Will buffer zones lead to lasting peace at Galwan?

Muhammad Sa’ad Malik

Following bloody melee on Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control at Ladakh/Tibet, China and India agreed to create a buffer zone, with both sides receding 1.8 kilometers. But why did the Galwan scuffle take place? Galwan shot into prominence because the melee was violent. Similar scuffles still continue to take place at various points on Sino-Indian border. They are unreported as they are not violent.

Indian media portrays the gory brawl as a storm in a tea cup. It says that China stakes claim to territory up to 800 metres into the Indian side from Patrol Point 14 at Galwan. But, Murphy’s Law says `nothing is as simple as it seems’.

Amid opposition’s criticism, India’s prime minister called an all-party conference. He surprised everyone at the conference by declaring, `No Indian post or territory has been occupied by anyone, nobody can take an inch of our land, no Indian post or territory has been captured’. He added, `His Government has given the armed forces full freedom to take any necessary action (The Statesman June 20, 2020). The change in rules of engagement gave “complete freedom of action” to commanders deployed along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) to “handle situations at the tactical level,” (Hindustan Times June 18, 2020).

India’s external affairs minister Jaishanker confirmed that disengagement was `work in progress’. In sharp contrast to Jaishankar’s conciliatory statement, India’s defence minister said, ` The ongoing negotiations with China should help resolve the border dispute but he couldn’t guarantee to what extent the situation would be resolved’ (‘Talks can’t guarantee anything’ Observer Bangladesh July 18, 2020, Reuters, Wire Service Content, July 17, 2020).

The contradictory statements continue unabated. During his visit to Leh, Modi criticized China’s `expansionist’ designs, promptly rebutted by Beijing.

Real casus belli: US military strategist Edward Luttwak rightly pointed out casus belli of friction in an interview. He said, ‘In the last few months, the BRO [border roads organisation] has taken pro-active steps to develop connectivity over the bordering areas by building roads. The development has triggered the neighbour China, eventually leading to the army standoff at Galwan Valley’ (The Statesman dated July 6, 2020).

Despite agreement on buffer zone, India’s ministers have repeatedly stressed the infrastructure work in border areas will be fast-tracked.

The truth is that India had been building roads and bridges all along Sino-Indian borders to improve connectivity between hinterland and the LAC. China repeatedly warned India against changing status quo, but in vain. Both countries have differing perceptions of the LAC. To meet Indian threat in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China built 51,000 km road network.

There are five airfields on the Plateau and one a little off to the East towards Chengdu. A railway line of nearly 1,150 km from Golmo (in the north in Qinghai) to Lhasa was completed in July 2006. Its highest elevation is across the Tanggu La (Pass) at 5072 metres (16,640 feet). It has been further extended 253 km south to Shigatse (Xigaze) on the banks of Tsang Po (Brahmaputra River). There are plans
to further extend it another 700 km from Shigatse up to the Nepal border.

Recently China manufactured a light tank, ZQT 15 and tested it extensively in Tibet. It has also inducted the CZ-10 medium attack helicopter for operations in the mountains. It has also inducted the Y-20 heavy-lift transport aircraft which will facilitate troop mobilization in Tibet.

Still China was alarmed by India’s project for developing the Ladakh region through the Galwan valley into Shyok . The stand-off was triggered by China moving in troops to obstruct road construction activity by India. Last year, India completed the DarbukShyok-Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) road whichconnects Leh to the Karakoram Pass. India also maintains a key landing strip at DBO at 16,000 feet. The broader context for the tensions is the changing dynamic along the LAC.

Why and where face-offs occur? They occur because of overlapping territorial claims in around two dozen spots across the Western (Ladakh), Middle (Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand), Sikkim, and Eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors of the IndiaChina border. The boundary in the Sikkim sector is broadly agreed, but has not been delineated. Face-offs occur when patrols encounter each other in the contested zones between overlapping claim lines. Protocols agreed to in 2005 and 2013 are seldom adhered to.

An overview of India’s road network: There are 61 to 73 strategic or defence roads along the India-China border totalling 3,346 km. Of these, 36 roads (1,260 km) have been constructed, while links have been established in 20 others (2,035 km) which are being tested. Work on the remaining five roads has begun and will be completed soon.

Some of the finished roads include the stretch connecting Sasoma and Saseria in the Ladakh sector, the GhatibagarhLipulekh road in the Mansarovar sector, Gunji-Kutti-Jollingkong road in the Uttarakhand sector, Dokala in the Sikkim sector, the Balipara-Charduar-Tawang road in the Tawang sector and the DampingYangtze in the Arunachal sector.

Project cost of over Rs 3,000 crore is concealed under budgets of civil ministries.

The government has spent Rs 3,728 crore on the project. This includes Rs 781 crore spent in 2016-17, Rs 745 crore in 2017-18 and Rs 890 crore in 2018-19. The proposedcost for the current fiscal is Rs 1,312 crore. The estimated cost to complete the very first phase was Rs 4,700 crore.

Analysis: Cornerstone of India’s foreign policy had all along been “jiski lathi, uski bhains” (he who has the stick, has the buffalo). Simply put, ‘might is right’. The Greek sage, Thucydides said: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” India wants to eat up its other neighbours like it devoured disputed Kashmir, Junagadh, and Hyderabad. The Indian attitude reflects the Kautilyan
template: bheda (sowing seeds of discord) to achieve yana (victory) through danda (force).

Kautilya believes that all neighbouring countries are actual or potential enemies’. After Kashmir, India annexed Nepalese territory in the maps. In blatant violation of mutual treaties, India annexed Kalapani area on the India-Nepal border. Nepal’s legislature enacted a clarification to affirm its sovereignty over Kalapani. However, India has already brazenly occupied over 14,000 hectares (140 km2) Nepalese territory of Susta in Tribenisusta, Lumbini Zone, near Nichlaul, UP.

Galwan reflects China’s knee-jerk reaction. Snubbed at Doklam which lies outside SinoIndian border, China tried to prevent India’s aggressive infrastructural work at Galwan (Ladakh). A corollary to Sino-Indian tiff is that China will be justified in conquering the whole of Ladakh, or for that matter the whole of disputed Kashmir, now Indian booty. China could declare the conquered territories into an autonomous region. After all, Kautliya says, matsy nyaya, or machh nyaya `way of the fish’, big fish eat the small one.

Both countries willy nilly agreed to the buffer zones. Lest Kashmir dispute (Aksai Chin) be internationalized, India wants to keep cool with China. China too is under stress because of USA’s hostility (QUAD). To shore up its defence, China signed a strategic accord with Iran. At present neither India nor China can afford to mount a full-fledged offensive. To attack a company’s strength of 120 Chinese soldiers, India will require nine companies or 1000 soldiers.

The writer is a free-lance contributor.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More