The article in Times of India about China placing their submarines in Sri Lanka is certainly huge concern and security problem for India and with Chinese submarines patrolling the strategic Palk Strait this has now turned into a National Security problem. This bold act of defiance by Sri Lanka is a clear and direct manifestation of poor oversight in our foreign policy in the last five to six years under the congress government headed by Manmohan Singh. This has occurred because the alliance headed by congress was more concerned about maintaining its alliance at the center, rather than cause rift with its partner the DMK in Tamil Nadu headed by M Karunanidhi which has led to Politics over National Security.
China first helped build ports and other infrastructures in Sri Lanka and now it has submarines docked in them and this has happened because the congress politicians had put Politics over National Security. The submarines which are right now docked in Lankan ports are first strike weapons and carry with them Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) which has the capability to hit any target with minimal or no warning. These subs are designed to stealth and when docked or allowed to patrol so close in our waters they pose a direct threat to our Navy and other important strategic military installations. If we allow the Lankans to let China use its ports and waters, we would be faced with same problems as America did in 1962 during the Cuban Missile crisis.
Now an argument could be made that the recent overture by India to its south east neighbors like Vietnam was the cause of this action from China. But even if we back out all the deals, both economic and strategic with Vietnam, what guarantees we have China will not back down and would never allow its submarines so close to India. The answer is Zero, China has no compulsion or obligation to back off. For them this is a huge victory and why would they give back this strategic advantage. They are clearly set their hearts in dominating the Indian Ocean and do not want any competition in South China Sea.
Our Navy is very strong, but our Achilles Heal has and for the time being will be a very old outdated submarine fleet. Most of our subs are no match to the advanced Chinese subs and we only have one nuclear attack submarine on lease from Russia. We do not have SLBM capability and it is still under development stage which means our strike capability is limited. Sure we have long range nuclear payload carrying capable ballistic missiles, but they are land based. The advantage of launching a ballistic missile from a submarine is tenfold compared to land based missiles because you absolutely do not get any warning of incoming attack which leaves us blind and vulnerable.
Now Sri Lanka has given us assurance that it will never allow China to use its territory or waters for military purpose, but it is not very convincing and this is all due to poor diplomacy guided by local politics. We have allowed this to happen not because China has powerful military, but our politicians are hell bent on keeping their seats in Parliament. It was very refreshing and the right way forward by the current BJP led government to actively engage our southeastern neighbors and develop more closer ties because let’s face it they need us. But what is perplexing is even after India told the Sri Lankan defense minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa brother of the current Lankan Prime Minister of its displeasure they have gone ahead let the Chinese anchor a nuclear submarine at their ports.
India had played the diplomatic game by abstaining from a UN sponsored resolution over mass human right abuses by the Lankan military against Lankan Tamils and this was just to placate them. India should have gone on to support this resolution because massive scale of Human right violation did occur and it was simple case of revenge. The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa clearly wanted to quench its lust for ravage and India abstaining was a move for both which according to logic was a face-saver. But in doing so we have allowed a nation in which we should have more influence run into the arms of our biggest security threat. One must also point out that the Pakistan’s notorious Inter Service Intelligence is running strong networks of agents to plot terror attack fashioned on the Mumbai 2009 attacks.
With so many problems emanating from Sri Lanka, India must surely use the leverage of close proximity to make the Lankans make policy correction. We need to engage them diplomatically and make them understand that their long term interest lies with India and their future is guaranteed on our national security.
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