G Parthasarathy

Why is New Delhi dithering?

G. PARTHASARATHY | Updated on August 13, 2013 Published on August 13, 2013

Chinese intrusion at Daulat Beg Oldi.

The economic downturn and delays in defence acquisitions have added to errant and assertive Chinese and Pakistani behaviour.

Alongside its economic problems, India now faces a situation where two of its neighbours — China and Pakistan — are jointly and separately undermining its security and influence worldwide.

Emboldened by Chinese assistance leading to the strengthening of its navy (4 new frigates), air force (JF 17 fighters) and nuclear armoury (plutonium-based tactical nuclear weapons), Pakistan now believes that it can effectively deter India from responding firmly to terrorist strikes emanating from its soil. India’s Mandarins, resorting to clichés such as “Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism” and “Action on terrorism (by Pakistan) should not be linked (by India) to the Composite Dialogue Process,” now referred to as the “Sharm el Sheikh Syndrome,” would like us to believe that Pakistan is having a “change of heart”.

It is this approach to diplomacy that has led Nawaz Sharif to insist that the “Composite Dialogue Process” with India should commence at where it was, when he was ousted in 1999. He wants us to forget that the Red Fort was attacked by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (now generously financed by his brother, the Chief Minister of Punjab) in 2001, and ignore the attack on our Parliament in 2001 and the 26/11 outrage in Mumbai, executed by jihadis from Pakistan.

Chinese highway link

Nawaz Sharif has returned from China, fully assured that the Chinese will build a highway linking the Xingjian Province to the Gwadar Port. This project, which will be largely executed by Chinese Army engineers, together with their development of hydro-electric projects and infrastructure in Gilgit-Baltistan, gives the Chinese the capability to establish a security presence adjacent to the LoC, astride our Lines of Communication to Ladakh and Siachen.

If Pakistan succeeded in pushing New Delhi to de-link the Composite Dialogue Process from its support for terrorism, China has successfully scuttled all possibility of an early border settlement, by upping its border claims in both Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Successive Indian National Security Advisers have strutted around pretending that they have devised brilliant new ideas to resolve the vexed border issue. The reality is somewhat different. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao agreed in 2005 that the “boundary should be along well-defined and easily identifiable natural geographical features” and that in “reaching a border settlement, the two sides shall safeguard the interests of their settled populations in the border areas”. Yet, just a year later, the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi proclaimed that the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, re-designated as “South Tibet,” is a part of China.

Mere spectator

It should have been evident to New Delhi that China had no intention of resolving the border issue, when it refused to exchange maps delineating the “Line of Control” in the crucial western (Ladakh) and eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors. India claims the Line of Control in the Ladakh Sector lies along the Karakoram Mountains up to the Indus River Watershed. Chinese intrusions into Debsang, Chumar, Chushul, Pangong Lake, Daulat Beg Oldi and Demchok are clearly in areas where they have no business to intrude into, going by the terms of the Guiding Principles of 2005. Moreover, India’s claims are also validated by agreements on the Ladakh-Tibet border.

Instead of directly confronting Chinese “assertiveness” on the border issue, New Delhi has been a mere spectator. China has made inroads, undermining Indian influence in Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal, while building bridges to a possible Khaleda Zia dispensation in Bangladesh. China has even undermined India’s defence ties with the US and Japan by forcing a dithering security establishment in South Block to cancel participation in proposed Joint Naval Exercises in the Pacific with the US and Japan. While Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Delhi was linked to his trip to Pakistan, would Manmohan Singh reciprocate by visiting Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines after his forthcoming visit to China? Should we not engage Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and others for devising a “string of pearls” in the South China Sea?

American pressure

The economic downturn and delays in defence acquisitions have only added to errant and assertive Chinese and Pakistani behaviour.

After dithering for over two years, the Cabinet has finally sanctioned the raising of Strike Corps for deployment along the Siliguri Corridor. But what use will such a Strike Corps be without mountain artillery whose acquisition has been hanging fire for years, the deployment of mechanised tank formations and the establishment of air dominance over our borders?

Economically, the Chinese are obtaining a stranglehold on the power, communications and electronics sectors in India, thereby getting the potential to disrupt power and communications in the country. After much procrastination, the Government has slapped a 22 per cent duty on imports of Chinese power equipment. Hopefully, Indian public and private companies will be given incentives to face state supported and subsidised Chinese companies.

The picture is unfortunately bleak in the electronics and communications sectors where our imports, substantially from China, could well exceed our petroleum imports by 2020. This issue was sought to be addressed by the establishment of manufacturing parks for chips and IT equipment. Such manufacturing facilities would naturally require preferential access in purchases by Government organisations and private companies. The Government is, however, now showing signs of buckling to American pressure, demanding substantive and non-discriminatory market access for American products in these areas.

The Americans have obviously concluded that there is no reason to hesitate in applying pressures on an Indian Government that bends backwards to pressures from Pakistan and China.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

Published on August 13, 2013
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