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Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Opinion | India should be better prepared in terms of securing its borders

We cannot fight with the likes of China and Pakistan until our borders are secure

It was ‘Vijay Diwas’, Victory Day, last Sunday. Exactly 21 years ago, we won a war at one of the most inaccessible terrains of the world and proved that the courage of the Indians can never be defeated. Every victory or defeat has its own particular lesson. Did the establishment in New Delhi make any use of the lessons it drew from this war?

Let us talk of Kargil, first. Its roots were embedded in the past. After Pakistan’s Siachen defeat in 1984, the then director-general of military operations of Pakistan presented a counter-action plan to General Zia-ul-Haq, the four-star general who became the President of Pakistan. The plan was for the Pakistani army to climb the peaks of Kargil in the winter and cut off the Srinagar-Leh highway. But Gen Zia put it in the cold storage, as he was engaged in Afghanistan under US leadership, against Soviet occupation. He did not want to fight on two fronts at a time.

When Gen Pervez Musharraf became army chief, he saw this old plan in a new context. The ‘Gang of Four’ that flourished under his leadership, brought out the old scheme and put it on a new pedestal. Pervez Musharraf was so sure that without even informing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he ordered soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry to march on. The operation was kept so secret that even the top officers of the air force and army were unaware of it. When India launched an airstrike to evacuate its land, the Pakistanis were shocked. The entire establishment of Pakistan disagreed with Musharraf, and the Indian response was unexpected.

They could not have countered the action of the Indian Air Force, as whatever New Delhi was doing was on its own land. Crossing the Line of Control meant full-scale war, for which they were not prepared at that time. Till then Pakistan was not even accepting that the people occupying Indian posts were its regular soldiers. Musharraf grew anxious and Nawaz Sharif was frustrated. On 4 July 1999, in this atmosphere of despair, Sharif decided to knock on the door of the White House. But the posture of US president Bill Clinton was extremely harsh. Sharif spoke of withdrawal with some conditions. Clinton said that he would not accept any conditions. As a result, the Pakistani troops had to return. After such a big misadventure Musharraf did not get anything.

Even in those days, it was being said that more important than celebrating this victory, is to learn its lesson. Our borders are vast and multifaceted. We are not ready to protect them yet. We must also remember the 1962 war with China. From July 1999 to July 2020, the United Progressive Alliance and National Democratic Alliance both ruled for 10 years each, but the border security is still not foolproof. Recent encroachments by China have opened all the old wounds, including terrorist attacks on Kargil and Mumbai. We cannot fight with China, Pakistan and the sponsors of terror until our borders are secure.

What Pakistan had done in Kargil, China did in Ladakh. His soldiers had already settled on the peaks of Kargil when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was taking his bus to Lahore with a message of friendship. The Chinese president also enjoyed Indian hospitality at Mamallapuram near Chennai on 11 October 2019, just a few months ago. Once the economic capital of the Pallava emperors, this city also traded with China in the past. It was felt that the old days are returning.

However, the devious intent of Beijing was already visible. Earlier the armies of the two countries had stood face-to-face for weeks at Doklam and even earlier in Daulat Beg Oldi, Depsang. We should also have been cautious because for many years PLA squads had been building up posts along the Line of Actual Control. Their squads were constantly conducting exercises in such inaccessible terrain. They were far ahead of us in terms of preparedness.

This time around when the Red Army encroached, it was more difficult to send them back than it was in Kargil. So far it is not clear whether they have returned or not, and how much they have retreated. Despite the assurance given by PM, Opposition parties and many retired military and diplomatic service officials are unwilling to believe it, but one thing is certain: that Xi Jinping and his army did not expect India to act so strongly. On 15 June, a number of our soldiers were martyred in Galvan and now it is also evident that the Chinese army suffered a large number of casualties. Since then, no stone has been left unturned as far as military and diplomatic negotiations go.

At the time of Kargil, Pakistan had to bear the brunt of its misadventure. It lost the sympathy of America and its other western partners. Now the same is happening with China. China is facing stiff resistance all over the world.

Like in India, China and Chinese companies are now under tough restrictions all over the world. Everywhere it is felt that the best way to stop its expansionist policies is to attack the business interests of Beijing. This is what the world community is doing. In an unprecedented move, the US even asked China to close its Consulate General in Houston within 72 hours. Is Xi, repeating the mistakes of Marshal Ayub Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or General Pervez Musharraf?

Whatever he is doing, on our part we must avoid our historical mistakes. For centuries, India has proved innocent in terms of monitoring its borders. This suicide cycle should stop now.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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