Far from evicting the Chinese, India is throwing in the towel (augmented)

India, China troops have disengaged at Galwan, says army on clash ...
[Mountain supply]

Often the best thing for political leaders as well as generals, serving or retired, to do during volatile border crises of the kind India has on its hands is to resist the impulse to say something, anything, because their statements are usually overtaken by events.

The COAS, General MM Naravane, discovered no doubt to his discomfiture that a bare ten days after he talked about the two armies agreeing to, and being involved in, the process of “phased disengagement”, the situation erupted June 15 on the Galwan with the death by bludgeonings and drownings in the river of 22 Indian soldiers, including Colonel Santosh Babu of 16th Bihar.

The mystery around why these killings by Chinese soldiers using nails-studded batons and similar type of weapons even occurred when Article 6 of the 1996 Agreement with China absolutely permits the attacked to use sidearms and infantry weapons in defence, only deepened when the former army chief General JJ Singh told a TV channel June 19 that this was because the army strictly followed the government’s injunctions against the use of force, any force, on the LAC. He apparently believed the government’s list of no-no’s over-rode Article 6’s provision for resort to lethal force. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s announcement June 21 that forwardly deployed field commanders were now free to retaliate in kind at least proved General JJ Singh right in terms of the previous rules of engagement. However, it doesn’t explain why the army in any way felt constrained by them — unless one assumes that officers up and down the command were, like General JJ Singh, unaware of Article 6, and if they were so aware, didn’t want to exercise their right of just response, not even to save themselves.

Now that the government is on board Article 6, the question is has the army made sure to rapidly arm all jawans and officers on the LAC with compact steel spiked maces and flails and instructions for their express use preemptively if they sense Chinese intent? Because otherwise, our mountain infantrymen will be in no better position than when surprised by the adversary on June 15 evening, and the outcome will not be different or any less bloody.

If the army brass were wrong-footed by surprise Chinese action, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virtual clean chit to China in his televised declaration of June 17 about the status quo not being disturbed at all was astonishing, considering TV channels in the previous days were regularly flashing commercial satellite images showing substantial military infrastructure buildup (pill boxes, depots, troop hostels, even kraals for armoured vehicles), dug-in artillery pits, and occupation of the entire area between topographic features Finger 4 and Finger 8 on the Pangong Lake, and similar construction by the PLA, inclusive of a helipad, northeast of the site of the imbroglio on the Galwan River.

The Indian people watching TV news are, unenviably, left to either trust their eyes (visual satellited data) or believe the PM.

I have been saying since the beginning of this territorial tussle that the Indian government had the imagery intelligence from Indian satellites making passes over these contested areas for over a year now when the PLA first initiated its construction activity. A person at the senior most level dealing with national security in the government confirmed this. The conclusion: Even as he was completely in the know, Modi did nothing. Not sure why though. Could it be because he expected that his personal relationship with the Chinese President Xi Jinping would motivate the latter to keep the LAC quiet? And, now by not acknowledging the Chinese buildup on the Pangong Tso and in the Galwan area, he is still affording Xi the maneuvering space to, even at this late date, pullout without “losing face”?

Beijing has been preparing its annexation plans for awhile and seemingly didn’t care Indian satellites were conveying photographic evidence of PLA activity to Delhi. Xi, it’d appear, was confident Modi would not react violently. The reports from those who accompanied Modi to Wuhan suggest the Indian PM was particularly taken by Xi’s deft personal touches, such as conducting the Indian leader around his birthplace (near that Chinese city), etc. The result is Xi is playing Modi like a fiddle.

Xi’s conviction about Modi’s inaction in the face of provocation may also be because of the 2008 agreement binding Delhi to not rake up the matter of clarifying the LAC (alluded to in the preceding post) that the US-based Stimson Centre Chinese-origin scholar Yun Sun (not Sun Lun — my mistake!) based her analysis on. Yun concluded, in effect, that Delhi is cognizant of the latitude China feels it has in redefining the LAC, and it is this that China has exploited. When asked about this and Delhi’s response a very high official who served in the UPA government tells me there was no such agreement and, in fact, that clarification about the LAC was sought in 2010 and again in 2012. “We drew the conclusion quite early in 2003-4 when it was clear that China wanted ambiguity about the LAC”, he writes in his message, “that the only real answer was on the ground. Hence the 72 GS roads, two extra divisions, the mountain strike corps, the reopening of ALGs etc. But you know all this. The other responses were diplomatic, or narrative building etc.”

