India, it’s Neighbours and Their Romance With Incursion Attempts

The Wagah Border Photo: Stefan Krasowski/flickr CC BY 2.0

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 that morality and righteousness are sadly seldom taken in consideration in its dealing— especially when you stand a chance to further it.

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 just concluded military operation in Pampore, Jammu & Kashmir, are fresh examples.

Besides these, in 2013 two Indian soldiers were reportedly beheaded by Pakistani security personnel on the Line of Control (LoC). Later in May, the same year, India and China were midst a major standoff with China setting up camps in areas of eastern Ladhak 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 same 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.

The ‘soft handedness’ of the Indian state in all the occasions was highly criticized across the country and there were calls for tougher stand in handling the 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”.

Midst all this, the rhetoric of a ‘soft state’ always seems to haunt the country. India, since long, has been depicted as a country which succumbs to the expansionist pressures from its neighbours. We are perceived to be a nation which is ‘soft’ on the ones who threaten our sovereignty time and again— be it China or Pakistan.

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 realise 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.

Competing national interests

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 that morality and righteousness are sadly seldom taken in consideration in its dealing— especially when you stand a chance to further it. The means and methods to appropriate this may differ from country to country. But, the common element of expansion remains prevalent everywhere.

If suppose there be a situation where a territory can be merged with India, will India refuse that mergence? Yes, true that the means that we may adopt may necessarily not be armed ones. We may adopt political calculations. But the moot question is—will the expansionist vigour not be in our political veins if there be an opportunity?

Did India not adopt the same expansionist policy in 1947 to include parts of present day North East India, Hyderabad and certain other regions in its political frame? Did we not play an appeasing role towards Sikkim and Goa for its 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 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 the Parliament by tagging it to be “a land where not a blade of grass grows”, suggesting that the region was of no use and the Chinese occupation was not an issue.

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 the ones who ruled the roost. Indeed, it is a progress but should not we be ashamed that it took us so long to reach here?

Over reliance on hard power

Historically, India’s approach to handling the two neighbours has concentrated on the development of hard power. The defence sector has always been allocated the highest share in the country’s annual budget. In 2015-16 it amounted to nearly $40 billion, a 12.5 percent increase from the previous financial year. Despite this massive allocation, India is the world’s leading arms importer. There was never a serious thought to develop our indigenous capability.

Our infatuation for hard power development is premised on our faith in the ‘deterrent principle’. In simple words, the principle says that the best way to avoid a war is to empower yourself to such an extent that others automatically become weaker than you. This empowerment i.e. being equipped with sophisticated state of the art weaponry, will act as a deterrent for your potential enemies.

The 1998 nuclear test by India, was also officially conducted to act as a deterrent. Our arms procurement is factored upon what China or Pakistan has or intends to have. A by-product of the deterrent approach is, a perpetual arms race between the countries. It does prevent war in the conventional sense of the term, but also results in a never-ending environment of tension and mistrust. When this tensed environment gets a confounding assistance from media propaganda in the form of embedded journalism (something available in abundance), the possibility of an easy solution gets extinct.

The history of Indo-Pak and Sino-India relations has been a sad witness to this.

Cannot trade be a deterrent?

On the other hand, deepening of economic ties between warring parties has the potential to deter conflict. This is especially in the context of the world we are in, with highly interdependent economies. Nothing shatters a country than a wretched and plundered economy.

The destruction that an economic breakdown creates is far worse than any other, in terms of rehabilitation. Once your economic ties are so intense, your opponent will seldom dare poke his nose because the prognosis of self-destruction will loom equally large on him too.

Ironically, our trade with Pakistan is registering an increasingly downward slope and the trade deficit with China is increasing every year. In 2014-15 the deficit amounted $48.43 billion. This was an increase of 34 percent from the figure in the previous fiscal i.e. $36.21 billion.

However, this does not mean that hard power and defence infrastructure should be done away with. Hard power has its own relevance. A country always needs a well-equipped force to defend its territory. But what if this hard power can be supplemented with soft power. What if judicious investment in our soft power can help us prevent a situation where we may be forced to employ our hard power? What if our soft power can help us win our neighbours without firing a bullet? What if our soft power can help us resolve the contested border without the need of any incursion?

Would that not be a more humane strategic engagement? It need not necessarily mean compromise. You can be bold being soft. Our soft power is our strength; why not use it as one, in probably an efficient manner?

It is ironic to see that over the last six decades we have failed to capitalise upon the rich socio-cultural and historic legacy that we share with our neighbours. In these 68 years, we have largely failed to exploit the potential of our soft power. Hard power has a limited use. It can prevent conflict. It cannot solve the problem itself. Any use of coercive power results in resentment. This resentment, in turn, is always potential of inflicting violence. And thus the cycle goes on and on.

It is true that states in international politics, since ages, have been infested with the 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?