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BDCA: A mere tactical understanding with no vision
INTRODUCTION:

Publicly it is being discussed that the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) undertaken by India and China would prevent the ugly situation along the LAC from catapulting into a full blown crisis. The BDCA is a protocol that can de-escalate tensions along the LAC through new confidence building measures. However, preventing face-offs is still not within the ambit of the BDCA. The ambiguity in certain clauses could further increase the differences of perception like the LAC itself. Thus, it is the intention that matters, no document is sufficient enough to hold back any conflict.

REACTION:

The BDCA was proposed by a PLA general way back in 2008 to ease tensions along the Line of Actual Control -the de facto border between China and India.

The idea was floated despite the fact that other mechanisms to maintain peace and tranquility along the LAC were already in place to resolve crisis, if any.

However, after the risky stand-off between the two armies in Depsang valley earlier this year, it was evident that the previous agreements are not enough and China interpreted the whole situation according to its own suitability.

Perhaps this is why the Indian government has sought to take up China’s proposal of signing a BDCA thinking it can help ease the tension. After all, it is the intention that can guarantee the future of LAC, not any document.

It will all depend on the level of interests and engagements China will have with India in future. However, the new BDCA outlines series of new CBMs like a hotline between the military headquarters, small tactical exercises, no tailing of each other’s patrols, additional border meeting points, cooperation to nab illegal activities and so on.

Separately, the two sides have also agreed on increased interactions at the political and military levels. All this sounds good but where is the long term vision to settle LAC even in near future.

Although both India and China claim that it is a more robust protocol to diffuse the escalation of tensions with more cooperative and engagement of new CBMs, the agreement seems to be ambiguous on many counts and mere a tactical political understanding.

It appears to be an interim understanding which accommodates the concerns of both parties till the time the political leadership finds a permanent solution to the larger boundary problem.

The agreement does not in any way directly target the issue of face-offs which result from the larger issue of territorial disputes and differences of perception.

Thus, the new BDCA will not prevent face-offs between the two armies along the LAC as both will continue aggressive patrolling to strengthen their claims over disputed areas.

While the first few clauses of the agreement are more or less a repetition of the previous agreements, article VII -X are vague and ambiguous. For, the article VII states that “in case a doubtful situation arises as a result of any activity by either side in the border areas where there is no common understanding of the LAC, either side has the right to seek clarification”.

This could clearly mean that either side has the right to seek only clarification, and not challenge the other’s claim on the disputed area.

Till date, China has not submitted its map of LAC claims in two crucial sectors, as the LAC is tri-furcated into total three sectors. Thus, what kind of clarification India can seek?

Although the later clauses state that both the sides would practice maximum restraint and shed all previous prejudices to their respective positions, the ambiguity still remains because both sides will continue to assert their claims irrespective.

The nature of the BDCA is also a question mark. While this is being sold as an agreement, the fact that at the end of the BDCA it is clearly stated that the agreement can be revised, amended or terminated with the consent of the two sides, means that the agreement is not eternal or completely binding on either side.

On the other hand, there is no concrete solution to the possibility that either side may violate the agreed terms. The BDCA lacks any legal status.

With elections around the corner in India, there is considerable reason to believe that the uncertainty regarding this pact will remain.

Dr Manmohan Singh has been on a glob-trotting spree before his retirement to bag as many pacts as he can to glorify his gains to count as the UPA government’s achievements.

Yet, the government signed the pact without consulting the Parliament or the Opposition, which could later turn into a thorny issue. Perhaps, China realized this and took up the opportunity.

Although India has taken a big risk by entering into a BDCA with China, it will be important to see how far two sides go from here to maintain tranquility along the LAC.

Nevertheless, India needs to step up its vigilance and look out for possible traps, while exploring strategic loopholes. India needs to be watchful about the potential misuse of the agreement in future as it will depend on how fascinatingly one can interpret if there is a change of intention.