The robust and brave faceoff given to China at Galwan will send a strong message that India is able to stand up to China. However, as in 1962, this engagement with China is a wake-up call too and should herald deeper thinking about the current capabilities of India, its defence spending and the need to restart some projects that were suspended.
China’s incursion may have many reasons, but the fact is that the threat remains real. China’s words of peaceful coexistence cannot be taken at face value. India needs to increase its defence budget from 1.8% GDP to 3%. More importantly, the matter can no longer be left exclusively to the diplomats. This is a Defence Ministry issue now.
Despite the media columns and statements by some politicians, the powerful challenge given by India to what amounts to almost an ambush, showed courage, determination and the ability to see off China.
The current ongoing Sino-Indian standoff since the last five weeks peaked in the bloody violent action in the Galwan Sector on night 15/16 June 20 at Patrol Point 14 resulting in death of a Commanding Officer and 19 soldiers on Indian side and around 40 soldiers on the Chinese side. The scuffle took place and continued till mid night in around three phases, when the Indian commander approached the Chinese troops around dusk time to exhort them to pull back their troops in conformation to the decisions taken at the Corps Commander level meeting on 06 June 20.
This may be the tip of the iceberg as far as Chinese strategic goals along the Line of Control (LAC) are concerned. The escalation has also thrown the Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 between China and India to the winds. Chinese soldiers had come physically prepared to up the ante – short of opening fire by small arms.
The June 6 meeting was headed from the Indian side by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, 14 Corps Commander, an outstanding suave officer who has effectively handled sensitive situations in United Nations peacekeeping as a Brigade Commander. The Chinese delegation was headed by Maj Gen Liu Lin. A series of talks at various levels are on, after the violent incident of 15 June resulting in death of around 60 soldiers on both sides. The Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has also spoken to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on 17 June 20. It is in the interest of both China and India to de-escalate the situation and resort to high level peace talks. These fatal casualties have taken place on the LAC after a gap of 45 years.
However, the standoff this time has been different from the previous ones including the Doklam standoff in 2017 in terms of force levels used and the areas addressed. The Chinese in a diversionary action, probably to test the waters, crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in North Sikkim at Naku La on 05 May 20 and Fingers 4 West of Pangong Tso Lake. There were violent actions between the two sides but there were no fatal casualties.
One week later they came into Eastern Ladakh at four carefully selected sectors in Galwan, Hot Springs, Demchok and Fingers Area. India built an axis from Darbuk to Daulat Beg Oldie via Galwan, Gobra Post and Demchok to support the Sub Sector North last year. This axis enables the Indians to cover a distance that was being covered in two days, just in six hours. The axis was very close to the Karokaram Pass and touched the sensitivities of the Chinese as it is part of the BRI and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As the road axis passes through the Shyok and Galwan Valleys, the Chinese have crossed the LAC from the North and North East and occupied higher reaches along the axis in order to be able to interdict any movement along the axis. China has also stoked trouble for India by enticing Pakistan and Nepal in their favour.
A large number of reasons can be attributed to the ongoing standoff. There are voices of dissent within China pointing at the manner in which the COVID- 19 was handled by President Xi Jinping. Some writers even stuck their neck out to suggest that he takes the responsibility of mass scale deaths and steps down. It is felt that the recent intrusions in Ladakh and Sikkim were undertaken to divert the attention and galvanise the domestic public opinion against India.
Another reason speculated is that since US has asked WHO to carry out an honest investigation on the origin of Corona virus and India has just taken up the leadership of WHO for the next two years, China wanted to pressurise India to play ball and not go too Thoroughly into the issue to blame China for the spread of COVI-19.
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Abrogation of Article 370 and converting Ladakh into a Union territory by the Indian Government has also been objected by the Chinese as they feel New Delhi will now control this contested region directly.
Where does the violent action of 15/16 June lead to the already building tension in the sub-continent? India has political, diplomatic, economic and military options which can be grouped into the long and short term options. It is accepted fact that Indian Army has stood its ground and has challenged and checked the ongoing incursions from the Chinese side.
The protocols and methods of patrolling and domination of the LAC are very unconventional and un-military like. The Peace and Tranquility Agreement of 1993 states that neither sides will fire, cause explosions or bio-degrade the area along the LAC. The deployment of regular troops will remain in deeper territories of each but patrols can be sent from both sides to dominate their side of the LAC. There are varying perceptions of the LAC on both sides and at times the difference may be upto ten to fifteen kilometres. Whereas these protocols were sufficient to diffuse the situation in the past; use of caveman like sharp tools as weapons, to cause fatal casualties, has been resorted to for the first time.
First at the diplomatic and military levels, the rules of engagement need to be refined. Two nuclear powered professional armies cannot continue to use cave man tactics to enforce their will on each other. During peacetime, border management is the responsibility of ITBP under the Ministry of Home (MHA) and the regular troops only do periodic patrolling at the LAC. During hot war, the Army formations are tasked to move to the forward defences and the operations are controlled by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The peace talks are generally steered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This complex and multi ministry control needs to go; and operations must be controlled by MOD. The MOD needs to be in control of the situation now.
The short term Military options include staying put at the forward positions and creating habitat, infrastructure and logistic bases for the forward troops prior to setting in of winters.
Importantly the raising of the Mountain Strike Corps that was to be completed in eight years, but was put on the back burner by the present Govt, must be completed within two financial years.
The Armed Forces need to deploy drones, long range radars and aerial reconnaissance to dominate the LAC. We cannot patrol a threat simply with binoculars
For the long term measures, Defence Budget needs to be enhance from 1.8 percent of the GDP to 3.0 percent for the next two five year plans. As in 1962, India needs to wake up to the threat. It is real and could escalate over the years as China tries to assert its power.
Procurements as per the Joint Long Term Perspective Plan for all three services needs to be stepped up for capacity building. While indigenous production should be encouraged, Transfer Of Technology (TOT) must be included in all big ticket acquisitions of aircrafts, ships, guns and anti-aircraft systems.
The infantry has been neglected for a long time as the infantry acquisitions are not considered big ticket procurements. It is high time to equip the ground soldier with a lighter and more effective weapon system and equipment.
Resource integration must be ensured in utilisation of all intelligence resources of the country as was practised during the Surgical Strikes after Uri incident and at Balakot after the Pulwama incident.
Diplomatically, we need to steer international opinion against China as the aggressor. The Quad including US,Japan, Australia and India, must carryout greater number of Joint Exercise and enhance interoperability of their armed forces. Armed forces of Taiwan and South Korea should also be included in these exercise to isolate China regionally and internationally.
India needs to revisit it’s No First Use (NFU) Nuclear Policy and make it clear like its adversaries that it retains the right of first use of tactical nuclear weapons on the lines of its adversaries and we must stabilise our Triad capability of delivering these weapons by air, sea and land.
Our successful missile technology should be further enhanced for over 95 percent accuracy at long ranges. The bottom line is that any emerging economy can only prosper when its defence forces are strong and they have adequate dissuasive and deterrent capabilities to check mate its adversaries.
India must take a leaf from China’s book to enhance its comprehensive national power in a peaceful manner without any fanfare. China kept on growing peacefully for nearly forty years before taking an aggressive posture in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and land borders with India and Bhutan two years back. Hopefully, China has learnt from the stiff resistance given at Galwan and understood that India is no push over and is a regional power to coexist with rather than mess with.