One look at India’s map of East and North East, stresses one of the most vulnerable points for the Republic — the narrow Siliguri Corridor or the Eastern Chicken Neck, that connects seven Northeastern states to the rest of India.
If the Chinese army can take control of the Jompheri Ridge, lying just South of the disputed -Bhutan-Tibet border, in North of Doklam Plateau, they can roll down into Chumbi valley and onto Jaldhaka in North Bengal, within striking distance of the Siliguri corridor.
The worst nightmare of India’s military planners is a Chinese thrust that can cut off this corridor, by outflanking our impregnable defences on the Sikkim – Tibet Watershed, and sever the links between India and its remote Northeast.
The 1971 Bangladesh war that led to the emergence of a friendly Bangladesh and, the merger of Sikkim with India in 1975 helped India address this strategic vulnerability considerably.
But the fears remain. Though China accepted Sikkim as a part of India when it agreed to reopen the border trade through Nathu La, it rattled India by trying to push into Doklam, in 2017. Control over Doklam gives the PLA an easy access to the Jompheri Ridge and they can bypass our strong formations holding all the important passes in Sikkim-Tibet frontier — Nathu La,Cho la , Yak la , Batang La . The Chinese have a toe hold on an insignificant and miniscule portion of the watershed at Jelep La, which can be neutralized at will — and can be dealt with effectively if the conflict escalates.
The border between Sikkim and Tibet is a settled border — both India and China have ratified it. By agreeing to trade through Nathu La, China has defacto recognised Sikkim as part of India. So why shoot trouble here now?
The only explanation could be they are rattled by standpoint on the Modi government on Pakistan’s Kashmir — the Indian external affairs ministry by challenging the Pakistan Supreme Court order on elections in Gilgit-Baltistan would have upset the Chinese. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is key to China Pakistan Economic Corridor in which the Chinese have invested much funds and which provides them access to Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf.
India has stayed away from the BRI and the CPEC, because of China’s consistent efforts at outflanking and lowering India’s standing in the neighbourhood and, flooding the Indian market with cheap goods. Now if India threatens to change the ground realities in Kashmir after scrapping Art 370, claiming POK — the Chinese will react. The pinprick in Sikkim may be a prelude of much more to come. Our Military has thus to be prepared for all eventualities, as we cannot take any chances.
(Senior former military officials of Calcutta-based thinktank CENERS-K contributed to this article)Attachments area