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SANDIP MITRA | 27 SEPTEMBER, 2017

Doklam: Where Politics Created A Crisis, And Diplomats Defused It

SANDIP MITRA


The entire country breathed a sigh of relief at the news of India and China withdrawing their forces from the Doklam plateau. The way the tension was rising, one wrong step could lead to a war between the two neighbours, with far reaching regional and international ramifications.

Diplomats in both New Delhi and Beijing worked tirelessly to strike a deal which, while lowering the tension, wouldn't leave too many ruffled feathers on either side. To create a problem, and whip up passion is easy. It requires quite an effort to defuse a crisis and normalise the situation.

Agreed that India of 2017 is not India of 1962. There is also no doubt that our armed forces are many times stronger than they were in the '60s. It may even be true that we are capable of confronting the enemy and defending the country simultaneously on several fronts.

Still, sanity dictates that war should be the very last option for a nation, to be considered only after all efforts for a peaceful resolution came to naught.

Thankfully, the leadership on both sides realised the gravity of the situation. They understood that it would be foolhardy to precipitate the crisis, and decided to give diplomacy a chance.

It is obvious that the hawks were told, at the highest level, to hold fire while the professionals worked to douse the flame. The outcome of that decision is there for all to see. It will be easier for the two sides now to return to the table to sort out the differences in a more congenial atmosphere.

It is a fact that an acceptable solution to the boundary problem has eluded the two sides for many years. We have occasionally seen China taking unjustified stands and ratcheting up the tension on the border. Its internal power politics and the urge to keep alive certain issues like those of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile perhaps are behind such periodic pokes and nudges.

Over the years we have learnt to live with these pinpricks, while working on increasing our capabilities, and strengthening our positions should a war be thrust upon us.

We should acknowledge, however, that the border has generally remained quiet since the signing of the 1996 agreement between the two sides. Confidence building measures taken by the two sides, and mechanisms set up to maintain peace and tranquility along the border pending a final settlement, have proved their worth.

The occasional 'intrusions' that the media on both sides report are mostly small incidents that are resolved by the commanders on the spot. Meanwhile, talks go on to straighten out the knotty border issue, complicated by geography, history, and internal compulsions of both countries.

It will take time, statesmanship, mutual understanding and patient negotiations to settle the matter to the satisfaction of the two sides. Losing patience and belligerent posturing will not hasten a solution, but can push the two neighbours to engage in armed confrontation, with unwelcome consequences for both.

We should of course be firm in defending our territorial integrity, and be ready to hit back with all our might if so required. But prudence demands that the door should always be kept open for talks, even against the gravest of provocations.

Timely resolution of the Doklam impasse has shown that when it comes to managing international relations, it is the experts who can steer the nation clear of impending pitfalls and disasters.

Sabre-rattling and muscle flexing may work in dealing with common bullies and ruffians. When dealing with a wily adversary, with its finger on the trigger, brain rather than brawn should be the weapon of preference.

Our diplomats have brought the nation back from the brink this time, and on several occasions in the past. Trained and competent for the job, in matters of foreign relations their advice must not become a cry in the wilderness, as it sadly seems to have been reduced to over the past several decades.

(The writer is retired from the Indian Foreign Service)

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