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India’s aggressive stance The Excelsior 04 Apr 2021
Indian response to Pak’s terrorist strikes had always been meek. The nation was used to hearing the words, ‘Kadi Ninda (strong criticism)’, as the standard response by Indian politicians post any terrorist incident. Indians were equally sick of hearing national leaders complain to the world on Pak’s terrorist strikes, while taking no action themselves. The national joke was that firmest action ever taken against a terrorist strike was cancelling cricket matches with Pak.
The reason for this lopsided approach was that the nation’s leadership was held to ransom by Pakistan’s nuclear bogey and lacked trust on the armed forces to respond in full vigour. Further, governments at the centre were averse to risk taking, fearing an escalation. There was a belief that any Indian action could lead to a war which may damage India’s growing economy resulting in disastrous consequences.
This thinking was built on the view that Pak would employ its nuclear weapons at an early stage of the conflict. In addition, till recently, the world considered Indo-Pak dispute over Kashmir as the most dangerous nuclear flashpoint. Kargil was an apt display of this perception as Indian forces were prohibited by the Vajpayee government from crossing the LoC fearing Pak’s nuclear bogey.
Many nations attempted to intervene in the Kashmir dispute, including Bill Clinton. Pak possessed global support and had convinced nations that the situation in Kashmir was a local uprising and implementing the UN resolution was a global responsibility. While relations with the world improved, Indian diplomats failed to change the global narrative towards India’s viewpoint.
Likewise, India never responded in strong measure to Chinese incursions. On multiple occasions the Chinese forced the Indian government to stop developmental projects close to the LAC. A report states that in 2010, the Chinese army compelled the J and K government to even stop construction of bus sheds in Demchok, claiming it to be disputed territory. In 2012, their objections led to the local Ladakh government suspending construction of an irrigation scheme at Kuyul-Thuksey area of Nyoma block. Historically, whenever the Chinese objected, the Indian government obliged.
A few months after stopping the irrigation scheme in Nyoma, the Chinese intruded into Demchok in Apr 2013. What was the Indian response? Ajai Shukla, in an article in Apr 2013 states, ‘You (foreign minister) and the prime minister have wisely downplayed the intrusion so far; inflammatory public statements would only make a happy ending more elusive.’ He added, ‘the Indian army has fallen in line with orders from the top, refraining from a troop build-up or even tough talk that could shut the door to a face-saving de-escalation.’ The then foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, rushed to Beijing to resolve the issue. Indian response to Chinese intrusions was avoiding confrontation, seeking solution through talks, always from a point of weakness, thus handing over the initiative to them.
Roads close to the LAC were not constructed on two beliefs, firstly, these would be objected to by the Chinese and secondly, in case of war, China would benefit from Indian constructed roads. Indian approach on both active fronts were defensive, opening doors for the country to be exploited by both neighbours. This was, despite possessing armed forces with maximum experience in combat in the region. Government apathy led to India always contemplating a Pak-China collusion.
The situation has changed in recent times. The Indian response to Uri and subsequently Pulwama, despite Pakistan hiding the truth from its masses, sent forth the message that India is no longer the same. The nuclear bogey which gave Pak leverage in Kashmir was shut permanently. The global belief that Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint was erased forever, more so when Pak refused to acknowledge Indian assaults, most prominent being Balakote. India also upped the ante by responding in full vigour to any ceasefire violations along the LoC, displaying an offensive intent. Globally, India projected an image of a nation unwilling to succumb to blackmail by terrorists. This sent a clear signal to Pak.
The Chinese intrusion in Ladakh was contemplated with the premise of a soft India, seeking dialogue and wanting to avoid confrontation, as had been the norm for decades. China was prepared for a prolonged standoff to be followed by dialogue, where it could push its 1959 claim lines and alter the LAC to suit its requirement. China had also envisaged that this action would relieve pressure on Pakistan. Hence, it initially stuck to its policy of two steps forward and one step back. It had never envisaged Galwan and occupation of the Kailash Ridge. It had never visualized a different India, which would rebound and offset Chinese plans.
The Indian determination was strengthened by the decision of the army to maintain its forces in forward regions through the winters, compelling the Chinese to follow suit. While Indian forces are experienced in such deployment, it was an initiation to the Chinese on what to expect in the future. As per media reports, Chinese casualties throughout the winters was high.
This change in Indian approach sent messages across the region. It conveyed that India is not a nation which would bend and accept status quo. It will exploit its strength and display resolve to counter any attacks on its soil. It is willing to accept losses but will respond when essential. This determination put a stop to misadventures from across the border. It also resulted in offers for talks to resolve the crisis, with India discussing from a position of strength or equal standing. Possibly, the desire for talks by Pak is also a fallout of this approach. Similarly, talks with China and their pullback in Pangong Tso is due to the Indian offensive action.
Globally, India earned respect for standing upto those who attempted to act against it. The desire of the US to enhance ties with India flows from the offensive spirit displayed by the Indian government. India’s willingness to raise the level of QUAD is a display of its confidence in stopping the Chinese on its tracks. India can no longer be pushed.