Brig Anil Gupta
The third Corps Commander level talks held on the Indian side at Chuhsul to resolve border standoff have also ended without yielding any tangible result. Though nothing substantial was expected at the military level talks yet the hopes of “de-escalation” process to commence were being entertained but to no avail. In fact rather than de-escalating, the forces of both the nations have now begun “posturing”. Most analysts feel that it may result into in to a long-drawn haul, likely to stretch till the winters.
The Chinese leadership ostensibly has been not only stunned but rattled by the Indian response. It did not expect the Indians to challenge its hegemony but expected the Indians instead to submit meekly to the Big Bully as in the past. It is unhappy with the current Indian response and wants India to return to the old policy of appeasement. India and China have signed five agreements during 1993 to 2013 purportedly to maintain peace and tranquillity on the borders. The aim being to avoid war between the two nations. No doubt, the agreements have succeeded in their purpose but at what cost? A close scrutiny of the period under consideration would reveal that we bought peace at the cost of our national sovereignty. To my mind, the treaties were a meek surrender to the expansionist policies of China. While China continued unabated with its strategy of “walk-in at will” to alter status quo, it continued its salami-slicing technique to strengthen its territorial claims and expansionist intent, we failed to respond adequately and overlooked it under the notion of varying perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). In fact, the first cardinal mistake was done in accepting the unresolved border as a LAC that too without exchange of any marked maps. It obviously suited the evil intentions of China but we failed to read between the lines.
We were led to slumber due to false notion of “no bullets fired” leading us to believe all was well. Chinese on the other hand were creeping forward to the areas they believed to be theirs with no regard to the Indian claim.The Group of Ministers in 2001 had suggested construction of roads in the border areas for better connectivity and asserting our claims. However, till 2014 no attempt was made to improve our road network in any significant manner.
While China developed not only the road network but also the allied military infrastructure to abet its war fighting potential all along the LAC including extension of railway lines, oil pipelines and airfields apart from housing and storage facilities, we totally neglected our borders with China. Resultantly, China succeeded in creating a huge asymmetry along the entire LAC giving it the advantage of controlling the LAC and ensuring rapid build-up in case of hostilities. China is now exploiting this advantage to the hilt and preventing us from taking measures to minimise the asymmetry.
China may be even preparing to convert the LAC to LOC because of the terrain advantage it enjoys. Though Indian troops are better trained and acclimatised to fight at such super high altitude heights but it would be a logistics nightmare to maintain the troops at those heights if the posturing continues beyond winters. IA is mentally and physically prepared for this but will the Chinese soldiers be able to withstand the harshness of weather is a question for the Chinese to ponder. Meanwhile, IA meanwhile should induct more locals, Ladakhis are not only hardy but also know the terrain very well especially when covered with snow.
Ladakh Scouts should not be viewed merely as an extension of an infantry battalion but be employed as “Alpine” troops, using their advantage of being locals and trained in special skills like skiing, mountaineering and ability to live off the land. As in the “Home and Hearth” concept they should remain permanently deployed in areas close to their homes and not subjected to usual turn overs like the infantry battalions.
China also built new villages and habitation centres close to the LAC to settle the civil population close to the LAC. However, it objected vehemently to any construction or development related activities in the villages situated on the LAC on our side. We never objected to the Chinese designs but always succumbed to the overbearing demands of the Chinese army in order to appease. However, in 2016 and 2018, the new Indian leadership refused to comply with the Chinese demands and continued with construction of a lift canal in Demchok and construction of the road north of the Pangong Tso right up to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO).
While the Chinese continued to defy the provisions of the agreements at will, we did not object strongly or seek review of the agreements to prevent repeated Chinese incursions. We remained happy by adding provisions to avoid clashes but ignored the central issue of wilful salami-slicing of our territory resulting in reduction of grazing grounds and pastures for our local inhabitants in the border areas. Every time the Chinese withdrew they had a demand to which we submitted meekly. This emboldened the Chinese next time and continued till India established a new normal of challenging the Chinese at Galwan this time.
The PLA being the army of Communist Party is guided by the Political Warfare doctrine of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and is controlled by the Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission. PLA exploits fully the three instruments of Political Warfare namely the media warfare, psychological warfare and the legal warfare as a continuous process and not restricted to the period of hostilities only. The use of all these three instruments in the current standoff is very obvious and what is glaring is the pro-Chinese eco-system created by it within our borders which supplements the PLA’s effort to play mind games to subvert our national will and submit to the Chinese pressure so that the PLA can claim victory by winning without fighting. Chinese have perfected the art of “grab first and negotiate” but before negotiating create a situation of hopelessness for the adversary so that it is left with no option but to submit to the Chinese terms. Alas, on this front as well the Chinese leadership has failed this time and is irked by the firmness and resolve of its resolute leadership.
