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FRONTIER TALES

Senior Indian and Chinese officials are giving final touches to BDCA.

Written by C. Raja Mohan |
October 2, 2013 2:49:38 am

FRONTIER TALES

At their meeting in New York on Sunday,Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif decided to ask their army commanders to restore the decade-long ceasefire that is breaking down in Jammu and Kashmir. The directors general in the army headquarters in New Delhi and Rawalpindi will soon consult each other on possible new confidence-building measures (CBMs) to sustain a ceasefire agreement that had significantly brought down the levels of violence on the border.

Meanwhile,reports from Beijing this week say senior Indian and Chinese officials are giving final touches to a border defence cooperation agreement (BDCA) that will help bring predictability and stability to the long and contested frontier. The agreement might hopefully be ready for signature when Singh reaches Beijing later this month.

India’s disputed borders with Pakistan and China are very different. The line of control (LoC) with Pakistan has been clearly delineated in an agreement between Delhi and Islamabad in 1972. In contrast,Delhi and Beijing do not agree on the alignment of the line of actual control (LAC). The difference in the respective perceptions of the LAC is very large in some areas. But unlike the LoC with Pakistan,the LAC is largely peaceful.

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There is one big similarity,though,in the problems that Delhi now confronts on the two frontiers. Both have become live this year,threatening India’s engagement with Islamabad and Beijing. On the LoC,the killing of the Indian soldiers in January and August this year has undermined the already fragile peace process. Meanwhile,the Chinese intrusion into Ladakh’s Depsang valley in April this year shook Sino-Indian relations to the core.

In New York,Singh insisted that restoring peace and tranquillity on the border must precede all other business in the Indo-Pak dialogue. Sharif appears to have agreed. In Beijing,the Indian and Chinese officials agreed that stability on the disputed frontier is critical for the advancement of Sino-Indian relations.

CBM SCEPTICS

Working out specific military CBMs on the two frontiers,then,has emerged at the very top of India’s national security agenda. Given the high stakes in Delhi’s ties with Islamabad and Beijing,the military management of India’s borders is also at the front and centre of India’s diplomatic priorities.

But there are enough nitpickers in Delhi,within and outside the government,who insist that military CBMs with Pakistan and China are pointless. They argue that

the problem on the LoC is the fact that the Pakistan army continues to push infiltrators through. The Indian army,in turn,has responded vigorously to prevent the terrorist infiltration. The resulting military dynamic on the ground is indeed at the source of the new difficulties in maintaining the ceasefire. Having additional CBMs,critics would say,does not address the critical issue of cross-border terrorism.

On the China front,a similar line of argument would say the real problem is the lack of an agreement on where the LAC is. It concludes that new CBMs and standard operating procedures envisaged in the BDCA will not address the sources of the problem on the disputed border.

MILITARY DIPLOMACY

Purists in Delhi,of course,will never stop grumbling. Their analytical clarity is uncluttered by the larger political and economic imperatives facing India’s foreign policy. Pragmatists,the few that there are in the capital,must adopt a different course.

For one,they must concede publicly that effective solutions to the problems of cross-border terrorism with Pakistan are not on the horizon. Until we get there,the pragmatists must affirm,India must responsibly seek

to reduce violence on the disputed borders and prevent the escalation of every military incident into a major bilateral crisis.

Although the CBMs can’t immediately address the “root-causes” of the tensions with Pakistan and China,they expand the interface between the Indian armed forces and those of Pakistan and China,create a measure of trust,and make it easier over a period of time to resolve the underlying conflicts.

Having embarked on a substantive negotiation of military CBMs with Pakistan and China,the UPA government has some work to do at home. It needs to get the armed forces,the ministry of defence,the ministry of home and the foreign office to recognise the inter-connected nature of India’s diplomatic objectives,military strategy and border management and ensure effective coordination between the different stakeholders.

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