As to why the lowland and the heights on the eastern shore of the Shyok River fronting on the Daulat Beg Oldi/Karakorum- Depsang road were not secured once the alignment of this road was fixed a decade or more back, well, there’s no satisfactory answer. A senior military man in the loop advised that I needed “to understand both the dynamics of LAC and the terrain”. Given that the PLA doesn’t have a much easier terrain on its side, the Chinese seem to be able to better cope with geography and the vicissitudes of the LAC.

In this mess, however Modi anticipates this crisis to peter out, one thing is certain, China will not give up the Indian territory it has occupied nor surrender the physical assets it has constructed. In short, Beijing will not negotiate away the land it has acquired by proactive action in the Himalayas. This about draws the limits on Indian diplomacy. The sooner Modi government accepts this reality the more expeditiously it can approve military plans for evicting the PLA intruders , whatever it takes, because there’s no alternative. Especially because it wouldn’t want to be in a situation where commercially available satellite images will belie, at every turn, the comfortable fiction it may choose to flog about there being no Chinese aggression and occupation, and no situation that a bit of jaw-jawing with the Chinese won’t smoothen out. Beijing will be happy to talk but will not move out an inch.

A limited war, as I have maintained from the start, is the only way to vacate these areas of the PLA. It is also imperative a more proactive army establish soonest possible and at whatever cost a presence on the eastern shore of the Shyok River, and especially on the Galwan, Cheng-chenmo valley openings on the Shyok, whatever the difficulties of terrain and the LAC orientation in these areas.

The Chinese seem to appreciate that old saw about possession being nine-tenths of the law. What the Indian government and MEA understand about the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is anyone’s guess.

No doubt bent on cutting a deal, the Modi government urged the Army Commanders’ Conference to fall in line. It did, deciding to disengage across the board and to do so fairly rapidly based on the agreement reached by the Leh GOC Lt Gen Harinder Singh and the Chinese Maj Gen Liu Lin meeting in Chushul. Caution has been thrown to the winds. There’s no hint here of a proportionate withdrawal, with verification at each step that the PLA has pulled back as well. It will end up providing solace to Beijing and encourage it to get into the occupy, build-up, annex cycle that will leave India ever more vulnerable to Chinese military pressure.

Mark my words, the territory taken away by the Chinese will stay annexed. And this will be proven by commercial satellites a month hence which will show no change in the PLA force disposition on the Galwan and the Pangong Tso.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, SAARC, satellites, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Tibet. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Far from evicting the Chinese, India is throwing in the towel (augmented)

  1. Indian says:

    Mr Karnad – would you mind clarifying this in your article?
    “Given that the PLA doesn’t have a much easier terrain on its side, the Chinese seem to be able to better cope with geography and the vicissitudes of the LAC.”
    Are you saying the reason we did not secure heights is because terrain is bad on PLA side or is it better on their side?

  2. Kunal ( ENGINEERING STUD) says:

    Can’t we occupy Chinese side along LAC at some other area and bring the Chinese to negotiation table

  3. MANDEEP SETHI says:

    “There will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you” ; India needs to make world believe Chinese can be bled
    Absolutely must give them a bloody nose even invent a reason if so needed

  4. Rajesh says:

    Good Evening Mr. Karnard, In your opinion:

    1) Would China open up other fronts with India, if we decide to militarily engage China in the contested area?

    2) Would Pakistan also heat up the LOC in such a scenario?

    • There’s only one front with China. But, yes, should India begin eviction ops in eastern Ladakh the PLA could act up in Arunachal. But let’s be clear, China’s mil infrastructure density notwithstanding, the PLA will be hard put to sustain a 3,800 kms of war front. It is unlikely Pak will pitch in against India but that could lead to a war of annihilation, not maneuver as has been the case to-date.

      • manofsan says:

        China can only open one front with us directly, on LAC. But we can open other fronts with them – at sea, for example.

        Indirectly, China has opened up other fronts, such as their longtime relationship with Pak, and now their more recent relationships with Nepal and even Sri Lanka, and soon possibly even Bangladesh. I notice that China hasn’t tried anything through Sri Lanka yet, probably because it’s not useful for LAC.

  5. Pratap AR says:

    Do you feel that we have the military strength to evict the intruders and sustain a limited war? Can we manage a two front war if Pakistan attacks simentaneously?

