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China standoff: 'The Indian Army should stand firm'

July 18, 2017 07:55 IST

'When sensitive territory goes into the hands of your enemy. he becomes more powerful in military terms.'
'Assuming the Chinese take over the Doklam Plateau they will not stop at that.'
'They will keep ingressing, and it will be easier for them to further expand their territory.'
'I feel the Chinese will vacate that area in two months after it begins to snow.'

Chinese troops on the India-China border.

Lieutenant General Dr D B Shekatkar (retd), PVSM, AVSM, AVSM, was in charge of the entire China front in Arunachal Pradesh during the Kargil War.

The general, who served extensively in the North East, also compelled a record number (1,267) of terrorists in Kashmir, trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan to give up terrorism.

General Shekatkar spoke to Rediff.com's Archana Masih on the India-China standoff in the Sikkim sector.

Why a plateau in Bhutan is important for India:

I know the Dokalam area in Bhutan since 1992 where the Chinese are exerting their claim. It is at the tri-junction of Sikkim, Bhutan and China.

It is legally important for us because in mountain warfare, even a 10 feet high ground is of importance.

Over the years, the Chinese came during the grazing season, stayed for a few days with yaks and went away. They used to tell the Bhutanese that this is our area.

For the last two years, the Chinese came in strength and started building roads on the Doklam plateau.

It is also strategically located near the Siliguri corridor. Assuming it is occupied and deployed with guns and heavy armament, it is such a narrow patch that anyone who controls it also controls the entry and exit from the North East.

It can cut off the entire North East.

There are 2 to 3 hydel projects coming up in this area where India has invested heavily. One project is Jaldhaka (on the Indian side of the India-Bhutan border).

The Chinese have entered the Doklam plateau because it overlooks the Chumbi valley which is Chinese territory. This is the military reason why China is keen on the Bhutanese territory.

When sensitive territory goes into the hands of your enemy or adversary, he becomes more powerful in military terms.

Assuming the Chinese take over that area (the Doklam Plateau) they will not stop at that. They will keep ingressing, and it will be easier for them to further expand their territory.

The reason for the current India-China stand-off:

Linked to this is that Bhutan is a small country. It is a sovereign country in our friendly neighbourhood.

If we don't come to their help, who else will?

Pakistan won't, Bangladesh won't, China is already the aggressor. So it becomes India's responsibility to protect our neighbour, especially if its military is not strong.

We don't have any defence treaty with Bhutan, but we have an understanding from the time of the present king's grandfather.

I have had the honour of meeting the present king's father who was the previous king.

Therefore, according to the agreement, there is a small training detachment of the Indian Army to train the Bhutanese forces. It is located at Thimpu and a place called Ha in the Chumbi Valley.

The Indian Army has been in Ha for decades, which is a training establishment.

The Doklam Plateau is at close proximity to this place.

When training the Bhutanese army on operational parameters, the Chinese troops entered the area and because the Indian Army was present there, they were told to go back.

That is how the Indian Army got involved and China claims that Indian Army has entered the Doklam area.

The Chinese in the past come and go, but this time the Chinese were trying to bulldoze their way through the Bhutanese army into the Doklam Plateau.

On China asking the Indian Army to withdraw and India's refusal to stand down:

China has no business to tell the Indian Army to withdraw because that is Bhutanese territory.

If at all, somebody should ask the Indian Army to vacate, it is Bhutan.

The Chinese are telling the world that the Indian Army has ingressed into their area.

The Indian Army should stand firm.

I feel the Chinese will vacate that area in two months after it begins to snow.

In Kargil also, both the Indian Army and Pakistan army used to withdraw, but in 1999, we found they did not, which led to the Kargil War.

This time, I don't think the Bhutanese army will vacate that area lest the Chinese continue to stay on even during the winter.

Then there will be open war. Therefore, the Bhutanese army will now have to stay there.

The Indian Army should continue to remain there to support the Bhutanese army.

The Indian army will not fight anybody else's war, but they should be there and be prepared.

Once the Chinese retreat, India will also go back and leave the area for Bhutan.

The Indian Army can be positioned 3 km or so behind the Bhutanese army on the Doklam Plateau.

On the Chinese stance in the present tension:

As per Chinese strategy they will continue to harp that this area belongs to them.

According to the 1890 and 1914 treaty that area doesn't belong to them.

They will try and show that the Indian Army has ingressed into their territory.

The Indian Army cannot ingress into China through another country.

If the army had crossed over from Sikkim it would have been a totally different thing, so that stand doesn't hold good.

Why India needs to build world opinion on China:

As strategic framework, India should now build world opinion on China on the following issues:

1. China is the only nation in the world which officially protects two rogue nations -- Pakistan and North Korea.

When a member of the United Nations Security Council protects two rougue nations does it qualify to be a member?

Should not the world body take up this issue in the UN General Assembly to remove China from membership of the Security Council and take away its veto power?

2. China's military strength is based on its economic strength.

Economic strength depends on industrial strength. If China's economy is affected, its military will get impacted.

We should not sustain the Chinese economy and look at it as economic warfare.

3. India should engage China on the seas so that China's influence does not increase in the South China Sea.

Our strategy should be to engage with the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan.

India should be able to engage China in the Indian Ocean ring, starting from the Straits of Malacca to the Straits of Hormuz -- Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles, Gwadar.

India should take world leaders into confidence and engage China. That should be the grand strategy.

India should let it be known to China that they have been helping terrorists operating in India -- the Naxalites, insurgents in the North East.

If India does even 2% of what the Chinese are doing, they will not know how to handle the Tibetans and the people in Xinjiang.

The Indian Army is not the same army as it was in the 1962 War:

We paid them back in 1967 when the Chinese suffered great casualties in the same Sikkim sector.

We had to be tough against China in 1987 in the Tawang area.

India is well aware that we are not the same India of 1962 and China is also aware of that.

India should remind the world that does China have any neighbouring country as a friend?

Even North Korea, which is a rogue State, I don't know if the Chinese treat them as a friend. I am sure they treat them as a slave.

I don't think the Chinese will make the mistake of calling Pakistan a reliable friend.

Instead of harping on China's strengths, let us start identifying its weakness.

No country has resolved land border disputes with China on its own terms. They all had to agree to the Chinese terms including Russia.

Archana Masih / Rediff.com