Doklam Standoff: Why War Is Not An Option for India
War as an instrument of diplomacy is not an option either for India or China.
By simulating likely war with China on the Doklam issue through their discussions, the two “Anchor Generals” of a particular TV channel have proved that strategic thinking is not something that can be inherited.
However, these anchors must be lauded for their ability to turn retired Generals and Air Marshals into keen junior officers out to impress their instructor by uttering nonstop inanities as if attending their first career course. Perhaps, this would prove useful for their aspirations for an alternative career of fighting wars in TV studios.
The Indian media that has always been hawkish about Pakistan has generally remained subdued on Doklam. Perhaps the reports – first broken by The Quint – of 33 Corps troops having moved to forward locations, and reports in the Chinese media that they may be considering a limited offensive to get Doklam vacated have prompted the change. Further, many analysts convinced by Chinese rhetoric, assume that they will ultimately resort to an attack.
A Highly Improbable War
The uni-dimensional thinking process of retired “Cadets” and the “Anchor generals” discussed a scenario in which the war with China breaks out in the spring of 2018, with China looking to cut off the North-Eastern parts of India by capturing Siliguri corridor and India being compelled to request Bangladesh for a passage to reach there.
Chinese military and political leadership would be extremely naïve to even consider capturing the Siliguri corridor – which is almost 150 km from their borders. Don’t the cadet Generals realise the audacity of what they are visualising? The move will require the Chinese to capture the entire area consisting of extremely rugged terrain between their borders till the corridor.
With no possibility of cross-country movement and strongly held defences by India along the only line of communication, this will be impossible to achieve. The only probability of capturing the corridor with Special Forces is unlikely because of difficulty of a linkup and logistic requirements.
It was hilarious the way the retired “cadets” wrote off China and predicted a bloody nose for it at the hands of Indian Defence forces. It is true that Indian defence forces are much stronger than what they were in 1962 but saying that it will be a walkover vis-à-vis Chinese is wishful thinking.
Mixed Signals From China
An open war in classical sense is a remote possibility between two neighbouring nuclear powers, especially when things are likely to spiral out of control. The Chinese have better options and capabilities to achieve the objectives without causing bloodshed and being dubbed as offenders.
Throughout the episode, which began on 16 June 2017, China has been giving mixed signals. They have told India to withdraw before negotiations can take place. The Chinese media, that is trying to project India as an aggressor, talks of limited offensive to get Indians to vacate the area.
Diplomatic offensive to convince other countries in the region about justification of their stand, and the statement of Chinese premier Xi during the massive show of the might of the Chinese military on the anniversary celebrations of the PLA that their army was capable of taking on any enemy, without naming India, are classic acts of bluster.
On the other hand, the statements emanating after discussions of NSA Ajit Doval with Chinese authorities, Premier Xi praising the Indian government’s handling of the economy and reports in Chinese media about the need to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner are indicators of China’s desire to find an honourable way out of the stalemate.
China’s Tactical Disadvantage
The fact is that the Chinese have been taken by surprise by the tough stand taken by India in this matter. They are said to have informed India about the road construction work undertaken by them. They expected a diplomatic response instead of the military response. They are at a position of tactical disadvantage in the area and the option of limited offensive is unviable.
The Chinese objective in undertaking the construction of road in the territory disputed between China and Bhutan appears to have been to prove to Bhutan that their treaty of friendship with India is meaningless and that India can’t protect their interests.
However, by taking a tough stand in the matter and enhancing troop strength in the area, we have established that we are well capable of fulfilling our responsibilities towards Bhutan. The stand taken by India will surely enhance the stature of India as reliable ally in the eyes of other neighbouring countries too.
A Word of Caution
War as an instrument of diplomacy in this case therefore is not an option either for India or China. Implications of a classical war on the economies of both countries and the world order are far too serious and we should not succumb to the cacophony of amateur strategists in this regard.
A word of caution though, we cannot afford to let our guards down. China may climb down from its stand sooner or later but may resort to similar actions at places where they are stronger. It may also resort to acts of subversion of our command and communications networks as it is suspected to have done in the recent past through cyber-attacks.
China may also increase collaboration with Pakistan to cause trouble for us in Kashmir. It has given enough indication of that by equating our intervention in Doklam with intervention (if they decide to do so) by them in Kashmir or Kalapani (Nepal) issues. China may also resort to increased support to the Maoists and insurgents in North East and cause more trouble for India.
Thank God for small mercies that wars are not fought at the instances of what transpires in TV studios. Otherwise we would already have fought a war with Pakistan in 2016. Perhaps the 2019 elections would then be fought after decisive victorious wars in the studios of three prominent TV channels. Do I need to name them?
(The writer retired from the BSF as an additional director-general. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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