  6. Everything else aside

    I really want to see Gada Yudh with the Chinese.
    Hopefully Swords, Pikes and other waepons too

  7. Ravi says:

    Sir,CCP is the biggest land mafia in the world.Their strategy is incremental land grabbing,that is to claim lands from all border countries.Occupy the claimed lands inch by inch when country is ruled by weak rulers then put additional claims over the land. Mao Zedong of CCP considered Tibet to be China’s right hand palm, with five fingers on its periphery – Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Arunachal Pradesh. Palm Tibet already occupied completely. They will try to grab remaining fingers if right opportunity comes in future.china is putting pressure on all these areas in the entire stretch of himalayas. With nepali communist rulers taking online tuition from ccp how to govern the country their future looks bleak.In possible initial steps towards implementation of this strategy in Nepal, Nepal’s Survey Department reported of Chinese encroachment on 36 hectares in four districts of Nepal (Sankhuwasabha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Humla) and that there was a further risk of losing several hundred hectares of land.

  8. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Karnad Sir I do believe that the economic boycott is the only step that the government is going to take at this moment of time. I do think that is ths only viable option for us. I do not believe we have the military or diplomatic clout to evict China from these areas. In fact China is seriously in the process of marginalizing us in SAARC by taking Nepal, Bangladesh on board during the COVID-19 crisis by offering them economic aid which these countries are in great need of. I would love your views on whether India have been marginalized in South Asia by the aggressive Chinese military and diplomatic actions in Galwan.

  9. Ravi says:

    chinese hunger for land is unlimited.In future due to advancement in science and technology if they would be able to make man live in moon,mars and other planets before other countries then they will colonize entire planet and claim entire moon and planet,all its minerals and other resources as belongs to chinese and not allow others to hold an inch of land.

  10. Sohamg says:

    News has just come in that the pla has withdrawn and have withdrawn upto 5 kms and that too beyond the shyok river. Now which new game is china playing?

  11. Sankar says:

    There has appeared an eyeopening account of Indian bankrupt foreign and defence policy by a former Secretary Balachandran: “Opinion | New Delhi Failed To Anticipate China’s Reaction To The Change Of Indian Map” – https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/world-news-opinion-new-delhi-failed-to-anticipate-chinas-reaction-to-the-change-of-indian-map/303359.
    This piece needs to be read as an addendum to Prof Karnad’s research – it throws more light on the essence of this article. It is obvious that China will now consolidate its hold on the strategic Galwan Valley and preach peace in the international sphere.

  12. GV Giri says:

    sir, we need to establish physical presence of armed forces in much bigger numbers, and capture some territory of theirs in other places. There is plenty of unguarded space in 3488km. We need to build roads close to border where 1) it makes sense and 2) where the Chinese dont have good roads and grab those territories. Modi lacks imagination and nerve, so all this is merely theoretical. But Army also seems to lack nerve, going thrice it would seem, in a night, and each time without weapons.

  13. Anil says:

    Given that the RM hastens to Russia to ensure adequate war fighting material,isn’t it now obvious to the Chinese that there is shortage of spares etc in the Indian arsenal? Its obvious they’re in no mood to back off,notwithstanding military leaders talks, what are the chances of a short sharp border war turning into something bigger?

  14. devraj says:

    sir.if an untested 150 kt boosted fission bomb explodes how much possible yield it give mean 70 to 80 percent or it has chance to fizzle completely or give full 150 kt yield or stop some where at 70 to 80 kt

  15. Venkatramana. S says:

    Mr Karnad Sir
    Thanks for your blog and erudite articles. Your blog is brilliant with a lot of educational materials and takes the readers behind the scenes to understand the Indian mind set and practical reasons for doing so
    Re: China at the Ladakh, Galwan valley
    The borders between India and China are not fixed marks as it is impossible to mark the location because of the mountains, deep gorges, etc. In order to patrol these difficult terrain, is it possible that Indian soldiers intruded into Chinese territory and subsequently had a landslide in their territory with 10 Indian soldiers? Not faulting soldiers on the ground. Politicians should not give army impossible missions to accomplish.

    If we cannot sustain a prolonged war and take the losses and heat on our own, what is going to be achieved by putting some lookout posts east of Shylock river. We are good at spending tax payers money on white elephant?

    Time to make India, self sufficient in all defense equipment. We cannot match Chinas military spending. Let the Chinese spend all their money, eventually they will end bankrupt before us.
    Doubling down on a failed gamble is a set up for failure.

