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OPINION

Sino-India War

Approaching the subject through Kashmir Angle
Z. G. Muhammad
Srinagar | Posted : Jul 17 2017 1:05AM | Updated: Jul 18 2017 11:41AM
Sino-India War
Representational Pic

A couple of days before the military standoff between India and China made shrieking headlines in newspapers and dominated the 9 PM war rooms; I had started reading ‘Choices- Inside Making of India’s Foreign Policy’ by Shivshankar Menon. The former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of India and Foreign Secretary of India in the book sounds optimistic about relations between the two countries because China is the biggest trading partner of India and the two countries are working together on many issues on the world stage’. He makes one believe that the ‘emotional baggage and trauma of 1962’ has got reconciled after the Border Peace Tranquillity Agreement of 1993. 

It seems ‘the 1993 Agreement that provides the framework for border security between the parties until a final determination is made regarding border demarcation’ has not freed the two countries of the baggage of 1962 war. Moreover, its ghosts are perniciously hovering over the two nations. On June 29, Beijing told India to learn lessons from its defeat in 1962 and stop clamoring for war, and New Delhi responded stating the India of 2017 is different from the India of 1962. Despite, Defence Minister hard posturing, it seems India is in no mood to adopt a confrontational but reconciliatory attitude towards China. It was evident at an all-party meeting of Parliament Members of Friday. The meeting was informed that Beijing was trying to gain a strategic advantage over “Chicken’s Neck” in Siliguri, West Bengal, which connects India to the rest of the Northeast. To end standoff diplomacy, “other channels” were being explored.  On the face of it, the intentions are obvious- of course, the Arnuchal Pradesh. Since I don’t have expertise in Sino-India relations, so it will be amateurish for me to say if situation flares up to a confrontation between the two countries or the 1993 Agreement brings them to the table. Nevertheless, it is the Kashmir angle in this war of words that attracted my attention and made me relook at the 1962 India-China war and its Kashmir angle.  

The leading Chinese newspaper Global Times known for articulating an official point of view analyzing present Sino-India standoff on 9 July 2017 wrote, “Even if India were requested to defend Bhutan's territory, this could only be limited to its established territory, not the disputed area. Otherwise, under India's logic, if the Pakistani government requests, a third country's army can enter the area disputed by India and Pakistan, including India-controlled Kashmir.” In the din of “Indian troops invasion of  China's Doklam area in the name of helping Bhutan,” China offered to mediate a resolution of Kashmir, which New Delhi rejected. The Kashmir angle in the present standoff is also a legacy from 1962. 

The 1962 India-China war that has emerged as a benchmark in the debate over the present standoff between the two countries also had a Kashmir angle much sharper than one at the moment. The war was decided to Beijing’s terms- “unilateral withdrawal to the line China had offered and India had refused to accept”- this line continues to be the LAC  as on date. It had taken India’s toll on defense, diplomatic and political front- many heads had rolled. The war announced the collapse of Nehru’s nonalignment policy and opened an opportunity for Washington to enter into an entente with New Delhi for containing the Communists. To grab the opportunity the US responded the whole hog to Nehru’s request for aid and arms for meeting challenges from China. India received millions of dollars as aid and most sophisticated weapons. The total swing in USA policy towards India had deeply agitated Pakistan- a traditional ally. As Abdul Sattar, former Pakistan Foreign minister writes in his magnum opus on Pakistan’s foreign policy, “Pakistan’s purpose in joining the alliance was primarily to contain Indian threat in which the US had lost interest. In this scenario, with India suffering crushing defeat and Chinese troops having a cakewalk the popular narrative in Islamabad was that Pakistan should also attack India and liberate Kashmir. This view also had support Ayub Khan’s cabinet.  Ayub Khan did not agree to it- why?  This question has been dealt in great detail by Altaf Gauhar in his book Ayub Khan- Pakistan’s First Military Ruler. For stopping Pakistan from attacking the USA also used the Kashmir card. Walter McConaughy, the US Ambassador, called on Foreign Minister, Mohammad Ali Bogra late in the night to tell him such a gesture would soften India’s attitude towards the Kashmir Dispute. The drama of confabulations and engagements that unfolded after US intervention is yet another tragic facet of Kashmir story. To address Pakistan concerns, ‘simultaneously Washington prodded India and Pakistan to deal with the Kashmir. Stephen Cohen has called it as ‘third and last US effort to resolve Kashmir Dispute.’  It was Duncan Sandy, British Common Wealth Secretary and Averell Harriman who persuaded Nehru and Ayub Khan to make a fresh start on Kashmir- causing Swaran Singh- Bhutto talks. Of course, China was a major factor for the USA initiative- it was looking for a solution that would enable India to prevent India from marching into Indian plains. One of Nehru’s confident Frank Morass tells us that ‘during the Indo-Pak talks which followed Sino-Indian conflict in 1962 an attempt was made to work ground rules for access to both India and Pakistan to the Valley of Srinagar. Though the Americans did not explicitly define their attitude, their statement suggested that while the valley should go to Pakistan, India should be guaranteed a corridor through the valley to enable it to supply to Ladakh, a frontier area by Chinese” (Witness To An Era p 218). This scenario has changed after the construction of the Leh-Manali Highway and the Rohtang Tunnel under the Rohtang Pass. Now heavy and light military weapons for Ladakh will not have to pass through the Kashmir valley.

Some serious commentators believe, ‘Beijing now, as in 1962, has an eye for a much larger geopolitical game – its status in Asia and the world.’  The question emerges if in this geopolitical game Kashmir also gains more prominence.