Speaking to news agency IANS, India-born UK economist and politician Meghnad Desai predicted that the India-China Doklam standoff could soon spiral into a full-scale war.
India-born UK economist and politician Meghnad Desai predicted this week that India and China, currently engaged a high-stakes military standoff on the Doklam plateau near the Sikkim border, could soon come to a full-scale war.
Desai, a member of the British House of Lords (UK's equivalent of the Rajya Sabha) and a known commentator on south Asian affairs, linked the Doklam standoff to events in the South China Sea and predicted that the war would be fought in multiple theatres and would involve the United States, which, Desai said, would be on India's side.
Desai's comments came in an interview that he gave to news agency IANS's Saket Sharma. "Even today, nobody is contemplating that the whole Doklam thing could break anytime. We could be in a full scale war with China within a month. At that stage it will not be controllable. It may come as a surprise, but that is when the defence co-operation of India (with various countries) will bear fruit," Desai says in the interview.
Saying that he cannot exactly predict when and where a full-scale military conflict may break out, Desai pictured a war that would be fought on multiple fronts - from the mountains of the Himalayas to the waters of South China Sea.
"I am not a jyotisi (astrologer). I cannot say what day or date but I think at this time it is very likely that we will be in a state of full-scale war with China very soon. And mind you, on several fronts, not just Doklam. It is just one frontier, they will start from all places, across the northern Himalayas," Desai said.
Desai, notably, said that the current standoff in Doklam should not be viewed merely as a Indo-Sino face off. He went on to say that how the Doklam standoff would ultimately get resolved depends not just on negotiations between New Delhi and Beijing but on "what happens in the South China Sea".
"All things that follow now will have a lot to do with what happens in the South China Sea. The US has sent out enough signals. If there is war, it will be a US-China war, with India on the US side, in the South China Sea and in the Himalayas. This trio (India, China and the US) is a very combustible mixture right now," Desai told IANS.
Desai was also asked separately and directly whether the United States would stand with India in case a war does break out between the two nuclear-armed Asian countries. "Absolutely," the Padma Bhushan recipient said. "Ultimately, you have to understand that India cannot stand up to China without American help and support. America cannot stand up to China without Indian help. That is the symmetry in this relationship."
Expounding his assertion that India and China would soon go to war, Desai cautioned New Delhi against being complacent with judging Beijing's military capabilities, warning that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is not the Pakistani Army.
"I think, from past experience, we always assume that we are well prepared but you will be fighting one of the finest armies in the world. It is a very powerful army and I think they also have (much) training in mountain warfare," Desai said.
"So, according to me, it will be a very tough fight for India. Don't be mistaken that this will be easy. It is not Pakistan. The Pakistani Army is the same set of people. They come from the same army traditions and they have the same thinking but the Chinese are very different."
Noting that China has been unusually "nationalistic, militaristic and aggressive" over the Doklam standoff, the noted economist went on to add, "I am sure we are not told everything that is going on. But my worry is even though India will not openly become militaristic but have we got the preparedness for it? We may have things in place. I just wish and hope that we are prepared for a very tough war which may last for a long time."
For nearly 50 days now, soldiers from the Indian Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army have been positioned on the Doklam plateau, reportedly just 150 feet away from each other.
The standoff began in mid-June when Bhutanese soldiers, objecting to the PLA construction a metal road near the India-China-Bhutan trijuntion point, sought India's help to keep the Chinese at bay.
Indian soldiers responded by physically blocking the Chinese troops from proceeding with their construction. Since then, soldiers from the two armies have stayed put near the trijunction point, engaged a high-stakes but non-violent face off.
Beijing has responded belligerently to the issue, accusing India of entering Chinese territory (the area where the standoff is taking place is in fact disputed between China and Bhutan) and demanding a non-conditional withdrawal of Indian troops.
Chinese media, particularly the hawkish Global Times, have been even more hostile, sometimes bringing up India's 1962 loss to China and at other times, saying that the PLA can 'annihilate' the Indian Army.
New Delhi, on the other hand, has largely been silent except to issue firm, carefully worded statements on the issue and there is no indication of how and when the unusual standoff might end.