Former Deputy National Security Advisor (NSA) SATISH CHANDRA, a 1965 batch Indian Foreign Service officer, was the first Secretary of the National Security Council when it was set up in 1999, and later became Deputy NSA.
As a diplomat, he headed India’s High Commission to Pakistan (1995-98), and was Ambassador to the Philippines (1989- 1992). He was also India’s Permanent Representative of the UN office in Geneva from 1992 to 1995, when India had started liberalising its economy.
Besides representing India at a variety of multilateral fora including the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), WHO (World Health Organisation), ILO (International Labour Organisation), and the UN Human Rights Commission, he has also served as President of the Conference on Disarmament during his assignment in Geneva.
He spoke to VIJAY THAKUR on the recent developments along Indo-China border in Ladakh.
Q. The India-China border problem is a very old one. Of late, tension along the Indo-China border has been worsening. First it was Doklam, and now Galwan – how do you see all this?
A. There are many factors, but to my mind the major factor is a combination of two or three things. One, China is a hegemonic power – it does not accept multipolarity in Asia. And because India wants to maintain strategic autonomy in the region, it regards India as an obstacle in Asia.
There are a few more added factors. India’s deterrence capabilities in terms of comprehensive power is much less than that of China. I am not talking in terms of nuclear capabilities but in terms of comparative strength between China and India.
And the gap of deterrence capabilities between the two has increased over the years. Another main reason is that we have always been accommodative with China even when it hurt our core interests. We had not done anything when it opposed us in UN Security Council in case of India’s membership to the UN Security Council, or when it came to declaring Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
So China got used to accepting India for granted in many ways. Irrespective of political parties in power, India has always taken a softer and accommodative stand with China. It took us to the UN Security Council three times on Kashmir, and we did nothing.
Q. What is your take on the Galwan Valley clash between the Indian and Chinese troops on 15 June night that claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers? This was the worst India- China clash on the LAC in nearly half a century and happened despite various existing bilateral agreements as well as PM Modi’s major push to enhance and upgrade relations with Xi Jinping-led China.Why did it happen?
A. The Galwan Valley scuffle is a very serious issue. This is the highest number of death we have reported after the Nathu La clash in 1966.
Earlier they used to have face-off at one point at a time, but this time the faceoff has been marked by aggressive Chinese posturing along with scuffles at five or six places mainly in the Pangong Lake area, Naku La in Sikkim and most recently it was in the Galwan Valley on 15-16 June.
Actually, in the garb of 1993 agreement and the CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) agreed upon thereafter, China is encroaching our territory inch by inch for the past two decades. Now they are trying to grab more and more Indian Territory and change the ground realities of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
India had committed its first big mistake in 1993 when it accepted the concept of Line of Actual Control. Unfortunately, even after 27 years, the LAC is not defined, it is not understood clearly, and there is a great deal of ambiguity.
The LAC was never demarcated and both countries have a different impression of LAC. I think what we are seeing today was inbuilt into the mechanism of the LAC because it lacks clarity. The commitment from the Indian side that we would maintain maximum restraint and not fire was actually favouring China.
Q. How do you think we can de-escalate and defuse the situation through diplomatic and political dialogue at the highest levels?
A. We must accept the fact that the decision on the Galwan face-off was not taken locally – it must have been a top-level decision. That’s why it is a very serious issue and would affect Indo-China relations forever. It would take ages to build up similar kind of relationship again.
Personally, I am happy that the mood has changed in the government and India has taken a tough stand. It has categorically announced that Indian Army commanders can use weapons according to the situation. I went through the statements made by the Government of India on the Galwan face-off. Those were not mere rash statements.
PM’s statement on Galwan was a measured, well-considered and a firm statement. India said it wants peace, wants to deescalate the situation, but at the same time maintained that it would not compromise with its territory.
Talks are going on at various military and diplomatic levels and hopefully the issue would settle down soon.
Q. Beijing is now staking claim over Galwan Valley that New Delhi has outright dismissed.Both countries are nuclear-armed and major global powers. Going forward, what should be the roadmap for the India-China relationship?
A. The Defence Minister’s statement that Indian Army commanders can use the weapon according to the situation is an indication of what is going to be India’s future roadmap. This means the 1996 agreement of not using weapons is apparently over.
India has indirectly told its officers on the ground that the restraint of not using weapons has been lifted. But still there are many more things we need to do.
For quick action, India should give a befitting reply to the Chinese aggression along the LAC. If the military situation is not favourable at one point, then we should look for an alternate option at other places. Indian Army commanders should be allowed to take countervailing actions.
Since 1993 we have been discussing LAC, we had 22 or 23 rounds of talks but nothing happened. Let’s take the Galwan incident as an opportunity and press for the settlement of LAC issue in a time-bound manner – maybe six months… an year… or oneand- a-half years. India should categorically tell Chinese authorities that if you do not resolve the LAC issue within a specified time frame, India would not accept the concept of LAC anymore.
Q. Should we take up the Galwan face-off to international fora and expose the barbaric acts of China?
A. Yes, India should take up the violations that took place in the Galwan valley by Chinese authorities and haul it up before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Chinese Army used ‘weapons of torture’ that caused ‘superfluous and unnecessary injuries’. The present situation in Galwan valley legally qualifies as an International Armed Conflict. And as per Article 12 sub clause (II) of the UN Human Right Conventions the use of the ‘weapons of torture’ is prohibited.
Imagine they used baton with spike and iron rods with barbed wire to attack our soldiers. All this strictly violates the ‘Methods and means of warfare’ during International Armed Conflicts under Part III Section I Article 35 of the 1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
We must expose China before the world (and show) that it is not a civilised state. The world must know that it is a barbaric nation and has no respect for human rights. Further, we must develop a comprehensive strategy to handle China and should be more vocal on the way China handles Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang.
India must support their cause on international fora. We should become much more active on these issues particularly where China is committing human right violations. India should take this opportunity to further strengthen its ties with Taiwan, develop long term business association to take advantage of technological advancements of Taiwan to help improving our domestic industry.