The Doklam standoff might have ended peacefully but India needs to introspect and prepare for the next such event
The resolution of the Doklam stand-off has been received with a huge sigh of relief not only in India and China, but in other capitals of the world as well. With the BRICS conference around the corner, it would have been a huge disappointment for China to hold the summit under the shadow of Doklam.
In all probability, we have seen the end of the Doklam issue at least for the time being.
The Indian media went into a tizzy trying to decipher the Chinese statements. The statement by India’s Ministry of External Affairs clearly states that the concerns and “interests” have been conveyed to China and expeditious “disengagement” is going on.
Though it specifically does not state it, it is implicit that an understanding has been reached. The word “disengagement”, is expected to refer to a mutual disengagement. There has also been a debate on China’s statement that Chinese troops continue to patrol that area. Patrolling is basically visiting an area which Chinese troops were doing earlier as well. There is nothing new in this and should not be viewed with concern.
Both sides have not mentioned the track construction which has been the bone of contention. The inference from this is that both sides have reached an understanding on this and most likely the track construction in that area will remain frozen.
The Chinese statement says that it will make necessary adjustments and deployment in accordance with changes on the ground. It is an indication that the Chinese will maintain status quo ante 16 June 2017. One hopes that India’s external affairs ministry would have ensured that.
As far as the tri junction in the Doklam area is concerned, China wanting to continue to exercise its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with the historical conventions is something that needs to be resolved between India, China and Bhutan.
It will also be prudent at this point to think about the prognosis of this event. As mentioned in many earlier writings, this is not the first standoff and it will also not be the last one between the Indian and Chinese forces. Till the time the Line of Actual Control isn’t resolved into an International Boundary we should expect such incidents to recur. We need to be prepared for them.
One is confident that the military hierarchy is looking into that aspect. In particular, all the other tri junctions like Kalapani, Eastern Nepal, East Bhutan, India – Myanmar- China tri junction, should also be looked into.
China may carry out the track construction in other areas. In the areas where the perception of the LAC differs, India needs to be very watchful.
One should not be in a hurry to resolve the boundary issue with China because of such incidents. There are many analysts who propagate an early resolution of the issue. Any hurry on India’s part will be detrimental to her interests. India needs to bide her time and resolve the issue when the time is right and both sides are prepared for it. It is a tough political decision for both countries.
India needs to introspect after this incident and take remedial measures that are necessary, whether it is in terms of arms, ammunition and equipment, organisational structures or the way in which such incidents should be handled.
Last but not the least, our due appreciation should go the officers and men who braved the Chinese rhetoric and inclement weather and stood their ground to ensure India’s interests are well protected. The government of India and its Ministry Of External Affairs should also be appreciated for handling this issue with maturity, patience and a great sense of balance.
The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Airpower Studies