India-China border dispute: Former service chiefs highlight importance of diplomacy


Written by Sushant Kulkarni
| Pune |

Published: June 19, 2020 1:55:50 am

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Former chiefs and top commanders of the Indian defence forces have highlighted the importance of resolving the current situation along the LAC with China through diplomatic channels while maintaining a strong posture.

Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd), former Chief of Naval Staff, said, “Any dispute of this nature has two solutions — one diplomatic and the other military. The recent diplomatic efforts go back to the 1993 Peace & Tranquility Agreement and the Border Cooperation Agreement of 2013. Our heads of government have met on numerous occasions. There have also been 22 meetings of Special Representatives. But no solutions have emerged. One wonders if our politicians and diplomats have not considered the issue of LAC urgent enough for early settlement or tried hard enough to find a solution. Having a boundary which is not fixed, not marked, not agreed upon, with a powerful country like China is a very unhealthy situation. When diplomatic solutions don’t succeed, armed forces have to be called in. In this case, it is unlikely that we can force a military solution on China; due to the huge asymmetry between our two countries: economic, military, technological and in many other fields. While we can certainly give them a ‘bloody nose’ in select locations, such military responses can potentially snowball into an all-out war. So, the question to ask ourselves with all honesty is — are we prepared for a war and can we (or even China) afford one? We will be fighting, not just China, because they also have a friend and ally in Pakistan, who will be keen to open a second front of war.”

He added, “The soldier hopes and believes that diplomats and statesmen will find a solution to national issues. If they anticipate that they are likely to fail, they should have the foresight to bolster the nation’s military strength. Otherwise you have to negotiate from a position of weakness. Our diplomats have maintained that there is no cause for alarm on the Sino-Indian border, especially since ‘not a shot has been fired in 50 years’. They have obviously been complacent and not reckoned with China’s ‘realpolitik’ approach to issues. If you have not succeeded politically and diplomatically, and failed to adequately boost military power, your options are drastically reduced.”

When asked about the repercussions of these developments in the maritime domain, Admiral Prakash said, “There is inadequate appreciation of the utility of maritime power in our country. Statements have been made that we are not an expeditionary nation and our concerns are mainly on land. Consequently, we have failed to build up most components of our maritime power except for the fact that we have a professional and robust Navy. We must remember that the Chinese economy is utterly dependent on imported energy. Most of their imported oil, gas and raw materials as well as finished goods for export transit by sea. Even if there are mild signs that we can interfere with their energy and trade traffic, it will send a powerful and threatening signal to China. These are all issues of grand strategy and high-level diplomacy, but the Navy or maritime domain does not seem to be on the radar of our leaders and decision-makers.”

Air Chief Marshal PV Naik (Retd), former Chief of Air Staff,, said, “There has been loss of life, which is the worst thing that can happen. The important thing is we have not backed off. Another good thing is that there has been a statement from the Prime Minister, which is a strong message. I anticipate there will be de-escalation from both sides at least in this sector, as both sides put their minds to it. I don’t think it will come down to the Air Force from our side as yet. But we have to be prepared. I guess they (China) too have learnt a lesson from this situation. It has always been the case with China, that when you show resistance, they rethink.”

He added, “While a lot more needs to be done from the point of view of preparedness, we are equipped to give them a bloody nose. While there is a differential in overall strength, we have been able to achieve concentration of force wherever it is necessary.”

Lt Gen Rajendra Nimbhorkar, who retired as Master General Audience and had played a key role in execution of the 2016 surgical strike as a commander of key formation, said, “The 1993 Peace and Tranquility Agreement says there will be discussions on the disputed area and one party will not unilaterally try to change it. The present situation shows that they have broken the agreement. Historically, the Chinese have by and large adhered to the agreements. One of the reasons behind this is their internal situation, which is bad. From that they want to divert the attention. I also feel that in the Doklam incident they were seen in a bad light and they want to show otherwise to the world. Another important reason being the Leh to Daulat Beg Oldie Road, which we have constructed and which gives us edge over Karakoram. It is clear that whatever has happened has been planned at the highest level. Now from our side, the PM has given a very strong message, unless there is a resolution, an action will follow. I firmly believe that now the issue should be resolved through diplomatic channels, negotiation. They have said we must not forget 1962, but we have shown that we are not the India of 1962. We can do a lot of things including the Navy choking the sea routes crucial to China.”

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