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Friday, September 1, 2017

a pass at 14216 feet Nathu La ~ the great Indian Soldier protecting us ...

India is “behaving like a mature power” in the Doklam standoff in the Sikkim section and making China look like an adolescent throwing a tamper tantrum, a top American defence expert has said. India and China have been locked in a face-off in the Doklam area for the last 50 days after Indian troops stopped the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from building a road in the area. Praising India’s behaviour over the matter, James R. Holmes, professor of strategy at the prestigious US Naval War College, said, “New Delhi has done things right thus far, neither backing away from the dispute nor replying in kind to Beijing’s over-the-top rhetoric.

“It is behaving as the mature power and making China look like the adolescent throwing a temper tantrum,” Holmes said.

Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling today  said its people are like "unpaid soldiers" defending the motherland and hit out at the West Bengal government for their "suffering" due to the ongoing Gorkhaland agitation.  "Sikkim's location states how strategic it is to the unity and integrity of the nation ... Our people are like unpaid soldiers defending our motherland. Unbounded peace and harmony for people living in the border states are great assets for the nation," he said unfurling the National Flag here on the occasion of Independence Day.

Yes Sikkim is far different and more strategic ~ the only Organic State is a beautiful tourist location and one has to see the cleanliness to believe that a place could be so neat and tidy.  Besides beautiful scenic spots, it also has – ‘Nathula Pass’ once a major corridor of passage between India and Tibet before it was closed in 1962. Located around 56 kms from Gangtok at an altitude of 14450 ft, the road to Nathula passes through the Tsomgo lake. It is one of the highest motorable roads in the world and is richly surrounded by alpine flora. Tourists are allowed to go close to the international border from where you can see Chinese soldiers at a handshaking distance  on the other side of the barbed wire.

On a visit here, nearer the border, Airtel messaged ~ ‘Welcome to China, Opt for International roaming pack and enjoy unlimited free incoming calls …. ’  - brushing it aside,    Nathu La means the pass of the Listening Ear. It served as a link on the old silk route between Gangtok and Kalimpong in India and Yatung in Tibet. This is the route where China suddenly and arbitrarily stopped the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra over its differences with Bhutan over the boundary and miffed with India coming to Bhutan's aid. It is at such altitude in hostile weather, our Soldiers protect us from foreign invasion, and we have to eternally remain indebted to our Jawans for protecting our motherland and making us feel happy and secure and with the freedom, we continue to utter every nonsense. 

Sikkim, the Organic State, borders China in its north and east, Bhutan in its east, Nepal in its west and West Bengal in its south. Sikkim is also located close to the Siliguri Corridor near Bangladesh. Sikkim is the least populous and second smallest among the Indian states. A part of the Eastern Himalaya, Sikkim is notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates, as well as being a host to Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India and third highest on Earth. Sikkim's capital and largest city is Gangtok. The Kingdom of Sikkim was founded on the Silk Road by the Namgyal dynasty in the 17th century. It was ruled by a Buddhist priest-king known as the Chogyal. It became a princely state of British India in 1890. After 1947, Sikkim continued its protectorate status with the republic of India. It enjoyed the highest literacy rate and per capita income among Himalayan states. In 1975, the Indian military deposed the Sikkimese monarchy. A referendum in 1975 led to Sikkim joining India as its 22nd state.

Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital  is located in the eastern Himalayan range, at an elevation of 1,650 m (5,410 ft). The town's population of 100,000 belongs to different ethnicities such as Nepalis, Lepchas and Bhutia. Nestled within higher peaks of the Himalaya and enjoying a year-round mild temperate climate, Gangtok is at the centre of Sikkim's tourism industry.

The Nathula Pass on the Indo-China border in the state of Sikkim is a strategically important location for the Indian Army. Blocked by snow in the winters, it is one of the four Border Personnel Meeting points for the Indian and Chinese armies.  A visit to the pass at 4,310 m (14,216 ft) above mean sea level would make us gasp for breathe and realize the hardship of being there.  The 80 odd steps to the Indo-China checkpost at such altitude makes you feel the wind, velocity, chillness and difficulty that our soldiers brave daily. 

Besides, Nathu La, there  are Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh (or Lipulech) at the trisection point of Uttarakhand–India, Nepal and China. Sealed by India after the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nathu La was re-opened in 2006 following numerous bilateral trade agreements. The opening of the pass shortens the travel distance to important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region and was expected to bolster the economy of the region by playing a key role in the growing Sino-Indian trade. However, trade is limited to specific types of goods and to specific days of the week and now it sealed again with China not allowing Manasarovar pilgrims too. To me and my family it was a great experience visiting Nathu La and shaking hands with our soldiers protecting us. 

