Author name: 
Jaideep Saikia, Terrorism and Conflict Analyst and author/editor of several books. He has served the Govt. of India as an Expert on North East India in the National Security Council Secretariat and the Govt. of Assam in security advisory capacities.

It is not immediately known whether Carl von Clausewitz (Born: 1780), the Prussian General and author of the redoubtable treatise On War was influenced by Sun Tzu, the 544 BC Chinese general and philosopher, but a close reading of both their works would seem to entail that despite the apparent differences in their philosophies pertaining to warfare, there exists certain inherent convergences. The one time director of the Prussian War College (Allgemeine Kreigschule) and military strategist has written that “(war) has certainly a grammar of its own, but its logic is not peculiar to itself.” He also states that “war is only a part of political intercourse, therefore by no means an independent thing in itself.” Such assertions resonate in Sun Tzu as well, especially when he affirms that “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” In other words, victory is better achieved by diplomacy—an important plinth in “political intercourse”—than by taking recourse to war.


The history of India-China relations is fraught with a surfeit of mistakes. Indeed, despite attempts by both the countries to bury the past and make a new beginning, indications are that misunderstandings continue to simmer over some fundamental issues. The recent unfortunate incident in Doklam has been the newest. This aspect gains importance when the fact about the Chinese having “informed” New Delhi “in advance” about its plan to build a road in the plateau is factored in. If this information is correct than the standoff in the past few weeks can be said to have been unnecessary.


The point that is being made here is that if the Chinese were bent upon constructing a motorable road that would take it right up to the Royal Bhutan Army post at the base of Zampheri Ridge – a course of action that would severely compromise the security of the tenuous 22 km Siliguri Corridor that connects the North East of India to the rest of India – then expedience should have egged Indian strategists to find a way to circumvent the problem instead of involving itself in both pointless rhetoric and tedious logistical activities such as advanced troop deployment. Indeed, if the building of the road (and consequently putting in place sophisticated infrastructure in the “base”) would pose a security threat to the “Chicken’s Neck”, the circuitous route that could (and, indeed can still be!) have been adopted was to seek out other “corridors” and routes to the North East, calling, thereby, not only the Chinese bluff, but negating the threat that the road would pose. Such pragmatic acts would not be too demanding in present times, especially as New Delhi has an able partner in Dhaka. In any event, Generals are Generals and notwithstanding the fact that both Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, too, were military men, the reality of the matter is that rhetoric seemed to have taken the front seat in the imbroglio when it could have perhaps been conveniently avoided.


The Bhutan-Sikkim junction is just one of the sectors that make up the India-China boundary. Dissonance has erupted all along the long boundary on a variety of occasions. The policy of resolving the entire boundary in on fell-swoop (which seems to be the preferred option of both New Delhi and Beijing) is just too much to hope for. The periodic intrusion driven skirmishes and standoffs have ascertained that. The accent, therefore (according to the author), must be on concentrating on stand-alone sectors or even sub-sectors, the resolution of which would provide not only a new-found confidence in both the countries, but considerably lessen the rhetoric which normally govern such confrontation. The sectors that should be chosen should be the ones that have a history of the least amount of disagreement and ones that seem to satisfy both the countries by way of the manner in which they are dug in.  


At any rate, a solution of sorts—with an eye to circuiting the status quo that prevails—was proposed by this author on 26-27 August 2014 during the course of an India-China Track II Dialogue in which he was a member of the Indian delegation. With the knowledge that neither sides would surrender ground (the instances which were quoted were that of Thagla Ridge held by the Chinese and the Namka Chu River that runs south of the Ridge held by the Indians) as well as the fact that the only solution lies in converting the “Line of Actual Control” into an International Boundary, the author took recourse to semantics. The phrase “Line of Actual Control”—even if a step is to be taken in the direction of a later resolution (even by the generation that is to come!)—must be replaced by a classification that does not ring of belligerence.


“Line of Amity” is the name that was proposed. If unyieldingness is inevitable and status quo is the only outcome of protracted negotiations, it is the author’s considered opinion that at least a change of nomenclature that resonates accommodation could herald a positive mindset change from continual and non-progressive status quo. The author also laced his plea by stating that altering the name from “Line of Actual Control” to “Line of Amity” would not have any legal implications or bring forth questions about the principle by which delineation of boundaries is normally undertaken. He hazarded this aspect despite the fact that the watershed principle is generally applicable to the Thagla Ridge which the Chinese presently occupy. The name “Line of Amity” also has the distinct possibility of bringing future leaders of both the countries to the table without the baggage of the past as well as the suspicion that has accompanied almost all India-China boundary dialogue and could well be the prerequisite for entente cordiale.


If the above proposal were to be put forward in an enumerative manner it would take the shape of the following:


1. Nehru’s “forward policy” and related events ensured the 1962 War with China.


2. Inexplicable as it is (because at least the author has been offered a plethora of theories from “Chinese were apprehensive that winter was setting in and their lines of communication would be severed” to “China merely wanted to teach India a lesson”), China announces a unilateral ceasefire in 1962 and halted their march into Indian territory and pulled back its troops. This is despite the fact that the Chinese had come all the way to Missamari.


3. In the Kameng sector, the Chinese went all the way back and perched themselves in the dominating heights of Thagla Ridge when they could have (if not in the foothills) entrenched themselves in Bomdi La or at least in Se La.


4. The author’s research informs that the McMahon Line runs almost concomitantly over the crest of the Thagla Ridge.


5. As aforesaid, the Chinese are occupying the Ridge and the Indian Army is on the Namka Chu River, actually on the southern banks of the river if one can term it that (as it is really only a nullah).


6. The above is the “as-is-where-is” basis and by all accounts nobody really has any problem with it.


7. Chinese think tank leaders that the author met in Beijing, Zhejiang and Shanghai during his visit in 2002, of course, would not relent on either Tawang or the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. But, the author is of the firm opinion that such a claim is mere posturing and in their hearts of hearts the Chinese know that parting of an inch of land by India is an impossibility. India, too, is aware that it has to content itself with what it already possesses. Indeed, in certain sectors India is in an advantageous position.


8. In such an event the “as-is-where-is” basis is the only pragmatic solution in the Kameng Sector. China sits on the Thagla Ridge (which in any case it wanted to rest on, its sensitive Le base on the other side can be overlooked if one were to get atop the Ridge). The Indian Army sits by the Namka Chu River, which becomes the demarcating line.


9. Indeed, by way of a variation such a compromise can even cater to the “Thalweg Principle” that oversees many midstream border delineation, including the border agreements on the Ussuri River, Shatt al-Arab and Danube. It would be a veritable “Ligne Mediane”. It could even pave way for a later East-West Swap that many scholars in India have in mind. The only difference would be that the Chinese claim over Arunachal Pradesh would have disappeared. The South Block should make this as its pitching point.


As Sun Tzu had stated in his The Art of War “in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” and “opportunities multiply as they are seized.”


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.