Parliament panel hails govt’s handling of Doklam standoff
A parliamentary panel that has studied the Doklam military standoff between India and China last year praised the government for its “overall handling” of the crisis, but cautioned that Chinese infrastructure “built uncomfortably” close to the tri-junction with Bhutan had not yet been dismantled.
The standing committee on external affairs headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor submitted the report on Sino-India relations, including Doklam, to Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan on September 4. The report is publicly available. The committee also includes Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
The report includes submissions by senior government officials to the panel, which emphasised that the standoff in Dolkam was clearly the result of “an effort to compromise our security.”
The standoff at the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction began on June 16, 2017 when the People’s Liberation Army entered Doklam in a bid to alter the status quo in violation of Beijing’s existing understanding with both India and Bhutan. The issue was eventually resolved with the disengagement of border personnel on August 28 last year.
“The committee would commend the government’s overall handling of the crisis as it managed to send necessary signals to China that India will not acquiesce in its unilateral and forceful attempts to change the status quo at any of India’s territorial boundaries”, the parliamentary committee report said.
Then, it went on to issue a note of concern. “However the committee remains concerned that Chinese infrastructure built uncomfortably close to the tri-junction has not been dismantled,” said the panel, which engaged in special discussions on road construction activities in the Doklam area.
“It has also been informed to the committee that Chinese had built the track across Batang La-Meruga-La-Sinchela Ridge Line over the last 25 years. It has been clear to the committee that PLA took advantage of the absence of Bhutanese troops in Bhutan’s territory,” the committee observed, urging the government to constantly engage with Bhutan on the subject of North Doklam as to dissuade the PLA from making “direct ingress into Southern Doklam in future and trying to shift the tri-junction point southwards.”
The committee added: “Even if they have withdrawn their troops from Doklam for the time being, China’s strategic intentions should not be taken casually.”
For any strategic reasons, China’s efforts to alter the status quo are not good news for India as the Doklam region is close to the Siliguri corridor. India’s seven north eastern states are connected to the mainland through the narrow corridor.
In the past too, Chinese troops had entered Doklam, and the report cites examples of the PLA doing this as far back as in 1966.
“Their (PLA) entering the area poses concerns from the perspective of the tri-junction point. The issue which arose in 2017 was because of the Chinese troops came with a stated intention of building a road to the Jampheri ridge,” then foreign secretary S Jaishankar told the panel. Jampheri ridge is closer to Siliguri.
Some opposition members of the panel praised the ‘valiant efforts’ by the army, but were unconvinced that Indian diplomacy had proved up to the task.
Some also were concerned that the government was spinning what they considered a setback as a victory. However, no one pressed for a note of dissent to be included in the report. Chairman Tharoor is learnt to have told the members that when national interests are concerned political differences stop at the border.
When reached for comment on the report’s content, Tharoor said: “While I am not denying any of these claims that sources may have told you, you must understand that I cannot confirm them. The report speaks for itself and I have nothing to add.”