It needs no rocket science to conclude that China itself is most responsible for unnecessarily intruding into Doklam and creating an unnecessary confrontation with India by flexing its military prowess. What it conveniently forgets is that India of today is not the India of 1962 and India’s gentle approach is being taken for granted by China! Much water has flown under the bridge since 1962 and India too can go to any extent to defend itself and its neighbour Bhutan with whom India enjoys good equations and to whom India has pledged its support against any kind of attack by any foreign power!
Be it noted, Doklam is known as Donglang in China. It is an area with a plateau and a valley lying between Tibet’s Chumbi Valley to the north, Bhutan’s Ha Valley to the east and India’s Sikkim state to the west. This Doklam plateau which is north of the trijunction between Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet has immense strategic importance which alone explains that why India and China have witnessed such a ugly stand-off since last more than two months! It has been depicted as part of Bhutan in the Bhutanese maps since 1961 but it is also claimed by China.
It is a matter of great regret that till date we have not seen this prolonged dispute getting resolved despite several rounds of border negotiations between Bhutan and China. Needless to add, this area is of immense strategic significance to all three countries – India, China and Bhutan. India has always shown commendable restraint even in the face of huge provocation from the Chinese side! Bhutan’s ruler Jigme Singye Wangchuk in 2001 had rejected in the National Assembly the unilateral offer made by China to take 500 square kilometer of land in the northwestern part of Bhutan in lieu of giving China 269 square kilometer of land of Doklam plateau!
It merits mention here that the government of Bhutan has refuted Chinese foreign ministry claims about Thimphu telling Beijing that the trilateral border stand-off area in Doklam in the Sikkim sector is not Bhutan’s territory. Beijing has blamed New Delhi for Doklam standoff and accused Indian soldiers of trespass and preventing Chinese soldiers from building a road in the region, which is claimed by Bhutan. China wants India to withdraw its troops from Doklam before the two sides begin talks. India has made its position clear that the road, if built, will alter the status quo.
To put things in perspective, while reacting to the developments in Doklam, Bhutan had on issued a Press release in which it clearly stated that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the agreements and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between the two countries. In the Press release, Bhutan said the Chinese Army started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army camp at Zompelri on June 16, 2017. This is totally unwarranted.
Truth be told, Bhutan in its Press release further said that the boundary talks between Bhutan and China were under way and the two countries had written agreements of 1988 and 1998 stating that they agree to maintain peace and tranquility in their border areas pending a final settlement on the boundary question. The two countries have also agreed to maintain a status quo on the boundary as before March 1959 and refrain from taking unilateral action or use of force, to change the status quo of the boundary. Bhutan has hoped that the status quo in the Doklam area would be maintained by China as it was before June 16, 2017.
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me also inform them that Bhutan has also issued a demarche to China over the construction of the road and asked Beijing to restore the “status quo” by stopping the work being undertaken forthwith. This unilateral action by China is what has compelled India to step in. So China has no right to blame India for the impasse!
It is imperative to mention here that Bhutan has no direct diplomatic relations with China and maintains contacts with Beijing through its diplomatic mission in New Delhi. India has rightly maintained that both sides should first pull back their troops for any talks to take place. India has also cited the Bhutanese Foreign Ministry as emphasizing that “the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the 1988 and 1998 agreements between Bhutan and China and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between these two countries”. India has conveyed to China unequivocally that the road construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for New Delhi!
What assumes immense significance here is that under the 2007 India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, the two sides have agreed to “cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests. Neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.” Under the previous treaty of friendship signed in 1949, India was to guide Bhutan on foreign and defence policies.
No doubt, the language of 2007 treaty is interpreted to mean respecting the sensitivities of Bhutan regarding its sovereignty. But the ground reality is that as per the 1949 treaty, the Indian military is virtually responsible for protecting Bhutan from all kinds of military threats and this includes the threat posed by Chinese military also! Let there be no doubt about it.
It was clearly stipulated in the 1949 treaty that a troop of Indian Army will always be stationed in Bhutan to train Bhutan’s army and to help them in time of need as and when required! As China began illegally constructing road on the triangle of Bhutan and Sikkim border, Bhutan took an offence to it and termed it a direct encroachment on its territorial integrity and sovereignty. As a consequence, the stepping in of Indian Army to help Bhutan ward off the impending Chinese threat became imperative in accordance with the terms and conditions of the treaty! How can China brush all this aside? It cannot!
