Tensions are rising, high up on the roof of the world. India and China are contesting an unresolved nightmare in the world’s tallest theater of war. New Delhi has accused Chinese border guards of making a 10km incursion into Indian territory and setting up camp. Beijing has responded by stating that it has not violated any borders and that the guards are simply on a routine patrol.
Boundary violations, whether they be intentional or accidental, are the order of the day along the 4,000km border that winds its way between the Karakorum and the Himalayas, through perilous terrain and without a clear demarcation. The extreme altitude makes any exercise in sovereignty prohibitively difficult. Nevertheless, India’s reaction this time has been sharper than in the past. The Indian government has asked China to pull back its troops, and has declared that it is “ready to take every measure protect their interests.” A military contingent will probably be sent to Ladakh, the contested area, but it may be physically impossible to determine who is right. The area is practically uninhabited, with only a few military garrisons and some Tibetan monasteries, 8,000 meters up on the perennial mountain glaciers. And yet it is one of the most contested territories in the entire world.
India has fought numerous wars for these territories, and the partition of Kashmir with India has still not been accepted. The conflict between India and Pakistan finds its point of highest friction in these border disputes, still hot after the first war broke out in 1947. But India found its most powerful enemy in1962, when the People’s Army defeated the troops of Nehru and conquered land (also along the border to the east of Nepal) that India still lays claim to today.
The nascent developing economy was stunted then, and possibly forever. The Chinese victory relegated India to underdevelopment for many long years, and it prevented her from becoming the herald of emerging nations. Since then, the tension has been on hold, but it has not evaporated. A few Himalayan passes have been opened to allow the trade of medicine and blankets, a token gesture towards economic integration. China has become India’s biggest trading partner, but the military and political strife has only been set aside, and left unresolved. That a border incident has occurred is hardly surprising, but any escalation certainly would be. The dust will hopefully settle soon, but in the meantime it has confirmed that 50 years is not time enough to heal the wounds of conflict between two fiercely nationalist countries.