Inapt ‘Perceptions’ and Elusive ‘Peace and Tranquillity’
Lt Gen (Dr) Rakesh Sharma (Retd.), Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Dai Bingguo, then State Councillor, Director of the General Offices of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Group of the CCP’s Central Committee and Special Representative (SR) for boundary negotiations with India from 2003 to 2013 had stated on 02 March 2013 that, “…the disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction. Even British colonialists who drew the illegal McMahon Line respected China’s jurisdiction over Tawang and admitted that Tawang was part of China’s Tibet." Inexplicably China did not consider the McMahon Line illegal while settling boundary dispute with Myanmar!

The recent clash and fisticuffs of PLA troops with the India Army, at Yangtse in Kameng District on 09 December 2022 are hence not surprising. Are there any clear distinctions on the motivations of the latest incursion? Four characteristic facts are indicative of the latest PLA venture. First, 300 PLA troops (600 as per some reports), transgressing the narrow Yangste ridge line in the month of December, in the latter half of the night, is NOT routine. Long Shaohua, spokesman of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command, stated the clash happened during a regular border patrol, when Chinese troops were intercepted by their Indian counterparts, who were “illegally crossing the border”. The large strength of the PLA troops cannot be imagined as a ‘patrol, it must be taken as a PLA battalion tasked to occupy the Ridge Line, thereby attempting to ‘unilaterally alter the status quo,’ as stated by the Raksha Mantri on the floor of the Parliament. Battalion level operations are serious matter, and ought to have been sanctioned at the Western Theatre Command (WTC), more likely the Central Military Commission (CMC)! The Deputy Chairman of the CMC, Gen He Weidong had raised the WTC and was the Commander of the WTC from 2016-2019.

Second, Yangtse Ridge in proximity of Tawang has been stated by Dai Bingguo as being inalienable from China’s Tibet. The chosen area clearly speaks of PLA’s intent in encroachment, and if it had been successful, providing a fait accompli that could have led to likely escalation! China is master of such a strategy, be it South China Sea islands of Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, or even Eastern Ladakh! Third, apparently, the Xiaokang Village constructed in Tibet in proximity to Yangste Ridge, with 200 odd houses and all modern communication infrastructure, could well have been used to build-up. These 628 villages, largely in the Eastern sector, hence become launch-pads, and need careful monitoring all along the Front. Four, Indian army units were well located at this super high altitude with adverse weather conditions. Units poised to react to such situations in real-time, indicated excellent preparations and training, and discharged their responsibility, honourably.

Chinese latest designs must not be ascribed to simpler rationale like the Indian Parliament in session, plans to construct 1800 km long road parallel to the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, Indian Chair of G20, steady economic growth or the recent joint military exercises held by Indian and American troops in Uttarakhand, about 100km from the LAC. China has its own plethora of serious internal woes like drying up of rivers, power shortages, slowing economy, oncoming demographic crisis, internal protestations on many fronts especially the severe Zero-Covid restrictions and nearly 20% unemployed youth. To add to it, the Tang Ping (lying flat) has given way to the more serious and much worse Bai Lan (let it rot) movement among the frustrated youth!

Analytically, the Chinese goalposts and motivations are clear and steady, as if etched in stone! They clearly have designs over the populated Tawang tract in Arunachal Pradesh, and have plainly indicated their interests in Eastern Ladakh, which go beyond the Macartney-MacDonald Line to an inexplicable and rationale-less 1959 Line. Its failure to achieve the end-state in Yangtse, will be painful and rankle the PLA hierarchy, though fictional story-telling will be attempted to mislead own public. Planning for an alternative can always be on the cards. Yang Shu, former Dean of Central Asian Studies at China’s Lanzhou University stated that soaring nationalistic sentiment fuelled the latest clash and that “…I expect more brawls and even small-scale skirmishes will take place along the LAC if Beijing and New Delhi leadership fail to curb the irrational mood.”

