The Chinese word for crisis, “wei-chi”, encapsulates ancient Confucian wisdom by combining two expressions signifying danger and opportunity. The present stand-off at Dolam can indeed be converted into an opportunity to project resolve and concurrently redress operational hollowness. The issue needs to be analysed in a balanced manner devoid of half-baked scare mongering and conjuring strategic meaning in tactical deployment and rotation of troops. The current hype validates the old axiom, “the wide availability of very shallow knowledge leads to illusion of profound understanding”. Wei-chi construct would need to be built on three parameters – crisis dynamics, response strategy and opportunities for the future.
While the current crisis is indeed serious, yet the battle indicators discount possibility of a full blown war, as there are no signs of a massive build up, an essential pre-requisite in the mountains. At best, the Chinese could resort to a limited, localised skirmish, that too if they decide to cross the threshold of absolute irrationality. With the impending onset of harsh winters, campaigning window will close in two months. The biggest danger is Chinese incursion just before the end of campaigning season in a different area, where they enjoy tactical advantage, unlike Dolam.
Another potent threat is cyber bullying manifesting in targeting of critical cyber infrastructure. No holds barred psy ops coupled with media and lawfare has already been unleashed. Lawfare is a Chinese speciality based on convenient amnesia and selective recall of treaties combined with imaginative cartography. Probable aim is to influence and scare excitable general populace, who in turn, can force the Government into a Kandhar type of capitulation.
Our field commanders and troops need to be complimented for the robust manner in which they have articulated the response on ground despite myriad challenges of high altitude, rugged terrain and climate. The Chinese seem to have painted themselves in a corner but the onus for this rests entirely on them. On the contrary, we have tried our very best to provide an honourable exit window starting with keeping the incident under wraps for two weeks and a mature reaction to shrill Chinese propaganda. The only thing that can be stated in their defence is that they are habituated to being served a heady brew of abject surrender by one and all, the most recent by ASEAN countries adopting much diluted non-legally binding negotiating framework for South China Sea code. In contrast, our resolute and determined response at Doka La has indeed surprised them. It is hoped that better sense prevails and all three sides agree to maintain status quo ante and resolve Tri-junction issue on negotiating table and certainly not through Dozers.
Like Kargil, post de-escalation, there will be a temptation to lapse back to ‘all is well’ syndrome but prudence demands a focused action plan to make up for our hollowness through additional allocation of 20,000 Crore. Such packages entail fast track procedures and emergency purchases through empowered bodies. There is a need for liberalised enabling provisions and safeguards to avoid Coffin gate type of scams which derailed capability building after Kargil.
Most importantly, we need to create a stalemating capability at tactical level and generate multiple quid-pro-quo options to ensure over-all strategic stalemate. Chinese have vulnerabilities and our field commanders have contingency plans, need is to invest in these, hone them and operational freedom for timely bold execution. Even if Chinese make initial gains, our limited counter moves will mean a serious loss of face for them but all this is best left to operational commanders and certainly should not be played out as computerised war games on TV channels. There is a need to prioritise capability building to concentrate on surveillance, helicopters, UAVs, light tanks, cyber hardening and high altitude gear. It will be prudent to cater to the unlikely (at least in near term) and worst case contingency of Dragon acquiring a foothold on Jompheri. There are multiple defence lines along Jal Dhaka approach and within Siliguri corridor, which need to be further hardened. A tailor made HQ with earmarked troops is the need of hour for the corridor.
On a strategic plane, we should reduce the salience of Siliguri corridor by strengthening alternate connectivities like Sittwe-Kaladan multi-modal project and a friendship transit corridor through Bangladesh. Present impasse once again underscores the importance of ‘Act East’ policy and relevance of enhanced focus on relationship with smaller neighbours. It is important that conflicts simmering in North East, specially Naga imbroglio and Gorkhaland are resolved on priority basis to reduce maneuvering space for mischief by Chinese.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.