during the eighth meeting of the joint working group held in August 1995, the two sides had identified eight ‘pockets of dispute’ where both had differing perceptions on the alignment of the 1993 lAC and border. These were Trig Heights and Demchok in the Western Sector, Barahoti in the Middle Sector and Namka Chu, Sumdorong Chu, Chantze, Asaphila and longju in the Eastern Sector. However, in 1998, the Chinese adopted an offensive posture in the Trig Heights area by constructing a road approximately 5 kilometres inside Indian territory. This was used by Chinese patrols to demonstrate their presence in the disputed area. This unprecedented movement was indicative of the Chinese intention of asserting their claim as part of a well-designed nibbling action. Violations inside Indian territories by the Chinese became routine, increasing with each passing year.

Similarly, though Pangong Tso in the Western Sector was not an ‘agreed disputed area’, since 1998 the Chinese started patrolling the lake in powerful boats. In 1999, they constructed a motorable gravel track from their post at Spanggur up to the southern bank of the lake. The Chinese indicated to local Indian commanders that their lAC ran about 6 kilometres inside Indian territory. The Chinese increased their activities in Rechin la, Siri Jap and Demchok in the Western Sector. Since 1998, they started slowly upgrading their infrastructure and moved up to their 1960 claim line at some places in the Western Sector. By early 2015, ‘there were 12 areas of differences in lAC perception between the Indian and Chinese maps, which was far beyond the two mutually identified disputed areas — Trig Heights and Demchok — in the Western sector by the Joint Working Group on boundary in 1995’.

In the Eastern Sector, the Chinese repeatedly attempted to push their graziers intermixed with soldiers into Indian territory. Such incidents, that began in 1999, happened in Chantze and a number of times in the Asaphila and Dichu areas. Consequently, the PlA holds Indian ground in Asaphila and Maja in west Arunachal Pradesh. All these and numerous minor stand-offs have been reported by local commanders to the Government through proper channels. China, in essence, has been trying to assert its claims or seek bargains on the basis of the de facto possession of pockets that are being grabbed through intrusions. It was no coincidence that China’s heightened activities along the Sino-India border started in 1999 when India was at war with Pakistan in Kargil. Moreover, as we have seen, during Operation Parakram, the 10 months long military stand-off between India and Pakistan, the PlA maintained pressure, especially in the Eastern Sector, to ensure that India found it difficult to divert maximum forces from the eastern front towards Pakistan.

China also beguiled India into accepting the sector-by-sector approach. A mutual troop withdrawal was delinked from the need to properly define the lAC. Instead, it was based upon a ‘sector-wise approach’. Such an approach adopted by mandarins in the Indian foreign office makes little military sense. How can a military theatre commander pull out troops when he does not know what he is required to defend and what has been settled in his area of responsibilityIJ A theatre commander should also know about his area of interest, meaning what his adjacent number is doing.

In the Indian context, it involves coordination amongst four army commanders: The Western Sector is the responsibility of the Northern and Western army commanders, the Middle Sector is the operational area of the Central army commander, and starting from the Nepal-Sikkim border the Eastern army commander takes on the disputed sector. The Chinese do not have this problem because the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)is a single theatre command. Simply put, until the entire lAC is mutually agreed upon, any troop withdrawal for India is unrealistic and is not likely to be accepted by the army; what’s more, even the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement and its follow-on deal on ‘Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field’, signed on 29 November 1996 during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, cannot be implemented. Doing so would jeopardise India’s border management. Furthermore, even after the lAC is settled in its entirety, the Indian Army would find it difficult to reduce its presence in any significant way until the lAC is accepted as the border.

This is because the PlA’s formidable airlift, road and rail capabilities have made the principle of ‘mutual and equal security’ for troop withdrawal as suggested in the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement meaningless. The Chinese have a dual operational advantage along the lAC: A growing capability to bring in troops quickly (thirty-four divisions, each with 12,000 troops within weeks); and, unlike India, they do not have to spend weeks acclimatising their troops stationed in Tibet for operations on the high-altitude border.

Another issue that mocks ‘mutual and equal security’ is intelligence gathering. The PlA does not need to undertake reconnaissance missions by aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles as it has high-resolution satellites with low visitation periods (the time a satellite takes to come back to the same point on completing its cycle) in both low Earth and polar synchronous orbits, as well as fixed reconnaissance satellites in sun synchronous orbits. India does not have comparable capabilities. Moreover, China has better human intelligence than India because the people near the border are of the same stock, and, unlike India, China is not an open society and can therefore bring more pressure to bear on its people as also camouflage its moves better. It is not surprising that China has been able to hide its surface-to-surface missiles in the Tibet Autonomous Region, something that India would find difficult to do close to the lAC.

Excerpted from Dragon on Our Doorstep written by Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab, and published by Aleph Books

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