In our Country, people become military experts in opining on strategies – read this interesting report in Economic Times on Doklam [forgetting your own perspectives]

For some strange reason people in India seem to think that India is somehow on the backfoot in its latest showdown with China over the Dokalam trijunction. Some feel that should the situation continue or deteriorate, ‘strategic defiance’ may be the only option. This, however, is not the impression in Beijing. In private, the Chinese feel that they, rather than India, are caught in a bind, unable to resort to the use of force for fear of destroying the myth of nuclear deterrence, but still supremely confident that strategic defiance by India, on the other hand, will be economically and diplomatically disastrous for India.  

As a dear friend in Beijing summed it up rather rudely, “India is a dog. Whatever we do to you, you will first bark and snarl, but then accept and come back wagging your tail. The problem now is what we can do to you is also very limited.” This raises the question as to why India feels it is losing control of the situation. And second, if this idea that India will somehow finally turn on China is based on reality or plain wishful thinking.

Let us be clear about one thing — far from losing control, this has, in fact, been one of the best managed crises by India’s ministry of external affairs. India’s tone has been persistently calm, not threatening action, but sticking to its guns. And for the first time in decades, it is standing up to Chinese bullying and staring it down. The ‘losing control’ and ‘escalating crisis’ narratives seem to be emerging only from a set of strategic commentators whose window seems to be limited to Xinhua and Global Times, and completely devoid of primary research.

Having toured the area over the last seven days, there seems to be no escalation in troop numbers whatsoever. Landing in Lhasa, one could count about 12-14 Sukhoi family aircraft. And driving past the Shigatse airbase, given the difficulties of observing the tarmac, one could count between three and seven J-10 fighters. The entire Lhasa to Shigatse stretch also showed no signs of increased infantry activity, no spurt in military logistics and only some parade/TV optimised artillery lined up in Lhasa's marshalling yards along the Lhasa-Beijing railway. Clearly then, the only real ‘escalation’ that can happen is unarmed Chinese border troops coming into and squatting in Indian territory, as suggested by the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs earlier this week — a major ‘climb-down’, if one can call it that — from previous threats, which were ominous simply because of the lack of specificity.  

We also have a pattern of similar action across the South China Sea to judge China by. It has resorted to similar ‘sea grabs’ there, depending purely on the fear of the other parties to the dispute to avoid escalating the situation to fatalities. That fear simply doesn’t work with India, for the simple reason that both sides are nuclear-armed. This is particularly important as the situation thus far indicates that while India’s doctrine of deterrence may have failed on the western front (in all fairness, it was never directed against Pakistan), it has had a clear success in the east (where it was directed all along) by putting hard limits on how far China can escalate.

The diplomatic and strategic costs of escalation for China now are severe, even if Indian warheads can’t reach the Chinese eastern seaboard, taking China down several pegs equating it with rogue revisionist states like Pakistan and destroying the image of it being a more or less ‘responsible’ player on the world stage. All indicators then are that short of an extremely serious miscalculation by the Chinese leadership, the situation has plateaued. The only spikes will be verbal, and that too from the Chinese side.

Which also complicates things for the Chinese leadership when it chooses to de-escalate. It, however, seems to have realised its mistake after its first attempt to do so — claiming that India had reduced the number of troops. The furious denial by India caught it off guard with colleagues in Beijing admitting that they had miscalculated, and not factored in how this would be perceived in India domestically.

All up, we seem stuck in limbo. Escalation is not an option for China. But de-escalation also seems impossible, till public attention is shifted elsewhere. On the other hand, it is high time the Indian media also realise what the MEA and PMO seemed to have long back — that Indian strategic defiance is a non-starter.

China’s massive infusion of finished goods, such as mobile phones, are the core drivers of the Indian economy and impossible to substitute. Equally, if we choose to go against China, we might as well kiss goodbye to any chance of UN Security Council and Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) membership. In this situation, Dokalam is a win, an emphatic win, the best possible under the circumstances, marking the first serious Indian (and arguably global) pushback to Chinese salami tactics.

The writer, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra  is senior fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal. Economic Times ~ India winning Doklam

·         PS :  Visitors to Nathu La can buy a Certificate wherein one can post their photos ~ the acclaimed trophy reads :   ''Nations Have no permanent friends and foes. They only have permanent interests. It takes years to build capabilities, intentions can change anytime.''

·         Soon would post one on Harbhajan mandir at Nathu La.

Long live our Nation and long live those Jawans who protect us.  Jai Jawan, Jai Hind.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

15th Aug 2017.

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