Photo: Stefan Krasowski/flickr
The last few years have been troublesome for India in handling its 'notorious' neighbours. The recent attack on the Indian Air Force base at the border town of Pathankot in Punjab and the recently concluded military operation in Pampore (Jammu & Kashmir) are fresh examples.
Besides these, in 2013 two Indian soldiers were reportedly killed (one was beheaded) by Pakistani security personnel on the Line of Control (LoC). Later in May, the same year, India and China were embroiled in a major standoff with China setting up camps in areas of eastern Ladakh that India claims to be its sovereign territory. The standoff had almost derailed the first ever visit to India by the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
In September 2014, the the same saga was repeated days before the first visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to India. Later when the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited China in 2015, the Chinese national broadcaster CCTV, aired a map showing parts of Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory.
We are perceived to be a nation which is "soft" on those who threaten our sovereignty time and again--be it China or Pakistan.
The "soft-handedness" of the Indian State in all the occasions was highly criticized across the country and there were calls for a tougher stand towards our neighbours. Despite all attempts, no stringent action was taken by Pakistan against its soldiers responsible for the heinous crime. On the issue of Pakistan being a safe haven for terrorists operating in India, the response has historically been dismissive under the oft-repeated argument of "lack of credible evidence". On the other side, China continues to remain nonchalant about India's concerns over the international boundary and the repeated Chinese incursions.
The story neither begins nor ends with these incidents. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, since 1988, a total of 43,902 people--which includes 14,725 civilians, 6,193 security personnel and 22,984 terrorists--have been killed in the state of Jammu & Kashmir alone. Furthermore, the number of ceasefire violations is on an upward trajectory.
Every now and then the Indian dailies carry news items pertaining to some incursion attempt or clash on our borders, either with China or Pakistan. It would be perfectly unsurprising if the media in Pakistan and China carry similar stories of "Indian aggression".
Amidst all this, the rhetoric of a "soft State" always seems to haunt the country. India, since long, has been depicted as a nation which succumbs to the expansionist pressures of its neighbours. We are perceived to be a nation which is "soft" on those who threaten our sovereignty time and again--be it China or Pakistan.
Viewed from the lens of statecraft, there is nothing wrong in a country trying to expand its territory.
This background merits a discussion on the expansionist propaganda (i.e. the incursion attempts of our neighbours) and our response to the same. We as Indians complain about the repeated incursion attempts on our claimed territory by Pakistan and China. But little do we realize that the nuances of power play in international politics and statecraft do permit it. The acts of our neighbours may appear wrong to us but are justifiable in their national interest.
This does not imply that India should remain a passive spectator. To defend our territory is our sacrosanct duty. However, in doing this we cannot escape answerability under the veil of "incursion attempts". We should not blame others for our own weakness--whether on the negotiating table or on the front.
Viewed from the lens of statecraft, there is nothing wrong in a country trying to expand its territory. History stands a witness to the fact that a State will always want to expand itself as much as it can. China, Pakistan or say even India, are no exceptions. Land is too precious an entity for morality and righteousness to stand in the way of an opportunity to expand territory. The means and methods to appropriate this may differ from country to country. But, the common element of expansion remains prevalent everywhere.
Suppose there's a situation where a territory can be merged with India--will we turn down the chance?
Suppose there's a situation where a territory can be merged with India--will we turn down the chance? Yes, true, we may not adopt arms, but we may turn to political calculations instead. But the moot question is--will the expansionist vigour not be in our political veins if there is an opportunity?
Did India not adopt the same expansionist policy in 1947 to include parts of present-day Northeast India, Hyderabad and certain other regions in its political frame? Did we not play an appeasing role towards Sikkim and Goa for their inclusion in our territory? India says Goa was "liberated". The Portuguese say their territory was "invaded". Did we not serve our political ends in East Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Baluchistan?
When a territory is physically unoccupied and ambiguously marked--as the Aksai Chin region was--someone is definitely bound to occupy it. We witness these "incursion attempts" by China today because long back when the onus of guarding the said territory was on us, we chose to simply overlook it.
India chose to remain ignorant towards this land in its early years of independence, so China, in its attempt to serve its political interest encroached upon it inch by inch. After all, what else can we expect if the then Prime Minister of our country--Pt. Nehru--could afford to brush the issue aside in Parliament by tagging it as "a land where not a blade of grass grows", suggesting that the region was of no use and that the Chinese occupation was not an issue.
India chose to remain ignorant towards [Aksai Chin] in its early years of independence, so China, in its attempt to serve its political interest encroached upon it inch by inch.
It is praiseworthy that after some five decades from then, our national consciousness now forces us to debate and deliberate on an area long orphaned by those who ruled the roost. Indeed, it is progress but should not we be ashamed that it took us so long to reach here?
It is true that states in international politics, for ages, have been infested with expansionist vigour. But if the neighbours are successful in taking care of each other's interest, this vigour can surely be pacified. For India to convince its neighbours of this is no doubt an uphill task.
War is in no one's interest.
Or is it?