India’s Border Disputes Need Active Management

From being defensive and reactive, India needs to be pro-active.

History has been a great teacher to India. Border disputes have been as old as the country itself, perhaps. Acknowledging the inevitability of these territorial border disputes owing to historical conditions of war, mischief and truce, and considering them as a priority has become a practice. Every government in power spends myriad amount of military forces to combat terror infiltration from Pakistan, and defend sovereign territory rights against China, Nepal and Myanmar. Territory disputes with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have been amicably resolved.

India has been battling and defending border claims from her neighbours, often resulting in sporadic tensions. Despite several occasions of an “eye for an eye” situation, just an order away from a weapon combat, India and China have spent more energy on upholding their aggression instead of downsizing it. With the other neighbour, Pakistan, it has been firstly an effort to falsify claims of territorial occupancy, while Pakistan blatantly rejects UN orders to vacate its illegal occupation of PoK. With Nepal and Myanmar, India has minor territorial disputes which do not exactly allow mistrust to dominate their diplomatic relations.

In the aftermath of the Pakistan-sponsored terror attack in Uri last year, India promised to seal the Pakistan border with invisible laser boundaries, which it eventually installed along the LOC and the International border. Terrorist infiltration through these borders was a pain for Indian security. Considering last year’s surgical strike followed by demonetization, terror groups have been assumed to have taken the back foot for a while, allowing India to bolster its border security by all means lawful.

China has never resisted undermining and disregarding its neighbours’ concerns by using trade as a diplomatic instrument. India has largely been “reactive and defensive” in addressing border claims and aggression from China, evident by the four day period it took to reply to China’s arrogant desistance from maintaining the status quo and building a road on the Doklam Plateau. The manner in which China claims historic ownership of disputed territories, grabs territories by force, and uses trade levers to abort counterclaims, has been rather ignominious. China’s continuous territory claims, either on land or in the South China Sea, make the country seem overtly insecure and immature, and at the same time smart in using its media to attack defending nations through psychological war, by demanding “unconditional submission”. It proudly uses force and military might to dislodge the claims of defending nations, and assumes natural ownership of claimed territories.

India has a $50-60 billion trade deficit with China, which can be used to suppress the intensity of China’s Doklam claims. Doklam plateau, part of Bhutan, has a strategic advantage for India as it connects the seven north-eastern states with Bhutan, and China has a natural disadvantage. India could probably pinch China with import tariffs, just as Trump threatened to arrest its trade deficit. But, since a major portion of pharmaceutical raw material, an essential service sector, comes from China, it may invite undesired consequences.

Notwithstanding, India must resurface as equally aggressive and verbally blatant when required, so as to make its position clear to China, albeit in a diplomatic manner through import duties, raising questions about its Tibet-sovereignty, its “shameless disregard” of the 1984 pact with UK for Hong Kong’s freedom, and taunting its South China Sea claims.

India must shed all inhibitions of its reactive and defensive nature, and attend to the calling of baseless claims through uncompromising dialogue, and, if needed, verbal and military aggression. Border disputes with neighbours infact presents an ardent opportunity for India to resurge in a Herculean way, more strengthened and robust.

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