New Delhi: India’s “appeasement policy” towards China has ended with the Ladakh face-off and the country has been able to send a strong message to Beijing that they can no longer take us for granted, former Army chief Gen V.P. Malik (retd) has said.
Speaking at ThePrint’s ‘Off the Cuff’ programme, in conversation with Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, the former Army chief, who led India to victory in the Kargil conflict, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team were not taking things lying down, even if there were surprised by China’s actions.
Gen Malik, however, called for a probe to determine why India did not deploy additional troops or take precautionary moves even when there were reports of a Chinese troop build-up in Tibet in the months of March and April last year.
Speaking bluntly, the decorated officer also said that it is impossible for India to militarily take back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin as of today because of political and diplomatic issues besides the military ones.
“There has been a lot of change in the strategic scenario… 20 years ago, we did not think too much about China because we were following a different policy of both competition plus cooperation and we were spending more time and energy on the cooperation part of it,” Gen Malik said. “Twenty years ago, we just fought the Kargil battle and the focus was more on western border.”
He said that a lot has changed for China. “Not just in terms of capability but also the kind of leadership that has come up in China. So that has had an effect globally, and particularly in our region,” he added.
The former chief said Pakistan seems to have gone down in terms of its capabilities and in terms of its comprehensive national power.
The Chinese threat
Told by Gupta that former Army chief Gen K Sundarji had in the late 1980s said China is our main threat, Gen Malik said the same asymmetry exists between both countries.
“They are much higher than we are. We have not been able to catch up or decrease the gap,” he said.
“We have been following a policy of competition-cum-cooperation. The emphasis was more on cooperation than strategic competition,” he added. “In fact many often, many of us would even say that it was an appeasement policy. That has changed since the last face-off that we had last year in Eastern Ladakh.”
Asked if he was happy with the Pangong Tso disengagement, he said, “I am happy about that. I don’t believe both countries want escalation. Both countries don’t want to go to war. From that point, it is good development that has taken place”.
He quickly added that there is lack of trust and India will have to remain alert and cannot let its guard down.
“The fact is that after the face-off, we have revised our policy. Today there is much greater emphasis on the competition part,” he said. “So we are prepared. It is not only at the military level but also the economic level. At the strategic level, we have taken other actions such as the Quad, strategic cooperation with other like-minded parties. That has taken place and is a major revision of our policy.”
Modi govt not taking anything lying down
Talking about the current government, the former Army chief said, “The other thing that I have noticed with the present Prime Minister and the set up is that today we are not taking things lying down. Even if we are surprised, whether it was Uri, Pulwama, something on Eastern border, we are now sending a message that we will take action against you.”
Explaining further, he said that the Uri attack was followed by surgical strikes and the Pulwama blast was followed by the Balakot strikes.
“It (Balakot) was a very strong message that was sent. What has happened in Wastern Ladakh, I think we have been able to send a strong message to China that please don’t take us for granted,” he said. “We are not ready to accept any encroachment even in disputed areas. There is a change that has taken place in the last 5-6 years.”
Asked how he would rate Modi government’s handling of the Ladakh intrusions, he said India has been “able to send a strong message to China, which did not happen earlier”.
“So now the Chinese know we are not going to take things for granted and they also know that we will oppose…. Even the kind of posture that we adopted during talks, I think we have been able to send a strong message,” he said. “There is a need to maintain that kind of message and posture till both sides agree to de-escalate and pullback. I think the government has handled it well. I do believe this whole government approach, all ministries participating, is what is required. And this is what won us the Kargil and I hope this is followed.”
Gen Malik also said that India acted strongly against China in the 1967 Nathu La incident as well as the Sumdorong skirmish.
“We gave a strong message then. Gradually, when things fall into political domain, there is a certain amount of compromise,” he said. “Our effort was, let us not carry on with confrontation and competition, let us focus on cooperation hoping it will give peace and tranquility. So that is how things were being done in earlier days and sometimes these strategic people will think we are following a policy of appeasement, more than what was needed.”
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