It is unlikely that China is going to agree to a pullback to its pre-April positions after having gained ground in the strategic Galwan Valley, scene of the killing of 20 Indian soldiers on the night of 15 June.
The reports are that the Chinese are bringing in heavy construction equipment and reinforcements in order to hold on to their strategic gains in the valley. They are unlikely to disengage, and this means we have to build military capabilities all along the line of actual control (LAC), from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
Clearly, the earlier talks between senior military commanders was not intended to de-escalate or disengage, but to give China time to bring in reinforcements and change the situation on the ground in their favour. India has been taken for a ride once more.
India needs to correct two fatal flaws in its psyche of engagement with fundamentally “greedy” powers – an idea owed to Charles Glaser and explained below – like China and Pakistan. Greedy powers want to change the status quo, not maintain it.
India as a status quo power presumes that talks and dialogue will sort out things, and that the occasional border skirmishes or fatalities are just aberrations. Not quite. These are central to the way “greedy” powers think. They want more, and peace is only on offer when they need breathing space, or when they think they can pursue their acquisitive objectives by other means.
The second flaw to address is our attention deficit disorder. If we believe that wars are just unusual “events” that need to be fought and forgotten, we are grossly mistaken when it comes to “greedy” powers.
Christine A Fair notes in her book titled Fighting To The End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War that the dispute is not about Kashmir; even if we were to gift-wrap Kashmir and hand it over to that jihadi state, its antagonism towards India will not end.
The same holds for China. It knows that neither Japan, nor Vietnam nor the Philippines or even India will ever think of going to war with it, but its hostile attitude remains.
Despite grabbing chunks of our territories in 1962 and smaller slices in other confrontations, 2020 was still waiting to happen. “Greedy” powers are never satiated by marginal changes in the status quo. They want it all – exactly as Hitler or Stalin would have wanted it.
Glaser, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, in a book titled Rational Theory of International Affairs, takes a look at what drives peaceful or aggressive behaviour on the part of states. He suggests that these depend on factors like whether a state’s policy is determined purely by security concerns or also informed by “greed” (ie, it wants to expand its territories even if it means more strife).
Material issues are next, as they determine its ability to impose a military solution on its rivals. Another determinant of a state’s willingness to negotiate a peace is whether it has understood its rivals’ motives and mental make-up.
If we consider these aspects, clearly Pakistan’s motive is to change the ground situation in Kashmir in its favour, and also create internal problems in India (whether by stoking the Khalistan movement, or creating dissension among minorities in India), so that it can pursue its security and greed objectives. But material resources to take on India are weak, and so its chosen path is terrorism and propaganda.
In the case of China, which has delusions of being the centre of the world where all acknowledge its superior status, again there is a mix of security and greed as driving factors. China is a paranoid state, and hence security is paramount both internally and externally. It is also greedy, for its rise to No 1 depends on its neighbours acknowledging it as such.
But neither India, nor Vietnam nor South Korea nor Japan will do so. This is why it preys on those who it considers weak in comparison. It tried to play this game with Vietnam in 1979, but got a bloody nose.
Now, it is trying to buy its acquiescence by allowing its supply chain to migrate to that country. It is doing the same by buying the loyalties (temporary though it may be) of Nepal and Bangladesh, not to speak of Sri Lanka.
Pakistan, of course, is a vassal without pride. Its visceral hatred for “Hindu” India makes it willing to mortgage its own soul to a nation dedicated to treat Islam as a mental illness and eradicate it within its borders.
Put simply, in both the cases of China and Pakistan, “greed”, as defined by Glaser, is a key driving force of political and military ambition. They want to change the status quo completely.
When it comes to the other two issues – material resources and what they understand about their enemies’ motives – China is clearly ahead of us on both. But both Pakistan and China are streets ahead of India in terms of understanding the Indian (ie, largely Hindu) psyche better than anybody else.
Pakistan knows that the average Hindu is less inclined to fight or ready for continuous strife. They also understand our fault-lines. They know that most Indian leaders – from Nehru to Gandhi to Vajpayee and now Modi, not to speak of the average Lutyens “intellectual” – are vulnerable to the soft praise that comes with being thought of as a benign power.
Indians and the Indian state want to be patted on the back and be loved for being a peaceful and democratic nation. Consider how happily we keel over with joy when an American or British politician merely mentions the fact that we are the “world’s largest democracy”; consider also how readily our Left-Liberal elite damn us whenever either Pakistan or China create mayhem on our borders or even inside the country.
They will, in one voice, hold us guilty: we must have done something wrong to invite their anger and aggression; we must be generous with them; we – and only we – have to make concessions to set things right. It is always us that has to make adjustments.
Both Pakistan and China know our vulnerabilities and use them to confuse us. Offers of talks are always aimed at creating internal divisions in India, even as they use the time to build their own strengths.
China, for its part, knows that time is not on its side. Both demographically and in terms of economic size, India cannot be held back. Its arrival on the big power scene can be delayed, but not denied.
In terms of population, we will cross China in a few years’ time, and in terms of economic size, will surely be a $10 trillion economy by around 2030-32 if we keep growing at 7 per cent or more a year. When we are that size, India cannot be denied a seat on the UN Security Council or blocked from the other power clubs of the world, including the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.
In terms of military resources, China is clearly ahead of us in terms of hardware and cyber power, but our combat-hardened army is clearly more than a match for it – as was evident even during the recent violence in Galwan Valley. China, according to some reports, lost more lives than India.
This implies that China needs overwhelming power to subdue us, and given the inevitable rise of India over the next decade, the window of opportunity for China to strut about the Asian, if not global, stage is just a few years.
This makes China dangerous over the next few years. It will do everything in its power to defeat, demoralise and or divert us about their true intentions.
The only lessons we now need to learn are the following: don’t trust China, don’t believe that talks will lead anywhere; don’t believe in its protestations about wanting India to rise peacefully. China and Pakistan only respect power. This is what we must acquire at any cost, first militarily and over the next decade economically.
Military power and economic power go hand in hand, but in our case the military capability will have to precede economic power. In fact, we should use the goal of raising our military capabilities to build our economy too. One helps the other, and it is not necessary that both have to rise simultaneously and with synchronicity.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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