Saturday, November 5, 2011

1962: once again?

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 in India Today: “As the 50th anniversary of China’s invasion approaches, history is in danger of repeating itself, with Chinese military pressures and aggressive designs against India not only mirroring the pre-1962 war situation but also extending to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the oceans around India. 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 defences in Arunachal Pradesh.”
Ali Ahmed, a Senior IDSA Fellow published a Brief (‘A Consideration of Sino-Indian Conflict’) in which he attempted to fill a gap “by dilating upon conflict scenarios along the spectrum of conflict.”
Ahmed wrote of limited hostilities which “could be confined to a specific section of the border, limited in duration and amenable to a negotiated termination,” a Kargil-type situation.
Ahmed examined also the possibility of China “indulging in a territorial grab by entering an area such as Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh”.
One argument is that India is not prepared for a war today, it is therefore the perfect time to attack her: “Since India would be better prepared by then [in a few years], China may instead wish to set India back now by a preventive war.” It is only hypothetic scenarios, says Ahmed!
While in recent months the Indian press has been full of the amazing infrastructure development in Tibet: new airports, four-way highroads, five-star hotels, and a railway line coming ever closer, India has progressed at less than snail pace.  
India Today’s cover story (“Not ready for war”) argued: “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.”
This is an undisputable fact.
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 say that if the Chinese dared to invade again, they would break their vehicles and their noses; many curse the Border Road Organization for having started to work on all the stretches simultaneously.
The very least the MoD could do is to set up an enquiry into the mess and fix some responsibilities. But it is usually not done in India. The culprits of 1962 got away, the Henderson-Brooks report remains classified in the MoD almirahs.
However, it is 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 few 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 for the next two years in China (except if the Central Military Commission attempts a coup). The main factions of the Communist Youth League Clique (lead by Hu Jintao) and the Gang of Princelings (lead 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. In a Jamestown Institute publication, veteran China hand, Willy Lam analyzes: “Yet Fifth and Sixth-Generations cadres have yet to display originality of thinking and capability for breakthroughs in governance. The dearth of visionary leaders could have an adverse impact on the nation’s ability to meet its goal of attaining superpower status in the coming decade or so.”
There are other differences between 1962 and 2011: the then foolish 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.
Would India be 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.
Though too slowly and too tardily, India is moving.
It has been in the public domain that two new infantry divisions (with their headquarters in Zakama in Nagaland and Missamari in Assam) have been raised and that the Government is looking for a place in the Northeast to set up the headquarters in 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.
Today the local Monpa population is amongst the most patriotic in India. Though Chinese propaganda calls this area ‘Southern Tibet’; this will never be accepted by the local Monpa population. At a recent demonstration, they chanted: “Dudh mangoge to kheer denyenge, Aruncahal mangoge to chir denyenge” (you ask for milk, we give you kheer; you ask for Arunachal, we give you arrows).
None of the analysts have gone into the question “What will China gain from such misadventure, apart from a hypothetic Asian supremacy?”
The IDSA paper speaks of a Kargil-type of intrusion. But what has Pakistan gained from the Kargil episode, other than opening Washington’s eyes to Islamabad’s nefarious schemes? Nothing!
Today, China cannot ‘take back’ Tawang militarily; the PLA could at the best occupy a few ‘disputed pockets’ like Samdorong Chu valley, north of Tawang or Demchok in Ladakh. But in the process, they will lose India’s present goodwill and the international respect that they earn through their ‘peaceful rise’ policy as well as their integration in the world scene as a responsible State.
Further, it is not 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.
Delhi could also immediately recognize the Central Tibetan Administration, as the Tibetan Government in exile, and several nations could follow suit.
India could slam economic sanctions (and hopefully more nations would follow) boycotting Chinese goods. As the trade balance usually heavily tilts in China’s favour, Beijing would not be the winner in a trade war.
All this is, of course, conjectural.
Perhaps a small detail, but in 1962, China had a pretext, even if it was a lame one. India had established a post in Tawang sector in a place perceived by China as north of the 1914 McMahon Line. Though India argued to show that the Thagla ridge was the border (and therefore the Dhola Post was within India’s territory), it was not accepted by China. Still today, according to the Chinese official history of the conflict, Mao decided to launch a ‘punitive’ attack against the Indian forces for trespassing into ‘Chinese territory’.
China today has no pretext as the Agreements of 1993 (On Peace and Tranquility along the LAC) or 1996 (On Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the LAC) can deal with any of these local issues. Bypassing them would be a Breach of Agreement.
It is however true that China has been rather aggressive on the border 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.
If China wants again to ‘teach a lesson’ to India, it will indeed be a Himalayan task, and what will Beijing gain in the bargain?

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