Doka La: Get ready for every eventuality

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The 9th edition of the BRICS summit ended on September 5. The coordinated action by India and Russia, including withholding announcement of their participation in the summit till New Delhi and Beijing agreed on ‘expeditious disengagement’ at Doka La in Bhutan, ensured that Xi Jinping agreed to name and shame Pakistan Army’s (PA) proxies JeM and Lashkar-e-Toiba in the summit’s final announcement.

This may still not deter the PA from backing India-centric terrorists as is evident from the statement of its chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who has instead called on the world to “do more” against terrorism in his speech on the occasion of 52nd Army Day of Pakistan on September 6 – the day India-Pak war of 1965 began. So it’s better for New Delhi to press ahead with its old plan to get the UNSC declare JeM and LeT global terrorist organizations. This will help test People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sincerity in matters of fighting terrorism as per the BRICS declaration.

PRC’s commitment to repairing its ties with India may be further tested in Doka La. At the end of the first week of September 2017, Indian and Chinese troops stood 300 meters apart from the troubled spot. In the weeks and months ahead, they are expected to return to their pre-June 16 position

Even though Xi and Modi have agreed to leave Doka La affair behind, Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat warned the nation “as far as the northern adversary is concerned, the flexing of muscle has started. The salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of the threshold is something we have to be wary about and remain prepared for situations emerging which could gradually emerge into conflict.”
There is nothing verifiable on the ground to suggest that PRC may not be buying time. So that it can return to Indo-Tibetan borders with the PLA and its air force and navy in better shape. In this context, it may be worthwhile to record what has been happening in PRC for some time.

Even before the Doka La flare-up, Xi was seen engaged in tightening his control over the Chinese military at considerable risk. Besides neutralizing his political rivals, he has been quietly purging the top military ranks to consolidate his power over the central military commission (CMC) like Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong. At least five of the 11 CMC members may step down, including one of the Commission’s two vice chairmen.

Sweeping anti-corruption crackdowns against senior military officials are also underway. On Sept. 4, Reuters reported that Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department in the People’s Liberation Army and a strong contender for vice chairman, had been questioned on suspicion of corruption. Chinese state media made no mention of this but did confirm in late August that Fang had been replaced. If true, the investigation may deprive Fang of his chances for a vice chairmanship.

Two other members of the committee, Adm. Wu Shengli and Gen. Zhang Yang, are said to have been under investigation. These investigations have chiefly focused on personnel who were allegedly appointed by former vice chairmen and not by Xi’s allies. This has made analysts believe that the crackdown is intended to target the power networks of his potential political rivals, including two former vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, Guo Boxiong, and Xu Caihou.

The investigations, along with scheduled vacancies in the senior military ranks, will allow Xi to promote his associates to top military positions and tighten his grip on power. Reports have trickled in of Xi’s aides and allies receiving quick promotions and high-ranking appointments. Also, a discussion has surfaced about doubling the number of vice chairmen from two to four, reducing the authority held by any one of the vice chairmen and consolidating it in the hands of the Commission chairman, who would be Xi.

So Let’s wait till November-December 2017 when the results of the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party proceedings would be clear. That may be the time to figure out whether India-China equation would be “forward or backward” looking.

(By M K Shukla and Rakesh Ranjan)

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