Unilateral actions by India are destabilizing the Himalayas

India’s drive to saffronization has been slowed due to the global pandemic but its BJP led government seems more than eager to convince its pandemic hit population that, economic and health situation aside, India is on its way to greatness. Politicians want to stay relevant, Modi is no exception to it, but the problem lays to the extent one should go to attract attention. During better times Modi would have enjoyed “Howdy, Modi!” like events or attracted attention by hugging President Trump, appeasing his domestic audience by showing off his international standing. Since none of these things is possible, coupled with a falling economy and a failing COVID-19 strategy, Modi wants to indulge in military adventurism along its Himalayan borders.

The recent issue arose when India fortified its position in Ladakh disputed territory, which India included in its union territory on August 5, 2019, unilaterally. In contrast, it was a recognized disputed territory, and both countries India and China had a claim over the area. India illegally trespassed and constructed defense facilities across the border into Chinese territory in the Galwan Valley region, leaving Chinese border troops no other option but to make necessary moves in response.

In August last year, India unilaterally changed the status of Kashmir, which was a recognized disputed territory in the United Nations and the global community. India under a false hoax of an imminent threat from so-called Pakistan based terrorists unilaterally annexed Kashmir. Kashmir’s eight million-plus population was suddenly put under severe lockdowns with all sorts of connectivity to the world, cut-off. Schools and colleges were shut, tourists were ordered to leave, telephone and internet services were suspended and regional political leaders were placed under house arrest.

In Nepal, India has unilaterally built roads in the Kalapani-Lipulekh area. This area was claimed by both Nepal and India. Instead of Nepal’s repeated requests of solving the issue, India ignoring Nepal’s request built a road in the area and also showed the area as Indian Territory in its newly published maps.

How bizarre is that! In each of the instances, we see a common factor, there is a method to this madness. India has been acting unilaterally on disputed territories with three of its neighbors. India under Modi wants to benefit from the Pandemic shutdowns by gaining strategic access to disputed territories and eventually engulf them. All of this is being done under the false pretext of “the west will rescue us”. India is acting like the spoiled child which gets away with doing anything just because his dad is the school’s principal.

The problem lays with India’s gross overconfidence over its military capabilities and on the basis of these visions of self-grandeur India makes strategic miscalculations. Like in February last year, India went on like a rogue state conducting airstrikes inside Pakistan’s territory, hoping that with one airstrike India will not only establish new precedence in South-Asia but also indulge in the appeasement of the Hindu nationalist vote bank. Pakistan being under economic pressures at home and under problems in the FATF would sit quiet and accept its fate in the new norm where India calls unilateral shots. The step however backfired when not only Pakistan went for retaliatory strikes but also shot a MIG-21, capturing an Indian pilot only to be returned back to India the next day. Similarly, when Nepal protested on the construction of road linkages through disputed territory, India ignored all calls for table talks and went ahead with the construction. Indian Mob entered sovereign Nepalese territory which resulted in the killing of a person by Nepal’s Border Police. The same thing happened in Ladakh, where India was unilaterally building roads and infrastructure for pure military uses. China on several occasions tried to bring up the matter through diplomatic means, all attempts in this regard went in vain. The follow-up events are very clear, India lost 20 of its soldiers and its credibility as a responsible nation.  These unilateral misadventures have the capacity of spiraling into military conflicts in the Himalayan region. It is to be noted that the Himalayas are the water sources of the South Asian people any conflict would put unwanted environmental pressure on the region could have severe consequences on the downstream eco-system affecting some three billion people.

Moaaz Awan
Moaaz Awan
The Author is a keen China Observer and a Ph.D. Scholar at Tianjin University. His research interests include China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Belt and Road Initiative and Shanghai Cooperation Organization.