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A strike corps on the China border was overdue. Now, push for settlement of the boundary dispute
The government's approval of the army's plans to raise a mountain strike corps on the border with China has not come a day too soon. Exaggerated political fears in the UPA about provoking China, apart from real financial concerns, had delayed the decision for too long. The latest move, which involves raising 50,000 additional troops at a cost of nearly Rs 65,000 crore spread over a few years, was ultimately unavoidable. There has been a significant shift of military balance in favour of China on the long and contested northern frontier over the last decade. The national security consequences of China's rapid defence modernisation, in general, and its dramatic transformation of the civil and military infrastructure in Tibet have been staring New Delhi in the face. India had no option but to respond, irrespective of what China might say.
When deployed, the strike corps should go some distance in narrowing the current gap between the Indian and Chinese military capabilities on the Tibetan border. But the credibility of the ministry of defence on implementing decisions is deeply suspect. Many years ago, Delhi had decided to upgrade its transport infrastructure on the China frontier. But the Border Roads Organisation, supervised by the MoD, has been woefully behind schedule. The current inordinate delay in the procurement of new weapons systems during Defence Minister A.K. Antony's tenure and acute budgetary pressures raise questions on the pace of raising the strike corps.
Assuming that the current government and the next will overcome these difficulties, Delhi must necessarily match its military effort to balance China with a robust diplomacy to maintain peace and tranquillity on the Sino-Indian frontier. The logic of restoring the military balance and the importance of effective border management are two sides of the same coin. The current phase of military asymmetry makes India rather vulnerable to aggressive Chinese actions on the border, including bold incursions like the one we saw in Depsang during April and May. Additional confidence-building measures are not enough, however, to deal with the mounting Chinese military challenge on the border. The answer lies in finding an early settlement of the longstanding boundary dispute. Delhi can't afford to let Beijing push the root cause of the new competitive military dynamic on to the back burner.