Ironies of Indo China Clash at Galwan

       It is ironical that two countries which are nuclear neighbors’ with modern armies resorted to using primitive means such as sticks, stones and clubs to bludgeon each other to death when their soldiers clashed in the icy heights of Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh on 16 Jun. The resultant death of twenty Indian Army personnel at the hands of the Chinese was in the most barbaric and savage manner. Of course, the exact figures of the Chinese casualties will never be known but seeing satellite images of a large number of their vehicles in the vicinity is an indicator that these have been significant, but the world is not even aware of their correct Covid casualties, so to expect them to reveal the full extent of their casualties would be absurd.

       But do figures really matter, are we going to gain by knowing we killed more men than we lost. At Leh, our men lay draped in the Indian flag beneath an Indian flag while the military hierarchy paid homage to them. Across the country these brave men have been respected in a similar manner. While they laid down their lives for the flag, defending the honour, territorial integrity and sovereignty of India, we now need to ensure that this ultimate sacrifice has not been in vain.

       The role of the Army is clearly spelt out and on every occasion our men have not stepped back from their responsibilities, however there are some areas that need to be addressed. Apart from this there is action to be taken on several fronts. While ultimately the sacrifice is at the unit level, the upward chain cannot be absolved of the reasons that lead to this and it’s a heavy price that is being paid by the nation.

      Various agreements and protocols between the two countries , lay down the broad rules for the Army’s conduct by defining the perception of the LAC, limits of patrolling and at times even the equipment to be carried and used. Ground realities differ as is clearly evident from this incident. Do we need to be guided by restraint and caution while carrying out our tasks and projecting our claims. The rules of engagement need to be reviewed and patrols need to be permitted to fire in self defence. Many years ago Gen Hanut Singh a man with exceptional moral courage, while commanding 17 Mountain Division ordered his troops to be armed and fire in case of any Chinese intrusion in his area of responsibility, and said he would try them for cowardice if they failed to do so, the message went out loud and clear and there was no incident during his tenure.

       We are all aware of the boundary issues between India and China in Ladakh, even though one panelist called it the McMohan line, till he was corrected by Maroof Raza. The McMohan line is in the East, in the area West of Bhutan. In Ladakh, it is the Johnson’s Line, the LAC which was accepted in a bilateral agreement in 1993 is based on the Cease Fire Line of 1962. There are differences in perception and this is used by China to tie our troops down in the Himalayas. Unless, this border issue is resolved these issues will keep reoccurring. There have been numerous rounds of talks by Special Representatives but both sides are yet to agree to the alignment of the LAC .China has the ability to up the ante and increase the pressure when it wants to, mainly to stunt India’s economic growth and also to prevent development of our infrastructure close to the border.

       Deterrence is another issue mentioned in strategic circles, does it come about merely from possessing nuclear weapons, having a well trained, professional, capable and suitably equipped Defence Forces with the muscle being backed by our economy, the will of our people and our sprit to defend what is ours. It also depends on our leadership, we need to know when to take the call and we cannot be defensive in our mindset.

     Everyone is aware that the Mountain Strike Corps has not been raised in the time frame originally scheduled and needs to be fully equipped as per its approved mandate. Budgetary cuts for the Forces, delays in procurement of aircraft, artillery guns and other weapons all have a role to play for today’s state of affairs. Bureaucratic rules and procedures have lead to endless delays and now with the CDS firmly in place the focus needs to be on modernization and integration.

         Border Management, falls under the Home Ministry, with BSF, ITBP, Assam Rifles and SSB being responsible for manning various borders including some under operational control of the Army. ITBP is present in Ladakh, but whenever an intrusion takes place or patrolling has to be done it is the Army which is responsible. There is a need to urgently address this overlap and shifting of responsibilities on active borders. Is it not time to put all these agencies under a single umbrella of the Defence Ministry or will concerns of turf and budgetary support continue to dictate our security issues.

     The Chinese have been guided by the teachings of Sun Tzu which includes resorting to deception. There is no point blaming them for deceit.They will continue violating agreements and laid down protocols .One needs to be clear that countries will keep resorting to policies that suit them and further their interests. We must realize that today they are concentrating on cultivating our press and intelligentsia, propping up NGOs to further their causes, indulging in psy, economic and cyber warfare and the new area is lawfare. As has been mentioned by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui the authors of the 1999 seminal book, ‘Unrestricted Warfare’, “the first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules”. As Sun Tzu said many years ago, you need to know your enemy and you need to know yourself to win the battle you are fighting.

     They also have a method of using the systems you value the most to strangle you with, be it freedom of speech ,free press , democracy or judiciary and this is apparent not only here but also in other parts of the world. As Gen Panag has stated, they exploit the prevailing narrative of its adversary, in US its racism and against us it is our strong leadership upgrading our Armed Forces and border infrastructure and our willingness to take strong action.

     Today, China is one of our largest trading partners and the balance of trade is clearly in their favour. There are already voices being raised to boycott Chinese goods. As far as China is concerned we represent only 4 % of their trade, but will our news channels stop advertising Chinese products as a show of solidarity with our fallen comrades. There are also Companies particularly tech start ups which have major Chinese investments, will nationalism be a guiding factor in our economic march forward or does capitalism take over irrespective of the origin of money. Will an incident like this force us to recalibrate our relations based on the ground realities and align more with the US, Japan , South Korea and Australia. On the other hand do we need crutches to take our stand, these are all issues that need to be deliberated upon.

     Ultimately, when it comes to dealing with such an adversary it has to be from a position of strength and this can be achieved amongst other things by going in for quid pro quo actions in some other areas in the military domain. However, expecting the template of Kargil by limiting the area of conflict, to be replicated may not be correct as the Chinese design will be to activate other sensitive areas along the LAC .We need to take precautionary measures as was done during Operation Falcon in 1986.

       In 1962 we failed to use our Air Force except for transportation sorties for fear of escalation of the conflict even though the Chinese had reached Bomdilla and were threatening to enter the Brahmaputra Valley. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the actions by China have been meticulously planned and are aimed at securing long term strategic objectives. They came in with clear intentions of occupying Galwan valley, thereby cutting off the DBO Sector, dominating the road and preventing us from developing our infrastructure and sending a message to us and the world regarding their being the dominant power . Hence talks at the military level will not achieve the desired outcomes and the levels of dialogue will need to be raised.

               The irony is that in the future as has been demonstrated in the past, tactical actions can have grave strategic implications as red lines are not clearly visible and defined. While our soldiers continue to display courage beyond the call of duty, we cannot continue to brush things under the carpet but need to act and our guiding philosophy should be the immense sacrifice of our brave hearts over the years and our core values as a nation.

       We also need to introspect and also address our weaknesses while restoring Peace and Tranquility on the LAC .This is the time to stand together as a nation and not indulge in petty politics , we are well aware of the price we had to pay in 1962 . We need to be very firm in our resolve and have faith and confidence in our leadership and Armed Forces. The lesson from history shows us that adversaries don’t respond to weakness but to strength.