    We need to concentrate on economic growth, medical research and excellence, bring manufacturing jobs. I pray that we get sustained economic development for4-5 decades and self sufficiency in every technology before we go against China.

    Thank you

  16. Mohit says:

    1) If India has balls, it should perform a live nuclear warhead test in real conditions.

    2) Expedite the development of rockets/missiles and their delivery systems on a war-footing basis.

    3) Create a map/matrix of Indian cities/regions to the enemy’s cities/regions in the event of missile attack and convey it to the enemy. if you hit this city/region of ours, we will hit this city of yours. Because it makes no sense to hit some far-flung remote region when our main cities get hit.

    4) Steely focus on local developments of weapons. Commit a timeline after which there will be zero imports of lethal platforms. Of course, army will cry, babus will cry, lobbies of countries will cry, but one has no moral right to fight wars with foreign weapons. Missiles, nuclear deterance, etc. can take care of existential concerns till we reach the level.

    5) State policy to NOT negotiate hostage/PoW release. The State needs to make it clear to the nation that succumbing to such demands undermine the will of the nation and is detrimental to its strategic interests in the long term. NO negotiation.

    6) Non-alignment / Neautrality is self-delusional. A nation has to have a worldview (based on values and a vision) and it ought to form an alliance with partners sharing similar worldview. “Nether here, nor there” is a bad strategy because there will always be a strategic mistrust in a relationship and neither side will be able to fully commit itself to the other. A recent article from War on the Rocks publication confirms my position, “But for Beijing, standing up for its interests and territorial claims is worth the cost. India is believed to be strategically unreliable to begin with and China has no interest in acquiescing to India’s attempt to advance its position on territorial disputes to trade for concessions. […] If a strategic friendship with India is untenable, it frees up room for tactical gains. […] Beijing sees a neutral India as untenable to begin with…”

    7) Modi government has already commited a long-term blunder by polarizing and dividing the society for short-term electoral gains. This has diverted the focus from essential issues like security, economy, education, healthcare, which are the building blocks of an emerging power. As a leader, the goal should not be that the overall GDP becomes X trillion by Y date; the goal should be that the bottom barrel per capita income grows to, say, 20,000 per month by a given date. And there should be an evolution path for every livelihood earner. For e.g. – a sharecropper -> self-owning farmer -> farmer of commodity crops -> farmer of high-value crops -> entrepreneurial farmer -> and so on. A self-actualization path to knowledge and prosperity.

    But I feel that the current government’s priority lies elsewhere. So, feel free to dismiss my rant as a howl at the moon.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Now militiary officers are educating on wiqi .Unfortunately even after all this india will not test its nuclear weapons or arm vietnam with one.Even if indians are ambitious our army or government has no zeal or ambition they talk like losers and hide their failures behind being responsible and moral nation which is worthy of contempt.Even the military leadership talks like diplomats even pakistan looks better compared to us.If not anything we can take a few lessons from pakistan on how defend oneself
    irrespective of your size and economy .I don’t understand why same principles dont apply to us.Maybe we are moral nation which is a cover for our incompetence ,lack of will and being a good boy.US will pat india on back for being responsible nation.This inward looking behaviour will destroy us.Its frustrating no matter who you elect nothing seems to change.

  18. andrew esnard says:

    It is entirely irrational for Indian people to boycott Chinese goods.
    You are in bed with Pakistan Terrorists , kill indian soldiers and want indian business?
    #India must facilitate and support a Military alliance in the Pacific Ocean { Quadrilateral Security Dialogue } as long as a military alliance exists between #Pakistan & #China https://en.wikipedia.org/wi
    A country the size of #China can ill-afford to be narrowly tactical in its foreign and security policy decision making.
    Huawei should be banned from Indian 5G Market until China solves its border row with India

  19. Subhasis Mahapatra says:

    The factual inaccuracies in your article start from the introductory paragraph. Making false and imaginative claims are easy to make. The commanding officer of Indian Army is a full colonel not Lt Col. Talking about inner discussions of army cdr’s conference without knowledge of hierarchy is too naive. Shows your perceptive leanings.

  20. Mahesh Singh says:

    Please mention correct rank of the martyr officer, his rank is Colonel and not Lieutenant Colonel as mentioned in all your articles. Yes, I am referring to late Col Santosh Babu.

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