De-escalation on Indo-China LAC

Kashmir Times. Dated: 7/8/2020 1:54:17 AM

Both sides need to exercise caution and engage both militarily and diplomatically to maintain peace in the region

The meltdown in India-China confrontation with an agreement to disengage from the Galwan Valley imbues some optimism but it is too early to presume that this would lead to actual de-escalation in pursuit of the status quo as it existed prior to May this year. The ice-breaking point has come at a time of acute and deepened mistrust between India and China, specially heightened by the series of incidents which witnessed casualties, at least on the Indian side. Particularly, the psychological wound of loss of 20 Indian soldiers in a hand-to-hand combat, would take some time to heal. Much will thus depend on how diplomatic channels and the process of negotiations at the ground level will work from here onwards. This requires patience and consistency on both sides. But that is not all, there is a gap in the way the leaders of the two countries have articulated the agreement of disengagement. There is no reported mention of Galwan Valley, which is being read differently in both the countries. Thirdly, in view of the vagueness with which the Line of Actual Control is defined continues to allow China to push its boundaries further by devouring a chunk of at least some of the territories claimed by India. Already, there is skepticism in India, as China has reportedly continued to claim the transgressed area along the Pangong lake in all the meetings that have led to the breaking of the stalemate. Fourthly, going by the experience of Doklam in 2017, China resumed its position soon after the agreement and continued building infrastructure that became the bone of contention in the first place. Added to all this, the Indian prime minister is also accountable to the nation for hiding the truth about the Chinese intrusions and for misleading the public with his remarks denying these, even after 20 soldiers had been killed. The positive signals emerging from the talks need to be strengthened through sustained dialogue and beginning of a process of de-escalation, which may be time-consuming itself, but caution needs to be exercised both on the borders as well as the political rhetoric.
Dialogue and negotiations are the only ways of handling such disputes in a civilized way. For India, this is a bigger necessity in view of the differential military and economic status with China. Neither war, nor insulating India economically from China, its biggest trade partner, are in Indian interests. Yet, the Indian government cannot get off the hook by allowing China to alter the border status quo and by ignoring the skirmishes that led to the deaths of 20 soldiers in a country where politics is foregrounded in the military doctrine and territorial integrity. Buoyed by the bloodletting cries for salvaging Indian prestige by military action or boycotting Chinese goods, a nagging opposition nailing the present government for its diplomatic failures, its timid silence and other challenges on the home front, posited by economic mess and widening communal cleavages, the Indian government is left with no other pragmatic option. So far so good. But it needs to be reinforced that any aggressive posturing against China would compel India to gravitate towards America and mark the transition of India from being the founder of Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War era to becoming a pliable in the hands of the super-power, which is no stranger to extracting its pound of flesh. Besides, America's interests in Afghanistan require it to continue playing footsie with Pakistan, which shares a congruous and porous border with Afghanistan. Both India and China have thus shown maturity. It is hoped that this beginning made reaches its logical conclusion without another misadventure.



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