China policy: Is foreign ministry at odds with security establishment?
Is India's security establishment at odds with the foreign policy establishment over the threat perception vis-a-vis China? Even as the government sought to play down reports of Chinese border "aggression", saying there was nothing alarming about them, there are sections of the strategic establishment who appear to think that the government is underplaying the Chinese "threat".delhi Updated: Sep 20, 2009 16:24 IST
Is India's security establishment at odds with the foreign policy establishment over the threat perception vis-a-vis China?
Even as the government sought to play down reports of Chinese border "aggression", saying there was nothing alarming about them, there are sections of the strategic establishment, whose views are articulated through retired armed forces personnel and strategic experts, who appear to think that the government is underplaying the Chinese "threat".
With some sensation-seeking television channels happy to play along, this section also feels the government was not ready to concede that Chinese forces have made serious "incursions" into Indian territory and have scaled up their aggressive postures in trends ominously reminiscent of the months preceding the 1962 war between the two countries.
The first alarm bell was raised by Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor Aug 31 saying there have been several border violations by Chinese troops in the past few months, including an incursion by a helicopter. However, he clarified that these infringements could have been inadvertent. By this Saturday, he was saying that the number of incursions this year was the same as last year and there was nothing to be worried about.
"There have been several violations and one incursion by a Chinese helicopter in the past few months. It could have happened due to a navigational error but that does not justify it. It was taken up at the border personnel meet," Kapoor had said earlier.
Prior to that, former Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta warned that Beijing was in the process of creating formidable military capabilities and it would be more assertive in its claims on the neighbourhood.
Speaking at the National Maritime Foundation, he said: "China is in the process of consolidating its comprehensive national power and creating formidable military capabilities. Once that is done, China is likely to be more assertive on its claims, especially in the immediate neighbourhood."
These fears were further amplified when a section of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the country's external intelligence agency, reportedly briefed the political leadership of China's "ambitious designs" in the region and how it was making massive investments in the neighbourhood.
At a closed-door session in the recently held police chiefs conclave this week, two senior RAW officials said these incursions should not be overlooked as China had "bigger designs" and was investing huge amounts of money in countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar to isolate India.
However, the nature of these investments and the grand designs to offset India's regional goals were not spelt out.
But despite the alarmist reports, fanned by some television channels, the external affairs ministry has sought to play down the incursions, saying these are "routine incidents" that occur due to differences in perception about the Line of Actual Control, the ceasefire line, as China does not recognise McMahon Line that then Tibetan rulers agreed with the British rulers of India.
In the midle of this confusion, a high-level meeting of officials that was to be held here Thursday to discuss the alleged Chinese border intrusions was postponed. The meeting was expected to be chaired by National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan. Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar, Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and the three service chiefs were to attend.
No reason was given for the postponement. But reliable sources said this followed differences between the external affairs ministry and the Prime Minister's Office on the one hand and the defence ministry on the other on how to deal with China.
Since then, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, followed by National Security Adviser M.K Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Nirumpama Rao and even the army chief have sought to downplay the threat perception with Gen Deepak Kapoor now saying "there was no cause for worry or concern".
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna cautioned against creating "excessive alarm" over the reported developments and stressed that India's border with China had been "most peaceful".
The defence ministry has on the other hand pitched for a more assertive approach vis-a-vis the alleged incursions, which Beijing has denied. The defence ministry wants curbs on army patrolling of the border lifted and a more pro-active approach towards building border infrastructure that lags far behind China's.
Currently, there are patrolling restrictions in certain "sensitive areas" of LAC to avoid possible clashes with Chinese troops.
Security analyst B Raman, a former RAW official, has in his latest blog posted that he was "not unduly worried over the continuing reports of Chinese troop intrusions".
"We are fortunate in having a competent, professional army, which is capable of taking care of them. There is no need for a hysteria over the intrusions," he said.
"I am more worried about the diplomatic, economic and strategic intrusions which the Chinese are quietly making in our neighbourhood and the inability of our diplomacy to counter them," he wrote.