That brings us to the inevitable question, what next? Modern borders must be precise, well demarcated and delineated separating geographical, political and economic jurisdiction on either side of the line, as correct symbols of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Frontier clarity is the entente cordiale between neighbours. If borders are not precise and taken seriously, conflicts will continue to arise on transgressions by PLA. It is becoming evident for India, that being irrationality of history, building consensus on border resolution will remain elusive and the trust deficit on the border with stay for a long time. With Chinese claims and belligerence over Tawang Tract and occupation of Aksai Chin, settlement will remain difficult.

Three pathways are essential for consideration. First, it is obvious then for India, that being strong nation alone will ensure secure borders and that will be the recipe for peaceful coexistence with China. National strength herein has the military prowess as an important component, with other (more) important facets of national power. This is a subject of separate consideration. However, though it is fashionable and intellectual to ponder about modern technological advancements in warfare like IW, space, cyber, AI, quantum, robotics, and disruptive technologies, intricate machines cannot scuffle or fisticuff, nor man muddy trenches in deep snow or driving rain. As was evident in Yangste (or in Galwan previously), the soldier still bears the burden of miscalculation. The bitter lesson most overlooked is: If we want to ensure territorial integrity of the land called home, we still need to be willing to put our sons and daughters in the mud, rain, heat and bitter cold, to defend it.

Second, is the issue of LAC ‘perceptions’ as part of routine daily-use lingo. Perceptions herein are beliefs or opinions, often held by various rungs of decision-makers, passed on as routine to the functional units and formations on ground. These have been largely stratified, causing immense layered confusion. In regular press-briefings too, the word ‘perceptions’ finds its place thereby weakening own stance and trust on rationale of own border. What China believes in or perceives is immaterial to own firmness and convictions! Our ‘perception’ of the border, on say where McMahon Line is, must not be negative and create imbroglio in minds about the truth. It is about our confidence in our truth that matters maximally. Truth and belief must not be the victim within India. As border resolution mechanism is not on the horizon, the word ‘perceptions of the LAC’ must stand jettisoned from our lingo. India must believe on one LAC, from top to the soldier on the front. The CCP/ PLA’s versions (or perceptions) of the border should become irrelevant, till when (and if) formal discussions at politico-diplomatic level commence to resolve it!

Third is the omnipresent mention of ‘restoring peace and tranquillity’ that emanates from the 1993 Agreement and finds itself part of all communiqués! The recent press statement too stated that “…the respective commanders from the area held a flag meeting to discuss the issue in accordance with structured mechanisms to restore peace and tranquillity”. Indian Army units are deployed on the dizzy heights and weather conditions of Yangtse as are in Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) and elsewhere. At Yangtse, own troops stood their ground, fought valiantly, and pushed back the PLA despite their large strength.

Tranquillity is supposed to be an immersive sense of peace and quiet, helping relax the body and nerves. Being at peace enables not to be swayed by events, hardships and difficulties, maintain inner poise, clear judgment and common sense in all situations. Peace eliminates negative, futile and restless thinking. Obviously, there is no peace and tranquillity existing on the borders, the units have been and will be increasingly so, on tenterhooks (implying, waiting nervously for something to happen). Constantly expecting fisticuffs and brawls in the melee, on a wafer-thin ridge line, is a chaotic situation with high uncertainty.Naturally wars are messy, end-state unpredictable and best avoidable. However, common-use drafting and usage of the phrase peace and tranquillity does injustice to the vagaries of through the year employment of the Army troops and units along the LAC.

In sum, the trust-deficit post the latest imbroglio at Yangtse will be total and that rejuvenation of erstwhile protocols or CBMs or devising new ones will be prone to breakdown. For the armed forces, though it is essential to learn from the ongoing messy Russia-Ukraine War, it must not become a whole-time pastime. There is much to do and conceptualise on the Northern Borders, where the adversary assuredly has grave intentions.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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