From Doklam to Ladakh

The long-term policy objectives of the Chinese along the four thousand km long Sino-Indian boundary are becoming clearer. While the two armies face each other at Dokalam in the north-east, China has created a similar situation in the north-west by pushing its troops to the Pangong Lake in Ladakh. The same eyeball-to-eyeball situation has developed there also. China is probing our defence preparedness along the entire border, heightening tension. For the present there is a stalemate at Dokalam where the Chinese are neither withdrawing their troops nor showing any indication of pushing further, escalating the situation to a localized armed conflict. That there is a well-thought-out policy is evident that the incident at Ladakh has followed recent Chinese warnings that they can intrude into Kashmir or Uttarakhand, they can instigate ‘freedom movement’ in Sikkim and end Indian guardianship of Bhutan. More such situations are likely to occur at difference places in the next few weeks because the onset of winter will make the mountains snow-bound and starting a war will become next to impossible.
There may be an economic angle, too. Economists are forecasting that India will surpass China in the coming years in terms of economic growth. The Chinese economy has started slowing down. The growth has decelerated during the last three years. Though India is in no way in a position to compete with China – the size of India’s economy is $1.9 trillion against China’s 11 trillion – China may like to step up the heat against India, forcing her to divert her scarce resources from development to defence. This may see a growth of defence-related industries in India but the labour-capital ratio will preclude the possibility of much employment generation. In the “heating up”, Pakistan will help the Chinese.
It is a pity that the state of our defence unpreparedness is becoming clearer by the day. Lack of infrastructure in the border areas, lack of adequate inventory of ammunition, falling squadron strength of the IAF, time overrun and consequent cost overrun in completing our ship-building projects for the navy, delay in raising the Mountain Strike Corps against China – all these are staring us in the face. Hardware for defence cannot be bought off-the-shelf. They require time to build. Even live ammunition in large quantities cannot be had at the snapping of a finger. In the circumstances, the talk of India’s ability to fight a ‘war on two and a half fronts’ simultaneously, sounds unreal. The time lag has to be made up quickly without slowing down our tempo of development. Modern wars require not only armed strength but a strong industrial base and a vibrant economy. The NDA Government has to harmonize the demands of development and defence.

Saturday, 19 August, 2017