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Incursion Reports ‘Hyped:IS INDIA SCARED OF CHINA?, by Prakash Nanda,23 September 2009 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 23 September 2009

Incursion Reports ‘Hyped’


By Prakash Nanda

A recent report in a national daily saying that the Government was planning action against two journalists for what it claimed was wrong reportage about Chinese firing across the border, is truly disturbing. More importantly, it raises important questions, which need to be answered by the Government. 

Over the past week, there have been a series of reports in the media about the increased military activity on the Chinese side of the border and frequent incursions into Indian territory. Some TV channels have given graphic accounts, by quoting locals in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh, of such intrusions. One such report was last month-- that the Chinese troops entered nearly 1.5 km into our territory near Mount Gya, which is recognised as the international border by both nations, and painted the word 'China' in Cantonese on boulders and rocks with a red spray paint. Before this, Chinese helicopters had violated the airspace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Chumar region in June and also heli-dropped some expired food.

However, Government efforts are on a war-footing to play down such media reports, most of which have originated from military sources. Indeed, there is a pattern. Both the civilian officials and political executives at the Centre have either denied these or sought to influence the military officials to retract their remarks and in certain cases even cancel their scheduled plans for corrective actions against Chinese intrusions.

The following paragraphs will make this pattern clear:

·         Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal has reportedly informed the Centre about possible incursions by the Chinese in his State. Quoting reports from locals in Rimkhim in Chamoli district, he said the Chinese had entered the State on September 5 and left behind biscuit packet wrappers and cigarettes. He claims to have informed both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Home Ministry and suggested setting up of a State-governed contingent for the Himalayan region on the pattern of the newly-formed coastal security force for coastal States. 

·         On August 31, while taking over as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor, told reporters: “There have been several violations and one incursion by a Chinese helicopter in past few months. It could have happened due to a navigational error but that does not justify it. It was taken up at the border personnel meet”.  

·         In fact, Gen. Kapoor had planned to visit the borders in the Leh region on September 10 and 11, but “next morning he was advised to cancel his tour, lest the military situation assumes serious proportions”, said press reports.

·         The then Navy Chief and Chairman of the Chiefs of staff Committee Suresh Mehta had too highlighted threats from China. On August 10, he said, “It is quite evident that coping with China will certainly be one of our primary challenges in the years ahead. Our trust deficit with China can never be liquidated unless our boundary problems are resolved”. And on August 17, while delivering a lecture on 'National Security Challenges: An Overview' he said, "China is in the process of consolidating its comprehensive national power and creating formidable military capabilities. Once that is done, China is likely to be more assertive on its claims, especially in the immediate neighbourhood”.

·         Apparently, on September 17, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan had convened a meeting of the China Study Group, consisting of top officials, including Cabinet Secretary, Secretaries of Defence, Home and Foreign Ministries, top officers of the Armed Forces and the Intelligence Bureau. The nation has not been told about the meeting’s outcome.

·         A day later, September 18, while addressing the Conference of Director Generals of Police in Delhi, the PM cited a “good discussion” between Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yan and NSA chief to play down these reports. “There is no reason for concern, the issue was being hyped in the media”, he said, lamenting that “the Government information system could be at fault for failing to convey that there was nothing wrong on the Chinese border, thus leading to the media hype”. He also said that the lacunae (information system) would soon be corrected.

This is precisely what happened the next day. On September 19, a Saturday and a Government holiday, a series of statements downplaying the Chinese threats emanated at special press interactions by top officials including Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, Narayanan and Gen. Kapoor:

·         In sharp contrast to what he had said on August 31, Gen. Kapoor told reporters at Chennai: “There has not been any more incursion or transgressions. As compared to last year, they are almost at the same level. So there is no cause for worry or concern. I request the media to refrain and not overplay". He also added: "The Prime Minister has made a statement yesterday that there has not been any more incursions or transgressions as compared to last year. They are almost at the same level." 

·         On her part, Nirupama Rao told reporters there has been “no significant increase in intrusions across all sections of the LAC,' when asked if the External Affairs Ministry was trying to downplay the reported incursions. “That's because there is no mutually agreed or delineated border. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for years,” she added. 'Contrary to the popular perception, the situation along the border has remained peaceful for decades…the leadership of the two countries are in constant touch….there has been a hype and a certain intensification of volume about the manner in which it has been reported.'

·         The same day, Narayanan cautioned that media "hype" could lead to "unwarranted incident or accident" that could create problems with the neighbour. He acknowledged that incursions were taking place but said there was "hardly any increase" and the situation was not "alarming". The NSA disagreed that China was trying to put pressure saying "India of 2009 is not (India) of 1962.”  In an interview to Karan Thapar on his 'Devil's Advocate' programme, aired on September 20, he said: “In terms of number of incursions, there has been hardly any increase. Occasionally inroads are a little deeper than what it might have been in the past. I don't think so that there is anything alarming about it. I think we have a good understanding about the whole issue,"

Surprisingly, all the remarks, be it from the Army Chief or the Foreign Secretary or the NSA, did not refute the fact that incursions were taking place. They all concentrated on the number, saying it was not alarming. But here three questions arise.

One, if the incursions are taking place because of the lack of clarity on the exact LAC in the border, what precisely has emerged out of the 13 rounds of border talks between two countries so far?

Second, why is it that we see reports of only Chinese incursions in the unspecified border? Why is it that one hardly comes across any Chinese complaints of Indian troops crossing over to their controlled territory?

Third, why is it that the number of intrusions is increasing with each passing year? If Brahma Chellaney, Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, is to be believed, Chinese cross-border forays nearly doubled from 140 in 2006 to 270 in 2008 and have kept that level in 2009 (with three months to go). What is of further concern is that earlier the incursions were taking pace in the northern (Leh) and eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors of the India-China border. Now these have been noticed in the otherwise peaceful central sector (Himachal, Uttarakhand and Sikkim).

Will the Manmohan Singh Government care to answer the questions? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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