As things stand, India and China have been locked in a standoff for more than two months in Doklam near the Sikkim sector which is near the India-Bhutan-China trijunction since . There are 12 major areas of dispute along the over 4,000-km Line of Actual Control (LAC). The faceoff started after Indian troops stopped Chinese military from building a road India believes would allow Beijing to cut its access to the northeastern states. Bhutan has maintained time and again that Doklam is an integral part of it but China while mocking it has claimed sovereignty over the area.
It needs to be understood that Doklam plateau is governed by Bhutan and has long been inhabited by the Bhutanese shepherds. China has been eyeing this coveted piece of hilly terrain because of its immense strategic significance. It cannot be lost upon us that Doklam is very close to the Siliguri Corridor in West Bengal that connects the northeastern states to India with the rest of the country. It is the sole passage for supplying materials as also transportation to and from the northeastern states. In one fell swoop, China can break all links of India with the 7 North-Eastern States by occupying this passage! So India has to do all it can to prevent China from doing so!
Truth be told, while delivering the General BC Joshi Memorial Lecture in Pune recently, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat warned strongly in no uncertain terms that standoffs with China like that at Doklam are likely to “increase in future”. He said that, “The recent stand-off in the Doklam plateau by the Chinese side attempting to change the status quo are issues which we need to be wary about, and I think such kind of incidents are likely to increase in the future”. The standoff started when Indian troops after receiving formal request by the Royal Army of Bhutan stopped the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China from illegally constructing a highway through Doklam area. According to Gen VPMalik who is former Army Chief: “India has operational advantage at Doklam but it has to be prepared for skirmishes in any part of the Line of Actual Control – from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. The military part, there is no doubt we must review. We have to improve our border roads and military capability in the mountains as long as we continue to have an unresolved boundary with China. Lately, the frequency of such confrontations along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) has been increasing. The cycles are getting shorter. The decibel level of threats and warnings has gone up. Under these circumstances, the military has to be prepared for all eventualities. Even if there was no sakirmish, a long stand-off would take its own toll. We will require considerable amount of logistics and high-altitude conditioning of troops and equipment. Our troops are quite capable of going through that. But it will definitely have its financial and some health costs.”
Truly speaking, China has made no bones in making it absolutely clear that it stands for territorial expansion at the cost of its smaller neighbours. It has also made it clear time and again that it can stoop to any extent to further its grand ambitions of being the undisputed supreme power in the whole region! We are living in a fools paradise if we think that China will behave properly if we extend diplomatic niceties and overtures with them by regularly backtracking from our stated position!
Let me be direct in asking: What did we gain by recognizing Tibet as an integral part of China as we saw in 1954 through a consultative agreement and again during the 2003 visit of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee explicitly acknowledged that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was part of the People’s Republic of China? Has China ever cared to respond? What did Pakistan which is China’s closest ally gain by ceding almost 6,000 sq km area north of Karakoram mountain ranges in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir? It is only China which has gained!
Let me also be direct in asking: What will Pakistan gain by China Pakistan Economic Corridor? It is China which will gradually increase its leverage in developing ports in Pakistan and ultimately occupy it! China is not sparing even its closest ally Pakistan then how can we expect them to be fair with us?
Kanwal Sibal who is India’s former Foreign Secretary very elegantly brings out in his enlightening article titled “Doklam: Bundle of Chinese Lies” in ‘The Economic Times’ dated 11 August, 2017 that, “China is wallowing in its own mendacious propaganda on the Doklam stand-off. China obfuscates the Doklam issue by suddenly finding great virtue in colonial era unequal treaties which it rejects as in the case of the McMohan Line, for instance. It now argues that the 1890 British India-China treaty on the Tibet-Sikkim border extends to Bhutan too, even though neither Sikkim nor Bhutan were a party. China is distorting the content of Nehru’s 1959 letter to Chou En Lai which, while accepting that the Sikkim-Tibet boundary had been settled, refers to the unsettled tri-junction with Bhutan. China refers selectively to the 2006 talks between the Special Representatives (SRs) and omits mentioning the 2012 pact between SRs that the tri-junction would be settled in negotiations with third country involvement (Bhutan) and until then the status quo will be maintained. China’s contention that India has entered its territory in Doklam is bogus as this area has figured in the 24 rounds of China-Bhutan talks so far on border differences. For India, the plateau is Bhutanese territory claimed by China, just as, by virtue of its occupation of Tibet, China claims Indian territory. India has entered Bhutanese territory under existing bilateral security arrangements. India is acting in close coordination with Bhutan. China has done lasting damage to bilateral ties, as India will henceforth be exceedingly cautious about its intentions. China is alienating a billion plus Indians.”
