Antony: “Every possible step, at all levels, to safeguard our interests.”
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st May 13
Fifteen days after discovering that a strong Chinese patrol has set up camp on territory that India claims, Defence Minister AK Antony made it clear today that India would employ force if required to safeguard Indian territorial integrity.
“The current situation is not one of our creation. However, we remain committed to a peaceful resolution of the situation, through military and diplomatic dialogue within the framework of the agreements for maintaining peace and tranquility. At the same time, I wish to emphasise that there should not be any doubt that the country remains unanimous in its commitment to take every possible step, at all levels, to safeguard our interests,” said Antony.
The defence minister was addressing his top military officials, including the army, navy and air force chiefs, at the annual meeting of the Unified Commanders Conference in New Delhi.
Later on Tuesday, Antony and the three service chiefs held a special security review meeting with National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon. Such a meeting reinforces the signal that India is evaluating options beyond dialogue and diplomacy.
This is the government’s first unambiguously tough statement since Apr 15, when New Delhi learned about the intrusion at Daulat Beg Oldi by 30-40 Chinese soldiers, who military intelligence sources believe are from a border unit of the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF).
On Saturday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated ambiguously, “We do have a plan.” But he went on to say, “We do not want to accentuate the situation. We do believe that it is possible to resolve this problem.”
Top army sources say the military has been ordered not to physically act against the Chinese border guards, or to even start building up force in anticipation of an operation to evict them. But Business Standard is aware that the army has evolved detailed contingency plans in case a decision is made to use force.
So far, the Indian reaction has come from the Indo-Tibet Border Policy (ITBP), which manages the Sino-Indian border while the regular army remains behind the front lines. The ITBP has set up its own encampment barely 100 yards from the Chinese camp.
The ministry of external affairs (MEA) has emphasized a peaceful solution from the start. In a media briefing on Apr 23, the MEA spokesperson recounted that New Delhi contacted Beijing on Apr 16, the day after the intrusion was detected, to activate a joint consultative mechanism that was set up to resolve border incidents like this one. On Apr 18, the army held a flag meeting with the PLA; the same evening, the Chinese ambassador to New Delhi was called to the MEA and conveyed India’s concerns. The two armies held a second flag meeting on Apr 23; while China has not yet responded to an India request for a third flag meeting.
The MEA is also placing faith in two high-level political meetings that lie ahead. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid will visit Beijing on May 09, while China’s new premier, Li Keqiang, is scheduled to visit New Delhi late next month.
“The government has carefully created space for diplomacy and consultation to work. But it is also working with the army to ensure that the military option is available,” says Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
[Not known at the time of going to press]
The third flag meeting was held on Tuesday near Chushul, but did not result in any breakthrough or agreement. During a three-hour discussion between military commanders, the Chinese insisted that India must dismantle certain defence works that it had constructed earlier in the Chushul sector on what China insisted was its territory.