By agreeing to go to China on 9 May, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who himself announced his date of visit to China, has in a way given China a long handle. The Chinese will treat it as a licence to stay put where they are – 10 km inside Indian territory in the Depsang area of Ladakh.
As a corollary to the Khurshid announcement, one can expect many more Chinese incursions in the Depsang area in the coming days as the Chinese will have to provide food and other logistics to their 40-odd soldiers who have pitched their tents on Indian soil. The new incursions will be even more serious as they will inevitably be heli-borne operations. Indeed, there have been reports that Chinese helicopters have para-dropped food articles for their soldiers in Depsang and propaganda pamphlets for the consumption of Indians.
The question is: did Khurshid or his officials indicate a pre-condition to his China visit? Did they tell the Chinese through diplomatic channels that he will visit them only if they end their incursion into Ladakh first? If not, why not? There are no answers to these nagging, but vital, questions.
The immediate implication of Khurshid’s visit to China is that the platoon-strong Chinese troops will continue to be on Indian soil for another fortnight at least. Khurshid, the MEA and the UPA government would have done a great service to the country if they had ensured that the Indian land is vacated forthwith.
As there is nothing to suggest that the Indian government has obtained any guarantees to that effect. In this writer’s opinion it projects a poor picture of India – a self-styled emerging superpower cowering before an actual superpower.
It is important to note that Li Keqiang, the new Chinese Premier who took over on 15 March 2013, was also tipped to visit India. Though the two sides have not yet announced dates for his visit, diplomatic circles hinted that he could land in New Delhi on 20 May. Two questions arise from this.
One, if at all Khurshid had to announce a date for visit to China, why he could not ensure that the Chinese side also simultaneously announced the date of Li’s India visit? This may perhaps have happened if Khurshid had not jumped the gun and unilaterally announced his own visit. By doing so Khurshid has denied India a balancing opportunity to India.
Two, did Khurshid obtain any guarantees from the Chinese that their incursion will be ended while he is on the Chinese soil? The answer to this question, in this writer’s view, is an emphatic 'no'. That is because the Chinese are past-masters in the art of diplomacy by other means. They respect power and accord the necessary dignity to the other side if they find the other side on a strong footing.
The Chinese will have to end their incursion, sooner or later. But the question is: how soon will the ‘sooner’ be and how late the ‘later’ be?
Now China has all the trump cards up its sleeve. It will decide when to call off its incursion in Ladakh. It may like to do so just before Li’s proposed India visit, if that visit takes place at all. Much will depend now on how Khurshid plays Chinese Checkers during his 9 May China visit.
Equally worrying is the fact it has been 10 days since the dragon landed in Ladakh but the UPA government has not taken Parliament into confidence even though a parliament session is on.
This speaks volumes for the opposition parties as well. They too have been busy in trying to score brownie points over the government in parliament on petty political issues whereas all-important national security issues do not form their agenda in parliament.
Army Chief General Bikram Singh has briefed Defence Minister AK Antony a little while ago about the current status of the Chinese incursion. The UPA government must take parliament immediately into confidence on the issue. The opposition parties will be failing in their national duties if they they are unable to force the government to make a statement in parliament, preferably by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself.
After all, it is up to us whether we allow the Chinese to rub our noses in dirt. Their 10-km-deep incursion is still very much in place and there are no guarantees that it won’t be beefed up or the Chinese won’t open more such theatres in the same or other areas. If India allows this festering sore, it might well become a soft or mini-Kargil in the near future.
The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic affairs analyst who can be reached at email@example.com.
Updated Date: Apr 26, 2013 19:24:10 IST