Lt Gen Kamal Davar (Retd) Writes :
As the entire world including India battles, rather grimly, the China originated Covid-19 pandemic, another unexpected strategic challenge now confronts India. In a move which indeed surprised both the Indian political and security establishments, Chinese PLA troops last month audaciously transgressed in India’s far flung mountainous region of eastern Ladakh at four places, namely in the Pangong Tso (lake) area, the hitherto fore, uncontested Galwan Valley, and the Hot Springs area. Though both nations, have different perceptions of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since the cease-fire on 20 Nov 1962 after the India-China war, interestingly, the Chinese had refrained from any transgressions in the Galwan River valley till now.
That the face-off has continued since 5 May 2020, marked by a violent clash, in the Galwan Valley on 15/16 June 2020, engineered in a barbaric and treacherous manner by Chinese troops, has gravely aggravated matters along the LAC. Both nations have since amassed large number of troops opposite each other, with some air bases and naval assets elsewhere also on the alert. Chinese troops continue to hold onto their intrusions into the Pangong Tso (between Fingers 4 to 8) whilst the situation in the Galwan River Valley appears to be highly tense along the LAC. The Chinese, without any provocation from the Indian side, bludgeoned to death Col Santosh Babu, CO 16 Bihar, and 19 other brave hearts. Reportedly, western intelligence sources attribute around 43 fatalities among Chinese PLA troops as a result of countermeasures taken by retaliating Indian troops during this hand to hand clash.
If the tactical situation on the ground worsens or peacefully crystallizes, will be known only with the passage of time. It is indeed a matter of both concern and introspection that this armed clash has been the first violent event between the two nations in the last 45 years. From available media reports synchronised with meagre official releases, China appears to be amassing troops and mechanised equipment, artillery across some of the disputed areas. Some unconfirmed media reports also indicate some Chinese movement in Depsang in Sub Sector North near DBO.
Consequent to this fracas, lessons to be imbibed by India in the political, diplomatic and importantly, in the military domains remains an inescapable imperative. At the top of all lessons which will be analysed by the Indian government, unquestionably the foremost, should be to gauge China’s immediate and long-term strategies vis-a-vis India. It will also be prudent to recall that history is an unforgiving judge for nations and its leaders. Thus, all those sheltering behind conjured up narratives and evading harsh realities will certainly be found guilty. Equally, all those who indulge in scoring mere political brownie points over each other’s dispensations too will incur public wrath. Unity across the political spectrum is the inescapable need of the hour.
As of today, with both nations adopting extreme positions, a breakthrough to diffuse tensions can only result by intervention of the top political leadership—– an eventuality which appears currently improbable. The Wuhan and Mamallapuram spirit appear to have significantly evaporated.
Since the last many years, the Chinese, in the Ladakh region, have been treacherously creeping westwards well away from their original claim-lines. Notwithstanding five border management protocols between the two nations formalized since 1993 onwards, tensions along the un-demarcated LAC remain a festering sore. The Chinese have all along dodged successive Indian requests at the meetings of their respective Special Representatives to exchange maps, indicating each other’s claim-lines, which could subsequently be resolved between the two nations. In the Chinese playbook, ambiguity in the LAC demarcation suits their future devious agendas.
Eastern Ladakh’s strategic importance to India can never be overstated. The Chinese in adverse occupation of 38000 sq km in Ladakh’s Aksai Chin region, since the 1962 India China war, are well aware of eastern Ladakh providing depth to Indian defences along the Saltoro Ridge/ Siachen Glacier and being vital for ensuring formidability of the approaches to Leh and Kargil. Importantly, India’s newly built border road, namely the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road provides adequate capability, for defence and any offensives planned from eastern Ladakh towards the Chinese Western Highway (G 219 road) which emanates from Tibet to China’s restive Xinjiang province. Thence from Kashgar via the Khunjerab Pass commences China’s flagship project, namely the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which ultimately meandering through disputed Gilgit-Baltistan territory to Abbotabad onwards finds its way to the Gwadar Port in Baluchistan.
The CPEC is designed to be China’s lifeline for its energy supplies coming from West Asia which will enable China to overcome its “Malacca Strait dilemma”. Thus, India’s eastern Ladakh deployments foil China’s ambitions to link up its held areas in Aksai Chin with Pak occupied Gilgit-Baltistan on India’s north-west.
China’s ambitions are inspired and fueled by former Chinese Communist supremo” Mao’s five fingers” theory. Mao had visualised that Tibet was the palm and its five fingers were Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh). Current Chinese strongman President Xi Jingping, perhaps, ordains for himself the role to fulfill Mao’s dreams of an expansionist China. Thus, he is working assiduously to capture India’s eastern Ladakh.
Apart from unravelling China’s grand designs for eastern Ladakh, the Indian establishment will surely be looking at the likelihood of any intelligence failure currently by the RAW of the huge build up by China across our LAC, and the efficacy of the ITBP in policing the LAC in the Ladakh sector. Border regions, which are operationally under threat round the clock, must not have duality in responsibility and should be looked after by the Army. Paramilitaries and central police are best employed for internal security operations.
The current grave threat to India’s security has to be tackled at the international level also and Indian diplomacy will be at test synergizing global opinion against China’s perfidy. India’s strategic partner, the U.S., will have to display a meaningful commitment to India’s security interests. India needs to conceive and organise an Asian security architecture with friendly nations who are also wary of the Dragon’s ambitions. The QUAD structure should be given due fillip by the US, Japan, Australia and India. It could also take into its fold nations like Viet Nam, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.
Importantly, India needs to take an overview of its entire trade relationships where the Chinese enjoy an over US 60 billion dollars deficit over India. This is the opportune time to re-energies the “Make in India” programmes and become self-reliant in manufacturing whatever India needs, including in the sphere of weaponry, aircraft, ammunition and other defence needs.
The coming weeks will indeed be a testing time for India’s resolve and the ability of our Armed Forces to confront not only China’s revisionist expansionism but the collusive threat from it and its vassal state Pakistan. The time for reckoning for India is now unmistakably on the horizon. Let us show the world our mettle.
Lt Gen Kamal Davar (Retd) has been GOC of the entire Ladakh sector and later raised India’s Defence Intelligence Agency.
Article uploaded on 25-06-2020
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.