Changing Equations at the Indo-China Border

India has shown resilience in the face of Chinese aggression at the border. Source: Times Now.

After side lining Netaji Subhashchandra Bose in 1938 and the death of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 1950, India was left with no political leadership well versed in ‘Army Matters’. In fact, the leaders then were wary, even jealous of the battle hardened/proven and highly capable Indian Army top brass which India had inherited from erstwhile Imperial British Army.

Many countries which became independent post WW2 experienced military takeovers, and hence paranoid Indian politicians began to undermine the Indian Army. General K S Thimayya, a highly experienced and acclaimed soldier who had contributed to the 1948 Kashmir victory, was sabotaged and Lt. Gen. Kaul, a ‘politician’s darling’, replaced him. Yet, he too wasn’t allowed to build or equip the Army. This degraded the Army into an ill-equipped paper force.

General apathy and military policy paralysis grew to such an extent that on the eve of the 1962 war, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Defence Secretary even the Army Chief were away on either pleasure tours or ‘not so important’ meetings abroad. During the war, politicians totally ignorant of military matters were calling the shots, such as deciding not to use the Air Force. All this contributed to the painful 1962 loss. Despite the odds of manpower and military equipment being in favour of the Chinese, the Indian Army fought bravely and suffered almost double the casualties (1370) than the Chinese (722).

While the Chinese would like us Indians to remember and recite the defeat of 1962 as a part of the psychological warfare of the Communist Party (CPC), we must remember that this was their first and only victory since the 1839 Opium Wars, while it was India’s only defeat (which was political, not military) since its independence.

Unfortunately, thanks to Chinese psychological warfare, the Indian Army’s multiple successes in responding to Chinese aggressions have been deliberately suppressed, nationally as well as internationally.

During Chinese incursion in Sikkim in 1967, India drove China back from Nathu La and Cho La, then India’s protectorates, and inflicted heavy casualties and damage on them. It was a decisive victory for India which resulted in Sikkim getting full Indian statehood. Even today, China recognizes Sikkim as Indian territory.

In 1987, General K Sunderji launched the mountain warfare military exercise ‘Chequerboard’ under operation ‘Falcon’ to stop Chinese incursion near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. He swiftly air-lifted brigade-size troops in heavy-lift MI-26 helicopters & took PLA by surprise. Despite stiff resistance from the Indian Government, General Sunderji achieved a grand victory, without a single casualty. He fortified Indian forward positions and secured Tawang, which was otherwise difficult to defend and vulnerable to Chinese aggression. China had to withdraw from Arunachal Pradesh which, like Sikkim, got full Indian statehood.

In 2008, Vice Chief Air Marshal Pranab Kumar Barbora reactivated long-abandoned air strips in the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO)/Raki Nala and Nyoma areas in Ladakh without waiting for government permission (he would have never got it, anyway). These airstrips were vital to the Indian position in the China-India standoff at DBO in 2013, and also played a major role in moving troops, supplies and equipment to the Army during the current Eastern Ladakh standoff.

During the 2017 Doklam crisis, Indian Army stopped the PLA from constructing a road in Bhutanese territory. The PLA looked to occupy a ridge overlooking the Siliguri Corridor or ‘Chicken’s Neck’, a narrow strip of land connecting India’s North East to the rest of the country, as well as to secure their own soft belly, the Chumbi Valley, which Indian and Bhutanese army posts overlook. The Indian Army made the Chinese withdraw, and negotiations under the then GoC Eastern Command Lt Gen Abhay Krishna ended in India’s favour. The Army also foiled another Chinese attempt of road building at Tuting in Arunachal Pradesh.

Indian forward posts at Doklam are now fortified with more men and machines and better surveillance. India retains the strategic heights of the ridge overlooking the Chinese Chumbi Valley. Infrastructure is being built in the Brahmaputra valley and a strategic, all-weather road to Doklam will be completed in 2021.

During the recent standoff in Eastern Ladakh, the PLA was surprised to find the Indian Army within 2.5 hours at patrol points 14 and 15 to stop PLA incursion. China’s intentions behind the current aggression are manifold – stopping Indian border infrastructure development, whisking away Indian forward posts overlooking the Lhasa-Kashgar segment of the CPEC and Karakoram highway (hence strategic to India) and getting even with India over the humiliation in Doklam.

In the bigger picture, China also tried to bully India to test India’s resolve, identify who supports India against itself and set an intimidating example to its smaller neighbours. Given the rise in global anti-China sentiment due to its hand in the Covid-19 pandemic and increase in growing domestic unrest and grievances against the CPC’s draconian rule, Chinese aggression against India was also a diversionary tactic.

Looks like Chinese strategy has backfired. Despite a tight grip on its media, thanks to satellite imagery, the world knows that PLA casualties greatly exceed the number of Indian martyrs. The world briskly and unanimously sided with India and offered help. India’s tough stand evaporated the myths of ‘Mighty China’ and the ‘Ten Feet Tall Chinese Soldier’. At home, nationalism rose and spread like wildfire, resulting in a movement to ban Chinese goods. This has cost small Chinese businesses dearly and further increased their resentment against CPC.

In the larger neighbourhood, China’s smaller neighbours have started challenging its hegemony. Even Pakistan, China’s only ally, is sitting on the fence and may not allow China to open another front against India in Kashmir. Already, Pakistani opposition leaders and intelligentsia are asking Imran Khan to rethink Pakistan’s China policy. Australia and India have signed logistical agreements on the joint use of Australia’s Cocos Islands and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  Since June 2020, large US naval contingents including 2 aircraft carriers are prowling the disturbed waters of South China sea. The jugular veins of the Chinese economy i.e. CPEC/Karakoram in the west and straits of Malacca and Sunda to the (south) east are vulnerable.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused heavy losses of lives and economy to many countries who now perceive the pandemic as Chinese bio-warfare and have turned antagonistic to China.

Even the Germans had more allies during the World Wars. China is simply not in a position to go against the world all by itself, certainly not against the voluntary, professional, and battle-hardened Indian Army. The CPC’s misadventures have gone on for far too long, so much so that if they push things too far, Chinese people might even scrap the CPC/PLA before the battle of Eastern Ladakh brews!

Dr Anant Bhagwat

Dr Anant Bhagwat is a Pune-based radiologist who also runs an NGO named वैश्विक सामरिक नीति प्रतिष्ठान पुणे/ Global Strategic Policy Foundation Pune (GSPFP).

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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