RESOLVE THE IMPASSE IN LADAKH; LEST WE LOSE DEPSANG!
By Lt Gen PG Kamath (Veteran)
Even a year after Galwan, the country as a whole is still in the dark on two important questions: One; at what level the decision was taken to commit the aggression? Second; why did the Chinese aggress in Ladakh? Both are, of course, interconnected. If the aim was political, it would be taken at the highest level. As it was pre-planned, it was not accidental or impromptu aggression. The forces who ostensibly were engaged in their routine annual exercise changed the direction of their move and occupied the no man’s land. It is of no consequence to the Chinese that they had violated all the bilateral agreements between the two countries on ‘Peace and Tranquillity’ and ‘Confidence Building Measures’. What is amusing is that they have blamed India for initiating the aggression; the vigilant and patriotic PLA only reacted to save their motherland from further ingress by India? Other than the politburo of Xi; everyone knows that it is ludicrous; if not, outrageously funny! It is like a thief lamenting to the police that the lock was difficult to break open.
Prior to the aggression, apparently, there was an excellent rapport between Xi and Modi. They had had several summit meetings besides confidence-building dialogues at Ahmedabad, Wuhan, and Mamallapuram. Their chemistry was being heralded as a prelude to cement the Sino-Indian relations. Various theories have been put forward that the Chinese wanted to teach a lesson to India as they had done in 1962: Some say that it was done by an over-exuberant local commander to impress Xi to rise up in party hierarchy? Some say; it all happened accidentally due to some manoeuvre that had gone wrong on the Chinese side. Some say that the construction of the road DSDBO and the hectic pace in construction of the 430-meter Shyok bridge was the trigger? Some even say it is because of the new map that we issued of the Union Territory of Ladakh. Amidst a myriad of nebulous inputs and disparate opinions; let me come to the most plausible answer.
At What Level the Decision was Taken to Aggress?:
Some say it could be the Lanzhou Military Regional Commander? Or it could be the Western Theatre Commander? The latter’s area of responsibility covers the entire borders with India, Bhutan, Nepal, POK, Afghanistan, CARs, a small stretch of 50 Kms of Russia, and the Western border of Mongolia. Troops from Lanzhou Military Region have moved opposite Ladakh. I have also heard many experts opining that the aggression was committed at the behest of the Lanzhou Commander or the Western Theatre Commander. To my mind, it is nothing less than Xi himself. We should know that he wears four hats. He is the President of PRC, General Secretary of CPC, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and also the Commander in Chief of PLA. In addition, most of the senior Military Commanders are also office bearers in the CPC. We all know the PLA is owned by the Party and not the country. Unlike in a democracy like India where the PM seldom meets Generals; in China, they are members of the CPC. The senior Generals are comrades in arms at party meetings and confabulate directly with the politburo and possibly their Commander in Chief. It is difficult even to imagine that their Generals will wage wars with a regional power like India without the indulgence of Xi, who is already known to centralise his authority. Must have just heard how he ensured the Politburo and other senior leaders take an ‘Oath of Loyalty’ on the eve of the centenary celebrations of the founding of CPC. The concluding part of the oath; “—work hard, fight for Communism throughout my life and to be ready at all times to sacrifice my all for the party and the people and never betray the party”. Please note that the oath has nothing to do with the country but only party; amusing; isn’t it?
Such being the political structure is it possible that some trigger-happy ebullient General will take the lead to wage war at his own behest; not against Laos or occupy Whitsun Reef of Philippines but against India, which by no means would take it without a riposte.
Why was the Aggression Committed?:
Firstly; why was the aggression committed? What was the political intent? Obviously; unless the political objective is clear; no one resorts to any offensive manoeuvre; more so with a nation where mutual friendly ties have been cultivated by years of diplomatic efforts. Fully knowing that India was not a pushover and having a profiting trade with over $50 billion trade balance; still, why did the Chinese do it? The two new leaders; both Xi and Modi had taken on the mantle of their respective countries within a span of two years; destined to travel a long distance together; however, the sudden provocative act has shattered the trust. Years of patiently cultivated bond has been busted in a mindless aggression. This is what the Indians believe.
Now, let me wear the Chinese shoes and dawn Mao’s cap and think as to how they perceive the situation? India has always been a subordinate power. It has always given us our dues and has been silently yielding to our demands. Nehru was literally in awe of us and had not dared to displease us. He always appeased us and surrendered to our needs. Look at his subdued response to our annexation of Tibet and also the subsequent abstention when the UN discussed our repression of 87000 reactionary elements in Tibet in 1959. For the sake of our motherland, we had to liquidate them to help over 6 million Tibetans to embrace communism and free them from serfdom. Also, look at the way we threatened India during the Indo-Pak War of 1965. They even vacated the Jelepla Pass in Sikkim due to our threats, which we have since occupied. By our strong protests, we have curtailed the visit of important functionaries to the so-called Arunachal Pradesh, which is rightfully our territory. The Indians were even scared to build roads on the Sino – Indian Borders as they feared us. The Congress Party was at the helm for a long time and had signed an MOU with CPC in 2008. We were assured that the Congress Party would never go against the interests of China. We had facilitated it by giving secret donations to RGF, whose functionaries were big wigs in the Congress Party. Our symbiotic relations had ensured that India was always ready to accommodate our interests while framing its policies. All this has gone since the coming to power of NDA, a disparate conglomerate that will not last long.
