The Curse of Semantics in Conflict

"Clearly China had infiltrated the Indian establishment years back to include bureaucrats, politicians, media, scholars and other besides working on diplomats posted in Beijing. Little wonder that all recommended or rather enforced a ‘soft’ line on China – quiet submission."

The Curse of Semantics in Conflict

The Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China has remained ambiguous ever since. China reneged on the McMohan Line demarcated between Tibet and Northeast region of India at the Shimla Conference (October 1913–July 1914) between Tibet and Great Britain which was signed by the Tibetan representative.

Over the years, China has taken India for a royal ride without indicating a firm claim to-date, taking advantage of an un-demarcated LAC. To top this China plays the game of multiple claim lines in the same area, which they have also been doing with Bhutan. Despite knowing which LAC China was referring to, we foolishly signed various agreements with China, like:

  • 1993 - Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC
  • 1996 - Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC
  • 2005 - Protocol on Modalities for the implementation of the Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC
  • 2012 - Agreement on establishment of a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on India-China Border Affairs
  • 2013 - Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA)

China is in illegal occupation of 43,180 sq km territory of the original state of Jammu and Kashmir that had officially acceded to India on Independence; 38,000 sq km of Aksai Chin and 5,180 sq km Shaksgam illegally handed over by Pakistan to China in 1963. In addition despite the above so-called five agreements China had managed to nibble another 645 sq km by 2013 as per the Shyam Saran report (not made public) handed over to then Prime Minister in 2013. 400 sq km of these 645 sq km is in Ladakh as per former ambassador P Stopden.

India kept pussyfooting amidst the jargon of “transgressions” instead of intrusions, “their perception of boundary”, China Claim Line (CCL) and the like as if we needed to give credence to such crap. The term “transgressions” was also used to propagate that we too keep going across according to “our perception” of the LaC. But no one asked if China had nibbled away additional 645 sq km of our territory, how much have we retrieved or sliced off from China Occupied Tibet?

Clearly China had infiltrated the Indian establishment years back to include bureaucrats, politicians, media, scholars and other besides working on diplomats posted in Beijing. Little wonder that all recommended or rather enforced a ‘soft’ line on China – quiet submission.

No doubt there were the Nathu La and Sumdorong Chhu incidents when China was on the receiving end but China continued to exploit vulnerabilities of the Indian establishment and ensured bureaucratic control over the military which is wholly different from civilian control. The Indian National Congress (INC) even signed a memorandum of understanding with the Communist Party of China in 2008 (sic) – might as well have had similar agreements with Pakistan and Turkey where they have already established an office.

But Chinese infiltration and influence over the Indian establishment has been irrespective of whichever political party formed the government in India. That is why we accepted ‘One China’ without China accepting ‘One India’. That is why despite China working against Indian interests at every step, the futile efforts to woo Xi Jinping through informal summits at Wuhan, Ahmedabad and Mamallapuram. The susceptibility of the Indian establishment continues.

A Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament went public in recent years about a dozen plus Indian politicians in the hawala racket (under ISI blackmail) and some bureaucrats of defence ministry honey-trapped. Beijing’s diktats to its ‘followers-cum-employees’ in India include: ensure ‘soft’ approach to China no matter what China does; keep the military at arms’ length, and; curtail India’s hard power.

The results are obvious. We still do not have a national security strategy, haven’t done a worthwhile strategic defence review and defence budget allocations were reduced to below 1962 levels. The finance minister became the executioner of military’s budgetary demands with no though to operational imperatives.

Indian Army personnel deployed in HAA; File Photo

Now suddenly with the Chinese aggression, there is rush for defence imports with no dearth of finances despite the economy being in the dumps. We do not seem to understand there is no short-cut to building hard power without which we cannot really stand up to China. Network-centric warfare (NCW) capabilities being built by the army over the years were killed with budgetary cuts and can hardly be built in a jiffy.

Our only thinking appears to be to cut down army manpower while there is no limit on expanding central armed police forces. Visuals of the recent meeting between defence ministers of India and China in Moscow witnessed the Chinese minister accompanied by an array of PLA officials with our defence minister sitting across with a galaxy of bureaucrats - not a single military officer.

There are no military advisors in the Prime Minister’s Office. Now another Shekatkar committee is appointed to increase civilians in various echelons of the army rather than combatising the civilians (sic). Nehru’s legacy that police is enough for securing the nation has mostly continued by undermining primacy of the military in national security notwithstanding the ‘surgical strikes’ that were reactions to losses suffered.

Will the above change with the Chinese intrusions in Eastern Ladakh?

The government still hasn’t placing the ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police) in the show window of Ladakh under the command of the army. The fear is age old – all senior appointments in central armed police forces are manned by IPS officers; IPS officers man intelligence agencies and are privy to skeletons of politicians and bureaucrats. Keeping them on the right side is much more important than operational requirements.

A big question is why the ‘China Stooges’ in the Indian establishment who had access to means for monitoring movement of PLA formations in Aksai Chin and advance beyond did not alert the military? Was it by design? But no heads will roll and there is no question of anyone accepting responsibility and stepping down.

The current Chinese aggression has added new semantics to the jargon mentioned above. There is frequent use of terms like ‘disengagement’, ‘de-escalation’, ‘status quo’, ‘buffer zone’ etc. Talks are continuing unabated but which LAC are we discussing while the PLA consolidates the intrusions and China accuses us of crossing the LAC?

The Ministry of External Affairs has recently stated that India expects China to sincerely work with it for complete disengagement of troops along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh and de-escalation along with the full restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas. Is that what we really want or are we lost in semantics?

When we call for disengagement, China demands our troops also move back from Finger 4 on north bank of Pangong Tso. Are the troops on both sides not about a kilometer apart throughout Eastern Ladakh? Do we want a so-called buffer zone in our own territory? It is also amazing to hear views that China having come in is not going to withdraw, and therefore we should accept status quo – wouldn’t China love this?

With respect to the Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh, the only official statement that India should keep repeating is that PLA must return to deployments as in April 2020. Talk of anything else is pointless with China insisting PLA is in its own territory, India is the aggressor and making new claims like whole of Galwan Valley.

Time has also come to bury the term LAC, which was first used by Zhou en-Lai in a 1959 letter to Jawaharlal Nehru and subsequently used for the line formed after the 1962 Sino-Indian War. India should tell China the only border we recognize is the one between India and Tibet, not China occupied Tibet. This would also serve as a shut up call to China for illegally demanding Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’.

(Lt. Gen Katoch is renowned special forces officer, with an unparalleled service record. He has been a prolific writer with his articles published in leading Defence magazines like FORCE, Indian Defence Review, The Week & Fauji India among many others. He is also the author of Special Operations Cases Studies: Lessons for India and India's Special Forces: History and Future of India's Special Forces)

(This article was first published in the 'The Citizen' and has been reproduced with due permission from the author. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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