The Chinese plan to “teach India a lesson”, a brainchild of the ambitious C-in-C of its Western Theatre Command also met its waterloo at the icy heights of Galwan on the fateful night of 15/16 June. The aftereffect of that shock has been so fiery and rampant that the morale of the greenhorn Chinese soldiers is in their boots which the CCP is trying to revive by sending Martial Art trainers to teach them Unarmed Combat (UAC), a skill imbibed in Indian soldiers from the beginning of his training as a recruit and honed regularly during the subsequent training in his unit and various field exercises. It is this loss of face both domestically and globally that is compelling China to delay the de-escalation. Any hurried withdrawal of forces will further sully the Chinese image, gradual, delayed and un-noticed withdrawal suits the Chinese game plan. If China wants to test the water further and is willing to go to the extent of a war, India this time is prepared and is determined not to budge despite certain elements pulling in the opposite direction.
The current Chinese belligerence is a result of our soft-peddling the border dispute till 2014. The policy of appeasement towards China only whetted its appetite for territorial aggrandizement.
In a hard-hitting factual article titled “New twist in dispute with China. Never ignore India’s strategic interests,” Gen VP Malik, ex Chief of Army Staff (COAS), published in The Tribune dated 30 December, 2010 stated, “It is becoming obvious that India-China boundary discussions, (a) India seems to have given up its claim to POK, Shaqasgam and Aksai Chin; (b) China has knocked off almost the whole of the Western sector boundary; and (c) by reducing nearly 1600 km from its definition of border with India and questioning Indian sovereignty over J&K, it has added a new twist to the India-China boundary dispute.” He further wrote, “India, on the other hand is perceived a soft state. Our leaders and Governments, more often than not, have lacked strategic thinking. There is a sense of self-righteousness and singular faith in words without looking for underlying falsehoods and incompetence.” The last line is truly prophetic.
India somehow had kept quiet for several decades on the Aksai Chin and Shaksgam which encouraged China to move up. No mention of Aksai Chin was made in border talks till as late as 2014.
Since now India has constructed road up to DBO and operationalised/ constructed airfields in the region, China is annoyed. China is surprised as to how India is now demanding Aksai Chin as was clear in the Home Minister’s statement in the Parliament. India’s new posturing at political and diplomatic levels has rattled China which therefore decided to “teach India a lesson” militarily. What further surprised China was India’s response to military aggressiveness? India matched China brick to brick and responded to China’s military posturing in equal measure.
The recent news of Pakistan moving two divisions worth force opposite Northern Ladakh in Gilgit-Baltistan is yet another attempt by China of coercing Indian leadership by posing a threat of two-front war. Reported resurrection of Al Badr, a defunct terrorist outfit, is also part of the same ploy. But India is determined and prepared to meet the challenge.
China has to accept the blame for its current misadventure in Ladakh. Instead of doing that it continues to blame Indian Army and harp about the growing Indo-American bonhomie for the deterioration in Sino-Indian relations. In a recent article published in its mouthpiece Global Times dated 30 June, it says, “The US, in particular, is seducing India to counterbalance China and the concept of Indo-Pacific strategy is turning into a reality. For quite a number of Indian elites, they are more inclined to work with the West strategically. They believe that by joining the US camp to contain China, they are now a world power on equal footing.” An attempt to warn India to stay away from the US without realising that India reserves the option of maintaining strategic autonomy but if needed would not hesitate to seek assistance, not necessarily military, of her other friends as well. The Chinese arrogance is also evident in the same article. “No matter from history or reality, elements of India’s politics and society are fertile for growing anti-China sentiments. It is understandable that India views the 1962 Sino-Indian war as a historic humiliation. But it would be dangerous if New Delhi resents Beijing and launches anti-China waves from national education and strategic levels,” writes the Global Times.
China somehow wants India to revert to the old appeasement policy so that it can continue with its cartographic aggression without resistance. But new India is not ready to appease any more. China will have to vacate the areas where it has intruded. Nothing less than status quo as of April 2020 is acceptable to the present Indian leadership.
India wants to resolve the dispute through peaceful bilateral negotiations but would resist each and every attempt to challenge its sovereignty. India would prefer China to honour various border agreements signed by it to maintain peace and tranquillity and also revisit or modify them if needed. But if China wants war, let it be. India will not relent. Ball is entirely in China’s court.
(The author is a Jammu based veteran, political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)
Brig Anil Gupta