Sultan M Hali
INDIA agreed to withdraw its troops from Doklam after a two-month standoff with China. According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Chinese border troops are continuing their patrolling and defending the Doklam (Dong Lang) area. Hua Chunying, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson while addressing a daily news briefing, declared that Chinese authorities will make an overall assessment of the weather conditions and all related factors, and according to the actual circumstances complete construction plans for Doklam. Readers may recall that on June 18, over 270 armed Indian troops with two bulldozers crossed the boundary into Doklam, which is Chinese sovereign territory, to obstruct infrastructure construction by China.
Chinese sources have also confirmed that India had withdrawn personnel and equipment from Doklam. If anyone could have objected to the Chinese construction of the road, it could have been Bhutan. It did not raise its voice or show concerns because it was convinced that the construction of the road would be beneficial to Bhutan and the territory is Chinese. Thus Bhutan has welcomed moves by India and China to withdraw troops from the strategic area as a flare up between Bhutan’s nuclear weapons equipped neighbours could have been devastating for it and the tiny Himalayan country would have been caught in the middle.
India had jumped into the fray for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it tries to influence its neighbours through coercive manipulation, secondly it had not forgotten the thrashing India had received at the hands of Chinese troops in 1962 in Arunachal Pradesh, and thirdly, the proposed Chinese road would give China greater access to the Chicken Neck. The Siliguri Corridor, or Chicken’s Neck, is a narrow stretch of land, located in the Indian state of West Bengal that connects India’s northeastern states to the rest of India, with the countries of Nepal and Bangladesh lying on either side of the corridor. The kingdom of Bhutan lies on the northern side of the corridor. The kingdom of Sikkim, which was annexed by India in 1975, lay on the northern side of the corridor. India, which does not claim the territory but has a military presence in Bhutan, stepped in to prevent Chinese border guards from building a road there, prompting Beijing to raise hue and cry over India’s trespassing on Chinese soil.
China, which had shown restraint, had repeatedly denounced the Indian move as a direct infringement of its sovereignty, demanded an immediate and unconditional withdrawal, and warned that conflict was a real possibility if that didn’t happen. Initially Indian defence minister issued belligerent statements like “this is not 1962” and “Indian forces are capable of defending themselves.” Indian Army Chief also tried to up the ante with bellicose threats to China. Eventually, Indians saw the light of the day and decided to withdraw their forces.
There are a number of possible reasons why India blinked first in the faceoff with China. Firstly, despite its jingoism and prods by India’s puppet master Donald Trump, the realization set in that because of his domestic woes and engagement of US troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the US will not be able to respond in time to India’s support physically while China is a next door neighbour of India. The state-owned “China Daily” newspaper warned that India stood “to face retribution” over the incident, arguing that New Delhi was complacent if it thought China was not prepared for military conflict if necessary.
With its superior might, China could make short work of India before US logistic support arrived. Secondly, finding the moment opportune, Pakistan could also strike India a telling blow simultaneously to liberate Indian Occupied Kashmir. Secondly, with the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—summit being hosted by China, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not have the guts to face Chinese President Xi Jinping after making cantankerous and aggressive statements threatening China. China maintains that the Doklam area was listed as on its side of the border under the 1890 “Convention Between Great Britain and China Concerning Sikkim and Tibet.” China continued to remind India to learn the lessons from this incident, tangibly abide by the historical treaties and the basic principles of international law, and to meet China halfway, jointly guard the peace and tranquility of the border areas, and promote a healthy development of bilateral military relations.
India, on the other hand, continued to display its obduracy as agreeing to blink first would be a loss of face after its bellicose threats to China, which the volatile Indian media had whipped into a warlike frenzy and Indian masses were baying for Chinese blood. Although India has had to eat a humble pie in the Doklam standoff but to appease its masses, Indian External Affairs Ministry and media are claiming victory in the recent Sino-Indian confrontation. An Indian foreign ministry official told the Associated Press that the two sides had agreed to return to the “status quo.” The cable news channel NDTV reported that Chinese bulldozers had moved away and road construction stopped, according to its sources — implying that India’s demand had been met. Contrarily, India blinked in the face of another crushing defeat at Chinese hands, reminiscent of 1962 when Indian soldiers reportedly ate soap to suffer from diarrhea and avoid facing the Chinese in battle.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
Sultan M Hali