A webinar on the recent face-off between the Indian and Chinese forces on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayan region Ladakh was organized by Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) on Tuesday August 25, 2020 in Islamabad. The webinar was moderated by Mr. Riaz Khokhar, CISS researcher. The purpose of the webinar was to discuss and deliberate upon the face-off from the Indian and Chinese perspective with a view to assessing whether it was territorial or strategic in nature. Since the face-off took place in Ladakh, part of the disputed Kashmir region, the Indian posture along the LAC carried implication for the Line of Control (LOC), which would also be taken into account.
Executive Director CISS, Amb. Ali Sarwar Naqvi initiated the discussion by stating that there is no mutually agreed border between India and China and both the countries have a different perspective on the border separating them. Therefore, there were chances of differences and dispute. Secondly, these border disputes are strategic as well due to the burgeoning US-India partnership, the Quad, and rivalry in the Indian Ocean Region. The face-off, therefore, had serious political, strategic, and military implications for the region.
Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi said that the situation became more critical for China after the August 5, due to Indian claims on Aksai Chin, road development in the Ladakh region, and other activities. He explained that it was a buffer zone on the LAC where the Indian and Chinese forces were engaged. He said that China would not be backing off from their claimed high areas and this has given some relief to Pakistan as it will be difficult for India to make ingress into Kargil and Siachen areas. He added that Pakistan will be in a good position to respond to the Indian attack in Azad Kashmir. He also mentioned Indian opposition to CPEC a Belt and Road Initiative project that ran through the area.
Mr. Ahmar Bilal Soofi, renowned International Law expert, shed light on the legal perspective of the India-China current bilateral crisis, and said that India altered the status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating of Article 370 and 35A on August 5, 2019. He said that India and China signed periodic agreements in 1993, 1996, and 2013 to manage their borders instead of making efforts to settle their borders. Therefore, the crisis was likely to happen sooner or later. Mr. Soofi highlighted that the border dispute cannot be resolved through statements and diplomatic channels but technical measures through ad-hoc expert groups. He also proposed approaching a forum like the International Court of Justice or Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) where these issues can be laid for adjudication.
Indian military and strategic expert Mr. Pravin Sawhney said that the August 5 event had cascading effects for India. Since the face-off, India is facing problems in its external relations with all its neighbors. Geopolitical implications of this event would be that the Belt and Road Initiative and CPEC would get hastened up with serious repercussions for India. According to him, this would also enhance the interoperability between Pakistan and China. He considered that space and digital Silk road are the key elements of BRI. He stated that India had been marginalized by China in its neighborhood owing to India’s ‘lack of principled engagement with its neighborhood.’ He stressed the need for India and China to engage in a principled manner to defuse the current situation.
Dr. Fazal Rahman expert on China elucidated that China takes a strategic interest in the legal and administrative status of Ladakh and got alarmed due to change in its status and the speedy development of roads in the region. The strategic nuance behind the Indian gesturing was to create multiple challenges for China. India thought that with China under pressure from the United States and India’s importance as a strategic partner for it, it would be not challenged by China on border issues and could proceed with its plans. however, China countered its moves Ladakh. He also said that it was difficult for India and China to engage diplomatically.
The webinar was attended by a large number of academic, experts, scholars, and diplomats as well as students of international affairs. The session lasted two hours.