Lt Gen Rajan Bakhshi, PVSM, UYSM (Retd) Writes :
The nation remembers the 1999 conflict with Pakistan so very vividly because the media could provide live coverage from the front line in people’s bedrooms, located hundreds of miles away. That was the technology aided service at the time. Today technology supported media coverage is identifying geographical landmarks and superimposing force levels on the satellite imagery covering the Chinese transgressions in Eastern Ladakh. With such levels of transparency in near real time reporting, not much can remain hidden for long.
One vividly remembers the time close to mid-day on 15 April 2013, when I was informed about the Chinese transgression at Raki Nala in the Depsang sector. No sooner than we had finished with all the immediate military counter measures and reporting drills, that we started feeling the weight and glare of the Indian media! Since the area of the transgression was located in the “No Thoroughfare” zone for civilians, media was not permitted to go beyond Leh. Many reporters who arrived at Leh, despite knowing this, had to be picked up at the airport itself and lodged in hotels. Well, this in no way mellowed their enthusiasm, zeal, and zest. Imagine, viewing the television in your office as the Corps Commander in Leh and observe the media claiming live coverage from forward areas which were placed out of bounds for them. They were showing old video clips of army convoy movement including artillery guns being staged forward etc. Surely this was news to me and my Headquarters, handling the situation!!! Well that was as far as the national coverage was concerned!
Reports on the Chinese transgression in the Pangong Tso, Galwan valley and Hot Spring areas had been confirmed. However, the reporting on the existing operational situation in the Galwan valley by our media had an enormous variation…the pendulum swing was just too wide and erratic without substantiation.
It may not be out of context to state that the Chinese are capable of starting a conflict with reasons and logic that suits them. Therefore, most are kept guessing on their motives and intentions. Whatever be their aim for the present adventure, they surely have a far bigger agenda this time around.
The standoff in 2013 for instance was localised with limited troops. There was no aggression from either side, despite soldiers from the two armies standing guard merely 50 meters apart, by day and by night at an altitude of approximately 16000 ft. above mean sea level. I would like to state with soldierly pride that our troops faired far better, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Unlike them, we never had men falling sick with cold, cough and fever. Nor did we exhibit fear of being ambushed at night, unlike their search lights which lit the sky for most part of the night! However, the bonhomie at the battalion level between us was heartening and reassuring. Surely my battalion commanders could ask for a meeting at the BPM hut at any time of the day or night and it was always honoured. I remember the call that night when something which was considered rather important at Delhi was required from the Chinese at 2.30 am. The Chinese battalion commander did honour our request with the desired urgency.
This time with the multiple transgressions, large strength of troops, weapon resources, creation of infrastructure including defence works and above all the brutal physical offensiveness that has been glaring and most disturbing. It may be prudent to deduce that this time the Chinese motive is an amalgam of military and diplomatic issues.
There have been a large number of learned individuals who have applied their minds to determine the likely Chinese intent for their present aggressiveness. Thus, a large number of military, diplomatic and geo strategic issues have been quoted by scores of commentators. Irrespective of these, we should be absolutely clear in our mind that the big bully with a straight expressionless face should not be permitted to have its way this time around. Enough is enough and we need to understand that “heart of heart “the dragon respects a strong opponent, while the weak ones are bullied at will.
There are distinct areas in Eastern Ladakh which can be exploited by the Chinese with offensive intent. All these avenues commence from the Western Highway (NH 129), located further East of the LAC. Area Sub Sector North (SSN), Daulat Beg Oldie and the Karakoram Pass are located in this sector.
The area known as the Depsang Plains is a high-altitude plateau with average height of 16000 feet, yet it is conducive for the employment of Mechanised Forces.
The area South of Depsang Plains and North of Pangong Tso is characterised by narrow ingress valleys along small rivers/ nalas which meet the Shyok. These include Galwan, Raki etc. The confluence of Galwan with Shyok is vital and needs to be held with adequate strength, failing which the Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road can get threatened by ready domination and may thus cut off the land route to SSN. Interdiction of the Sasoma-Murgo road is likely to be a distant expectation.
In the area Pangong Tso- Lukung, Fingers 1 to 8 are located on the Northern banks of the lake and the road along this bank starts from Finger 5 and runs East wards to meet the Western Highway.
Area Chushul- Dungti – Demchok
The Chinese had come with requisite preparations in the above area and now seem to have attained their tactical objectives at the Pangong Tso, leaving them with no hurry to restore status quo ante. Sirijap was lost by us in 1962, now they are claiming till Finger 5. Such nibbling of our territory has been carrying on since years.
The area North of the lake is sensitive to them due to the ingress routes coming to these areas along roads and tracks emanating from the Western Highway; an Indian presence could interdict it. This time they have fortified their defences sited on dominating Finger heights. Evicting them by using force would mean paying rather heavily for favourable results, thus the situation could well result in a new status quo/ realigned LAC. We surely seem to be in for a long haul.
The dragon has now got used to defying the laid down rules of engagement involving international protocols, thereby keeps changing its stance unilaterally, even in cases where formal negotiations and agreements had been reached. Galwan, for instance had never been disputed earlier and they are now claiming it to be theirs! It is high time that we put an end to such deplorable behaviour, unmindful of the cost.
In any case we should continue with our infrastructure development as planned. Darbuk- Shyok-DBO road is the lifeline for our troops in the SSN and must be completed soonest. Feeder roads going towards the LAC could always wait for a while. Technology to tackle permafrost has to be procured and Sasoma- Murgo axis completed. Vital road axes which are vulnerable to interdiction should be provided the requisite protection, even if certain areas have to be physically held. The criticality lies in the timely induction of our forces earmarked for SSN including mechanised forces. Building up own forces in other areas of Eastern Ladakh is not as challenging as the one for SSN.
Unified Intelligence inputs are essential for such formations, including aerial, space and ground based resources which complement the desired area coverage for timely decision making. We may need to review our operational philosophy to include the desired force levels to be maintained for physical occupation of vital areas and these should be placed on the orbat of these formations.
It may not be prudent to necessarily fight the enemy every time you encounter him. At times it may be better to exercise the Quid Pro Quo (QPQ) option. Therefore, QPQ can be undertaken in pre-selected options in Eastern Ladakh or even in the other sectors to pressure their vulnerabilities, in response to such adventurism. Considering that the Chinese are creating turbulence for many nations around the world, it may be time for a collective economic boycott which should accrue overwhelming consequences for her. This would need widespread cooperation around the globe since the Chinese economy is the second largest in the world and growing.
Finally, we must settle for status quo ante as it existed in end April 2020. Proud to notice the national unity, fervour, steadfastness, and the offensive intent. Let us not forget the political constraints and allied compulsions in a democracy as compared to the communist system of governance.
This article was first uploaded at cavalierstake.wordpress.com, the blog spot of the author.
Lt Gen Rajan Bakhshi, PVSM, UYSM (Retd) is a former commander of the Leh Corps and retired as the C-in-C of the Central Army, which oversees the Central Sector with China. He writes extensively, on matters military in his blog.
Article uploaded on 21-06-2020
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.