In recent weeks, several senior analysts have predicted a repeat of the 1962 conflict between India and China. The most prominent is Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research who wrote: “China’s expanding axis of evil with Pakistan, including a new troop presence in PoK, heightens India’s vulnerability in Jammu and Kashmir, even as India has beefed up its defenses in Arunachal Pradesh.”
In the Parliament, it is the Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav who declared that he had information that China was making preparations to attack India and that Beijing had “marked out areas near the borders for this purpose”.
A few weeks earlier, a Senior IDSA Fellow Ali Ahmed had also put oil on the fire by publishing a Brief (‘A Consideration of Sino-Indian Conflict’) in which he spoke of hostilities “confined to a specific section of the border, limited in duration and amenable to a negotiated termination,” a Kargil-type situation.
The main common argument is that India is today not prepared for a war. This is an undisputable fact. A weekly magazine published a cover story arguing: “Fifty years after its only defeat, the Indian Army is still unprepared for a battle with its scheming adversary, China. Low on equipment and lacking in infrastructure, the bloated war machine is in urgent need of an overhaul.”
Though Defence Minister AK Antony affirmed that no infiltration had taken place across the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, he admitted: "there have been instances of a few Tibetan herb collectors inadvertently crossing over into Indian territory in the last two years." It is common knowledge that the Chinese are masters at testing the ground by sending herders or herb collectors to scout areas that they ‘perceive’ as theirs.
Antony explained: "There is no commonly delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China …in a few areas India and China have different perception of the LAC.”
The postponement of the Special Representatives’ talks which was conveniently attributed to the fact that the Dalai Lama was to address a Buddhist Conference in Delhi, was one more sign that Beijing is not interested to clarify these ‘differences of perceptions’.
When Antony mentioned his ministry’s decisions to deploy new radars: “the deployment of radars, including mountain radars, is based on various factors like operational requirement of IAF and security needs of the country”, it send shivers down the public’s spine.
Will 1962 repeat itself?
One can’t deny that it is the perfect time to attack India; in a few years she may be much better prepared.
Take the roads for example: in January 2008, during a visit to Itanagar and Tawang, the Prime Minister announced a Rs 24,000 crores package for the State. The priority was given to the roads (in particular, the construction of a Trans-Arunachal Highway).
With the road being enlarged between the plains of Assam and Tawang (en route to the Tibet border), one finds the messiest imaginable road site which has become the favorite topic of local jokes. It will definitively be different in five years time.
It is however difficult to share the analysts’ pessimism. One of the reasons is that China has its own problems to deal with.
First and foremost there will be a leadership change in 2012. President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and five others of the nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo, will retire in October next year. China will then witness a period of transition, in other words, a time of instability which could last for a couple of years.
To decide to go to war (with India or any other nation), China needs a stable and strong established leadership or as in 1962, a leader with extraordinary charisma (Mao Zedong); it is not the case today. The main factions of the Communist Youth League Clique (led by Hu Jintao) and the Gang of Princelings (led by Xi Jinping) will have to fight it out to take an ascendant path and impose hard decisions.
Could a new Mao emerge from the Fifth Generation? It is doubtful.
There are other differences between 1962 and 2011: the then foolish Indian leadership did not dare to use the Air Force, it will not be the case today; a full squadron of Sukhoi-30 aircraft have now been deployed at Tezpur air base in Assam (another squadron has been brought to Chabua in Upper Assam). Further, the IAF is planning to open six Advanced Landing Grounds, as well as several helipads in areas close to the border. This may take some time, but the process has started.
Were India attacked today, it will not remain a localized conflict (as predicted by IDSA) like in 1962; any Chinese misadventure would trigger an ‘all-out’ conflict, and India would certainly not hesitate to attack the PLA infrastructure in the Nyingchi Prefecture, north of the McMahon line. Hopefully, the Chinese are aware of this.
It has been in the public domain that two new infantry divisions have been raised and that the Government is looking for a place in the Northeast to set up the headquarters of a Mountain Strike Corps.
Another crucial factor is the support of the local population in Arunachal and Ladakh. In 1962, some villages fully supported the invading Chinese troops. How else could the PLA have built a road from Bumla, the border pass, to Tawang in 18 days? It is not difficult to imagine the amount of accurate intelligence required for this feat.
None of the analysts have gone into the question “What will China gain from such a misadventure, apart from a hypothetical Asian supremacy?”
China perhaps cannot ‘take back’ Tawang militarily; the PLA could at the most occupy a few ‘disputed pockets’ like Samdorong Chu valley, north of Tawang or Demchok in Ladakh, but in the process, Beijing would lose India’s present goodwill and the international respect they earn through their ‘peaceful rise’ policy as well as their integration into the world scene as a responsible State.
Further, it should not be difficult for India to instigate a 1959-type rebellion in Tibet and support it militarily; at least a civil disobedience could be organised. Let us not forget that an alien PLA has already to deal with a resentful local population on the Tibetan plateau. The recent immolations of monks and nuns in Eastern Tibet are a proof of this.
It is true that China has been rather aggressive on the border issue lately and that India is not fully ready to tackle the Dragon, but India has her own cards to play and hopefully, she will play them well.
The proposed launch of the Agni-V long range missile is one of these cards. It has already made Chinese policy makers ponder. The People's Daily stated that it reflects India's “intention of seeking regional balance of power”. The mouth piece of the Party quoted some Indian and scientists describing Agni-V as a ‘killer for a certain country’.
If Beijing wants again to ‘teach a lesson’ to India, it will indeed be a Himalayan task, and what will Beijing gain in the bargain?
Nevertheless, China can use more asymmetric types of warfare, cyber-warfare is one of them. While India continues to prepare the defence of her borders, she should remain watchful of her interests and not take for granted the profession of friendship by anybody.