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How accidental was the PLA's Raki Nulla adventure?

Surya Gangadharan

Updated: July 16, 2013, 2:44 PM IST
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The Raki Nulla face off in April between Indian and Chinese troops was "accidental, not deliberately staged", is the word from the men in green in Beijing. That makes it official enough although it begs the question: How on earth does something "accidental" last all of 20 days?

High level briefings in Delhi over the course of the last week clearly indicate that there was nothing accidental about the face off. India has been told in clear terms by China's top political leadership that the PLA is seeking a role for itself in the negotiations with India on the disputed border. The PLA could probably be incorporated into the joint secretary level mechanism set up last year by both sides to resolve border incidents.

It's expected to mollify the PLA brass suspected to have triggered the Raki Nulla face off after President Xi Jinping called for early clarification of the border with India. The PLA which sees itself as the sole border security custodian, is disinclined to share its near total dominance over Tibet (as also Xinjiang and Yunnan).

One could also include here the PLA's commercial interests: Retired and serving PLA personnel are engaged in lucrative infrastructure projects in Pak Occupied Kashmir. Then there's Huawei which reportedly has deep connections with the PLA (and extensive investments in India). Presumably, any direct interface with the Indians on the border could conceivably and over time, cover other issues.

Result: The PLA is open to shifting the border meeting point at Shipki La to a more convenient location. It's also open to more border meeting points in Ladakh and elsewhere (probably Kibithu in Arunachal's Walong sector) and wants to boost the interaction between Indian and Chinese sector commanders. The Chinese have also proposed games between Indian and Chinese troops and other trust building exchanges.

A hotline is on the cards between the respective DGMOs and negotiations over the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement are moving forward. Privately, senior Indian army officers say the BDCA is a misnomer. It's more about codifying the protocol followed by troops on the ground that has been the norm for many years.

There's interesting historical background to these developments. From 1988 to 2005 the India China Joint Working Group headed by India's foreign secretary and his Chinese counterpart, did include not only the senior intelligence officers from both sides but also PLA commanders and senior Indian Army officers. That channel of direct communication was cut when the mechanism was elevated to the Special Representative (political) level. Apparently, it was a sore point not only for the PLA but also the Indian Army (which virtually controls J&K and the North east through AFSPA and a gaggle of retired generals appointed governors).

An expert level meeting is expected to take place next week in Delhi. It would be worthwhile to keep an eye on the men in green, on both sides of course.
First Published: July 16, 2013, 2:44 PM IST

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