Our infrastructure in Tibet is far better than the Indians. The terrain they need to access is tortuous and their road communication sinuous giving us a clear advantage while mobilising troops for operations. It had enabled us to creep over a period of time and change the alignment of the LAC. Even the troops who patrol the LAC; they call it ‘ITBP’ are not under their Army and are under their Home Ministry. It gives us an added advantage as the Army’s domain awareness is inadequate as the red tape which is operative is long and tedious. Till the time, we have got a cushion of ITBP between our troops and the Indian Army; we will hold the cards in our hands and the Indian Army will only be reacting. By design, they will get combat intelligence at a later time frame thus giving us a clear battle edge.
In 1962, we defeated and humiliated India in a border confrontation. Still, the bureaucrats in their Ministry of External Affairs are mortally scared of us. See, how during the height of the Ladakh crisis when the Indian Army had dared to occupy the Moldo Heights (Kailash Range), their foreign minister met Wang Yi and how we fooled him and signed the Five Point Agreement; which was nothing but reiterating the old and tired shibboleths and packed him off. There was not even a single point in the Five Points that we had not violated. We also released a joint statement stating the Indian Foreign Minister met Wang Yi and not the other way around. Where we have achieved the most was when our officials met their officials from their Foreign Ministry. Both in mid- Dec 2020 and mid- Mar 2021, we were so effective to ensure that the Indians not only withdrew from the Moldo Heights but also settled down with no follow-up meeting after the 11th round of talks between the Military Commanders. We also restricted the so-called disengagements to the friction points and the Indians caved in willingly. We were also able to keep them lulled by saying that Depsang is an old problem and it will be tackled subsequently after the present disengagements and possible de-escalation. Now, we have a lot of leverage to fool around as the only card they had, with Moldo Heights in their hands, has been neutralised. Our recent proposal that the meeting has to go down from three-star generals to two-star generals is a delaying tactic. I have no doubts the Indian Foreign Ministry will help us in wearing down their military commanders and agreeing to our requirements, like the way we brought them down from the Moldo Heights.
Look at the way that they dared to publish the new map of Ladakh audaciously including the entire Aksai Chen. As a reprisal, we ensured that the Nepal Government ignited a dormant dispute and prompted it to publish a map by misinterpreting the Kali Nadi. We have ensured that in addition to border disputes with China and Pakistan, India has to grapple with Nepal, as well.
As also, this is not the time to yield as we are already under fire from the World at large over the ‘Laboratory Leak’ of Covid Virus. We are internationally on a weak wicket at present and it is certainly not in our interest to negotiate with the Indians now. We will bide our time and resolve the issue later. After another couple of meetings, we can disengage from Goggra and Hotspur. However, we will continue to hold Depsang plains and present a fait accompli to the Indians. This will ensure that we perpetually threaten their DBO post and airfield, their route to Karakoram Pass, the Eastern Flank of Siachen, and retain the ability to interdict the DSDBO Road. As it is, thankfully their foreign ministry officials have agreed that Depsang is an old problem and have delinked it from our actions of 2020/21. We generally have a tough time tackling the Indian Generals; however, their officials of Foreign Ministry officials play ball with us. Our diplomatic coup de grace by not linking Depsang Plains with the Indian vacation of Moldo Heights (Kailash Range) will pay us long-term dividends.
The Chinese Message:
It was a political decision to commit aggression and reinvent the border dispute under the new garb of ‘1959 LAC’. It was to tell India that China is in a different league and Xi will speak to Modi on his own terms and not compare the two leaders as the GDP of China is five times that of India. It is better that India understands the differential and starts behaving accordingly. India should not nurse the notion that China and India are two great powers in Asia; it is China and China alone which is a great power and India should better reconcile with it; earlier the better! This was the message that China tried to give to India. Unfortunately, for China, the script did not go as desired and is now trying to salvage a success out of the present impasse. It is now left to us to deny it a victory and force a decision. How do we do it?
As you are reading this article the Chinese have already built additional shelters and rotated their troops in the depth and are ready for a long haul. The current impasse in Ladakh is in favour of China as they have taken what they wanted and we have let go of what we should have held on; albeit trading it with their vacation on the north bank of Pangong Tso.
The Armed Forces have done their job and the foreign ministry and the NSC have put the forces in an untenable position. Neither they are capable of pushing the Chinese for further rounds of talks nor are they willing to assert our patrolling rights in Depsang. We are also not ready to restructure and put the ITBP under the Army for better coordination; our turf wars are more important; how can the MHA relent: Whose country is it anyway?
Lastly; where do we go from here? If the Chinese are delaying talks and perpetuating the impasse; we have no option but to take a strong force to assert our patrolling rights from Y junction to PPs 10, 11, 12, and 13. In case we are obstructed, we need to use force to remove the obstruction after adequately preparing for an escalatory situation. Without taking calculated risks we cannot pursue our national interests. Ultimately all the PPs in Western Ladakh should be made into posts in the long term. Only, when China knows that we are prepared to bite the bullet, only then will it respond? The international climate being hostile to China, it would not be in a position to start outright hostilities against India. As it is, the Chinese are blaming Indians for initiating the conflict in 2020 so what is the harm in asserting our patrolling rights by using minimum force and escalating the same based on his retaliation? By perpetuating impasse, we are only falling into the Chinese game plan. If we do nothing and await their nod for further talks; let me assure you that we have lost Depsang.