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Too close for comfort

Two years ago, a ministry of defence (MoD) report had stated that “the possibility of China and Pakistan joining forces in India’s farthest frontiers, illegally occupied by the two neighbours, would have direct military implications for India”. Ved Malik writes.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2011 12:12 IST
Ved Malik

Two years ago, a ministry of defence (MoD) report had stated that “the possibility of China and Pakistan joining forces in India’s farthest frontiers, illegally occupied by the two neighbours, would have direct military implications for India”. This possibility became real when last week, the Northern Army Commander confirmed that Chinese troops are present on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC).

The Chinese troops aren’t pointing guns towards our posts on the LoC, but the fact that they are located and working alongside Pakistani troops reflects ‘joint’ interest and enhancement of strategic and operational preparedness.

What the Northern Army Commander has stated is not new. The Chinese military presence in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), purportedly to repair, upgrade and re-commission the Karakoram Highway and to improve infrastructure in the area became visible last year. His statement and concern supplement prior information.

It’s also known that China plans to construct railway tracks and oil pipelines from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar port in Pakistan.

When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao addressed both houses of Pakistan Parliament in December 2010, he said, “To cement and advance the all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation between China and Pakistan is our common strategic choice…” Talking to the media after Wen’s address, Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik had described it as a strong message to the “enemies of Pakistan”.

According to the Indian defence ministry, the length of the India-China border is 4,056 km. This includes the whole of the western sector including Aksai Chin, POK and the Shaksgam valley (ceded by Pakistan to China in an India-disputed agreement in March 1963). For reasons still not clear, in a statement in the Chinese daily Global Times on December 14, 2010, the Indian ambassador to China put the border length to be 3,488 km.

While publishing the interview, the publication added its own comment: “There is no settled length of the common border. The Chinese government often refers to the border length as being about 2,000 km.” By reducing the length in its definition of the border, China has questioned Indian sovereignty over J&K.

Without going into details of other security and sovereignty related issues between India and China in Tibet and the Indian Ocean, it is obvious that as China develops greater national power, geo-politically and strategically it will become more aggressive and create new pressures on the border issue.

China is known to be assertive in its diplomacy over security and military issues. It will attempt to exploit our diplomatic appeasement postures and defence weaknesses on the ground to its advantage.

India-China economic and security relations are moving in opposite trajectories. The competitive relationship over our long-term security interests outweighs the cooperative one in trade, commerce and culture. India can’t afford to let the latest developments go uncontested diplomatically. In the interest of its own security and Asian stability, it must build a sympathetic international lobby.

In the coming financial year, China plans to spend $91.6 billion on defence. This does not include its budget for internal security. India’s approved defence budget this year is $34 billion. India must pay greater attention to its defence preparedness, particularly on the north-western borders. There is an urgent need to build defence infrastructure along the northern border.

According to media reports, our border road building programmes in the north are running three years behind schedule. Along with making up for shortages and replacing obsolescent weapon systems at the earliest, we must build rapid reaction military capability for all underdeveloped areas in the Himalayas. India must not become complacent as we did before 1962.

(VP Malik is former chief of staff, Indian Army, The views expressed by the author are personal)