With China certain, proposes measures to manage it

“Can give China access to Indian ports, if it accommodates our core interests”

By Ajai Shukla

A new report on national security that the Congress Party released on Sunday in Delhi provides an insight into how key relationships with China and Pakistan will be managed if a Congress-led government comes to power next month. “Future strategic rivalry between China and India is a certainty, and a successful trading partnership cannot overcome the reality of this competition,” says the report, titled “India’s National Security Strategy” and authored by Lieutenant General DS Hooda, former army commander in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

To break the deadlock in border talks, the report suggests: “Ongoing border talks are achieving no major breakthroughs and focus of negotiations must shift to accurately defining the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This too is a complicated task but if successful, will go a long way in preventing the occurrence of (extended patrol clashes) like Depsang, Chumar, and Dokalam (sic).”

In fact, Beijing has steadfastly resisted defining the LAC. It has dragged its feet even on the preliminary step of exchanging maps marked with each side’s perception of the LAC’s alignment. The report cites areas of cooperation with China, including shared development goals, increased trade and common environmental concerns. It proposes that, depending upon China’s “willingness to show an understanding of our core interests”, India could someday “offer access to China through Indian ports [to the Indian Ocean].”

This would constitute a major reversal of New Delhi’s current unwillingness to participate in, or even discuss, the Belt and Road Initiative with Beijing. On Pakistan, the report appears to back the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s tough line, stating: “The events following the Pulwama bombing have established new redlines”, and that “India must be prepared for unilateral, limited military actions against terror groups in Pakistan.”

However, discussing the report after its release, Congress leader P Chidambaram dismissed the “drum beating and chest thumping” that had come to characterize all discussions about Pakistan. “War is not an option. Anyone who says otherwise is misleading the Indian people. We build strong armies not to win a war but to avoid a war,” he said.

Chidambaram said the war-talk that one hears in Delhi is “far removed from the radar of rural India.” He said: “There are limits to our economic capacity and that has to be carefully apportioned between defence of India and development of the people.” While not ruling out talks with Islamabad, Chidambaram said: “We must find a way to normalise relations with Pakistan. If we need to change behaviour of Pakistan we need to change our behaviour towards them.”

Asked what changes he would propose, Chidambaram admitted “We have tried pretty much everything, but that does not mean we do not go on trying.” He said the two sides had already come close to solutions on the Sir Creek and Siachen disputes, while the “most difficult” J&K dispute could be tackled at the end. On Afghanistan, the Congress will continue New Delhi’s unbending opposition to the Taliban, even though the US and Russia are now in dialogue with the insurgent group. “India has always supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of peace and reconciliation… but must not compromise on its position and get drawn into supporting the Taliban,” says Hooda’s report.

To tackled the J&K insurgency, Hooda argued for simultaneously addressing its two distinct “centres of gravity”: the Pakistan sponsored dimension and internal Kashmiri alienation. “We have had separate military and political strategies. We need a combined and comprehensive politico-military strategy. There must be a well-crafted information campaign [to overcome the] feeling in Kashmir that the state is at war with its own people,” said Hooda.

Asked whether the NDA government had never communicated a political objective to the army in Kashmir, Hooda said: “We have never had a clear political objective, and if there was one, it has not been transmitted to the troops on the ground.”

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