Tibetans pay homage to the martyrs of the 1962 Indo-China war at the Amar Jawan memorial in Mumbai on Saturday. (Fotocorp)
New Delhi, Oct. 20: Defence minister A.K. Antony today said India’s armed forces were “confident” of dealing with any border threat as the country had come a long way since 1962, the assertion coming during the first tribute to soldiers killed in action half a century ago.
“Today, we are not the India of 1962, I would like to assure the nation. Over the years, successive governments, learning lessons from the past, strengthened our capabilities and modernised our armed forces,” Antony said this morning, shortly after a memorial service for the fallen soldiers of the war with China 50 years ago.
This was the first time the armed forces and the defence establishment were honouring the dead of the war in which the Indian forces had been routed by the Chinese.
Antony was accompanied by minister of state for defence Pallam Raju, marshal of the air force Arjan Singh, chief of army staff General Bikram Singh, chief of the naval staff Admiral D.K. Joshi and the chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne.
“We are confident the armed forces will be able to protect the border in the event of any threat. We will vigorously continue to strengthen our capabilities,” he said.
Asked why it took so long to remember the casualties of that war, the defence minister said: “This is the 50th year and we thought this is the time the whole nation must pay homage to the officers and jawans who lost their lives to protect our border.”
One of the first major firefights leading to the war broke out on October 20, 1962.
The war in the high mountains has been described by writers and participants as a “Himalayan Blunder”.
The army’s investigation into the causes and consequences of the war, authored by Lt Gen. Henderson-Brooks, is still a classified report. Antony said he would take a call on making it public.
The major lesson of the war, Antony said, was to involve all agencies in making threat assessments. “That we are doing and now we are in a position to involve armed forces, intelligence agencies and all those involved in the protection of national security — that process is much stronger,” he claimed.
The roughly 4,000km boundary with China is still disputed. India and China have evolved a mechanism to settle disputes on the border and the two sides have not fired a shot over the boundary dispute in 30 years.
Agencies quoted a state-run Chinese daily saying, in an editorial comment, that India’s “soft spot is economic, not military”.
“India has no better choice than to quickly boost its economic growth and improve people’s lives in its northeastern region,” said a column in the People’s Daily.
Ding Dang, a senior editor with the daily, wrote: “India’s military strength may help defend its border with China. But China’s influence, no matter how indirect it looks at the moment, cannot be avoided. Instead, it’s pressing on India right now.”
The column said 50 years had passed since the 1962 war. “Many young Chinese only have a vague idea of that war, but the Indians haven’t forgotten.”
It said some Indians “still worry that sometime in the future, China, with increasing military power, may retake the land that it recovered but later gave to India five decades ago”.
The writer said India “cannot understand where China’s strength lies today, and thus fails to find a way through which it can really deal with China’s influence or seek joint development”.
Chinese military arms and equipment, the column said, are apparently better than those of the Indian Army. Stressing that Beijing had increased its spending on border defence, it said China’s military growth had essentially been simultaneous with its economic development.