Briefly stated: We must be prepared to engage in war with China under all circumstances. We must deploy more troops in our border with China. We cannot afford complacency of any kind on this score! We need to speed up in developing roads and all infrastructure in borders with China because they are far ahead of us and our leaders have not shown sufficient maturity in dealing it on an urgent priority even after suffering serious reverses in the 1962 war with China!
All said and done, we should not take lightly what China has threatened us that if we enter India, it will be chaos. This can certainly be repulsed strongly if our political establishment cares to be more generous in spending more in developing all the border areas with China! Centre must remember the time tested old adage that, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war!”
It is heartening to note that the Army is taking no chances on the Sikkim axis. It has been steadily but discreetly moving the bulk of its soldiers under the 17 (Gangtok) and 27 (Kalimpong) Mountain Divisions (each has over 10,000 troops) of the Sukna-based 33 Corps to their “operational alert areas” to cater for any contingency! Also, around 2500 soldiers have been moved forward to Zulung and Nathang Valley in Sikkim after proper acclimatization by early July to reinforce the over 6000 soldiers that were already deployed in eastern and north-eastern parts of the state!
But still a lot more needs to be done as we cannot afford to take any threat by China lightly and the military has been raising concerns about lagging behind in defence preparedness and military transformation since last many decades! Indian Army has sought Rs 20,000 crore from the Defence Ministry as part of the efforts to build up emergency reserves of spares and ammunition. This comes at the same time the Ministry of defence (MoD) has sought Rs 20,000 crore more to meet its financial requirements! Army needs to meet deficiencies in 46 types of ammunition and spares for 10 types of weapons. This itself speaks aloud as to how well prepared we are for war with China! It is shameful that this years defence allocation constitutes just 1.56% of the GDP, much lower than the recommended 2% and this is worse than the situation in 1962! Centre must come out of its complacency and deep slumber well before China suddenly pounces upon us and leaves us with so deep scars that may be worse than even 1962!
Let me now cite here what Gen VP Malik who is a distinguished former Chief of Army Staff (1997-2000) has said that, “Somehow, both the public opinion and the government have not backed the armed forces in this and we have continued to neglect the defence of our northern borders. The mindset in the government has never recognized that we can have a serious confrontation with China sometime or the other. Otherwise why should our infrastructure on the northern border be so weak? We have been talking about infrastructure on the northern border from the time I was Army chief, that is nearly two decades ago. Plans were made but they remain on paper mostly. Even though the budget as a percentage of GDP has been going down every year, we are often unable to spend the capital side. We have been surrendering part of the budget so often.”
Recalling his controversial statement at the time of the Kargil war that “We will fight with what we have”, Gen Malik said the situation was no better now. He lamented that, “The same kind of problems, attitudes that we faced in my time, the present lot [in the Army] seems to be facing.” This is truly regrettable!
In hindsight, Centre must at least now pay heed to what he has said with all the experience of more than 45 years under his belt otherwise we may again end up licking our own wounds for which Centre can blame no one but its ownself! Does Centre wants this to happen? Centre should not repeat the same mistakes committed by Jawaharlal Nehru of treating China as a friendly country only to be backstabbed most grievously!
A lot more needs to be done than what is being done at present to give a bloody nose to China without itself suffering many casualties and still strongly repulsing any kind of unprovoked and sudden attack that China has been planning all along! For this to happen our preparation has to be complete which in turn can happen only if Centre spends more on Army and in developing all areas connected with the border alongside China! Let there be no doubt of any kind on this!
On a concluding note, let me reiterate again that India while doing all it can to enhance friendly relations with China should not tolerate any kind of intrusion by Chinese PLA inside Indian territory if it really wants to be a global power! It is heartening to note that even USA has endorsed India’s position on Doklam and has castigated China for unnecessarily provoking India by trying to illegally construct road in Doklam which belongs to Bhutan! But it is India that has to fight its own battle and make it clear to China that it cannot dare to take India for granted! Gen VP Malik hits the nail on the head when he articulates most emphatically that, “India is not interested in picking a fight, but when your national interests are jeopardized, like in this case, diplomacy without adequate military backing cannot succeed. Your risk-taking ability in negotiations gets enhanced when you know that you can defend yourself on the border. We don’t want a war, but when you are faced with such a situation, you don’t want to leave your diplomacy and political initiatives without any backing. It’s nothing new to say that globally, diplomacy feels more comfortable in negotiations when they know that there is a strong military to defend the country.”
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.