It is not only in Kashmir that India has land disputes with its neighbors. It also has long outstanding border disputes with China. It also keeps creating problems for tiny Nepal.
With China it fought a brief war In October 1962 and was thoroughly humbled. In October that year Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru committed the Himalayan blunder by telling his military commanders in the North Eastern Frontier Agency (now called the state of Arunachal Pradesh) to establish border posts in the Chinese territory. His forward policy backfired. The Chinese retaliated and not only pushed back the Indian troops went deep into Indian territory before unilaterally pulling back. This was a stark lesson to India to not indulge in any misadventure. The conflict with China left Nehru a broken man. He died in 1964.
Although the border dispute remains unresolved it was placed on the back burner. Now that the humiliation has been buried in the past, Indians are once again stoking fires that can cause the outbreak of military hostilities. There are several reasons for this muscle flexing. India feels more confident now because it has concluded a slew of defense pacts with the US and is now officially its strategic partner. Induction of the latest state of the art weapons is being reflected in a doctrinal shift as well. The raising of a mountain division and airbases in the North indicate a new offensive policy against China. Previously the offensive formations were all arrayed against Pakistan but now this pattern is changing to target China as well. Former Army Chief and current Chief of the Defense Staff Gen Bipin Rawat is on record saying that his country can fight a two front war with China and Pakistan against a nuclear overhang. The new Army Chief Gen Naravane has also said that it is time to move the offensive capabilities towards the North.
It is due to this new policy that there has been an increase in incidents on the Sino Indian border. In June 2017, there was a military standoff on the Doklam plateau on the strategic tri-junction with Sikkim. The Indian patrols physically interfered with the Chinese road construction there. The situation aggravated and there were fears that it could snowball into a major conflict. Better sense prevailed and India tried to defuse the situation. The secretary internal affairs Subramaiyam Jayshankar flew to Beijing to talk to his Chinese counterpart to settle the issue. Jayshankar, currently the external affairs minister speaks Mandarin and has served as India’s ambassador in China.
After Doklam there was more news of border patrols hurling stones and abuse at each other. In 2019, scuffles among border guards were reported in Pangong Lake area in eastern Ladakh that is claimed by the Chinese. This happened in September after the Modi government had revoked the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and divided into the union territories of Ladakh and Kashmir.
The latest border clash took place on Saturday, 9 May, when Indian border guards scuffled with the Chinese and tried to disrupt the construction activity at Naku La Sector at the height of 15000 ft. Fistfights and stone throwing was reported and there were minor injuries reported on each side. Indian media reported that fighter jets had been scrambled to check the activity of Chinese helicopters in the nearby border area. Naku La sector is near the strategic Nathu La crossing in the north eastern state of Sikkim. The matter was resolved by the local commanders.
At the highest level, President Xi Jinping of China has tried his best to normalise the relationship with India. He has held several summit level meetings with Modi, notable among these was the Wuhan summit of 2018. It was agreed here that all outstanding issues like border disputes would be resolved. China is also keen that India should join its Belt Road Initiative, So far India has spurned these overtures and there are clear signals that the spirit of Wuhan is fraying.
India has also shown an aggressive policy towards its tiny landlocked Himalayan neighbor Nepal. On 8 May, India’s hawkish defense minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a new shorter to reach Kailash Mansarovar. The road goes to Lipulekh Pass in Tibet, which China considers to be its integral part at the. This new road will link the pass to Dharchula, a town in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand and shorten the route for Hindu pilgrims to a religious site on the banks of the Mansoravar Lake in Tibet. The Nepalese foreign office has objected and there have been demonstrations against this unilateral action. The Nepalese Government has also rushed troops to the location to establish a border outpost.
Internally India has also adopted a hard line path approach. It is suppressing its Muslim citizens through several harsh measures. The infamous register of citizenship intends to make Muslim immigrants stateless. Muslims have been regularly lynched for alleged cow slaughter, and the corona pandemic has been blamed on the Muslims. The ultimate insult came from Dr Subramanian Swamy. On 4 April, this senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a member of India’s parliament declared that Muslims were not equal citizens since they pose a threat to the world.
Inside the disputed territory of Kashmir, the Indian Government has entered the second phase of violent repression. The first step was the imposition of the indefinite communication lock down and arrest of all leaders of the Hurryiet on 5 August 2019. Now it has gone on a killing spree. On May 8, Hizbul Mujahedeen Commander Riyaz Naikoo was killed by the forces of occupation. This is the second high level execution of a freedom fighter after young Burhan Wani in 2016. Naikoo had waged a valiant struggle for eight years before he fell.
On the Line of Control the ceasefire violations have witnessed a spike. The Indian firing has killed a number of civilians and disturbed the peace at a time when the attention of the government is diverted towards dealing with the spread of Corona virus. India has indicated to the American point person Zalmay Khalilzad that they want to be part of the Afghan negotiation process. They just don’t want to lose out on the investment that they had made on the Kabul government. There is definitely a method to the Indian madness and it calls for greater vigilance. Modi is in an aggressive mood and wants complete hegemony in the region. He has certainly taken a leaf from the Israeli aggressive annexation policy of occupying the land in the West Bank, where illegal settlements had been constructed.