Ponder the satellite pictures above released by Maxar Technologies of the US for worldwide public information showing the scale and degree of military buildup within a very short period of time without any matching construction, elaborate facilities and presence in these contested areas by the Indian army. This is the context for the military drama unfolding in realtime in eastern Ladakh and the political drama in Delhi and Beijing.
But first a piece of good news. The Indian army is finally paying attention and doing the elementary thing of securing the heights on the Galwan to prevent the PLA from dominating the Depsang-DBO-Karakorum Pass Highway. The pity is they didn’t do it until goaded into action by this blog — because I know of no other blogger/commentator/analyst/expert, who urged this early and publicly. The failure to take so basic a precaution of controlling the heights to protect this highway — a national strategic asset, suggests a lapse in professionalism and a laid back attitude of the army and the government that the country can ill-afford. It permitted the PLA to get not just a toehold but a foothold.
Except now, Indian soldiers have reached the crestline of the mountain range on the Shyok at the Galwan River confluence. This was reported several hours back on Twitter by wolfpackIN, which bit of good news seems credible because the retired Northern Army commander Lt Gen HS Panag retweeted this message on his twitter handle along with an exclamation “Excellent!” Retired generals are usually known to keep themselves in the know of happenings in the army commands they once headed.
Having done this initial bit, the army better plan on staying at these heights indefinitely starting with the coming winter months and accordingly establish a hardy logistics system to sustain this armed presence on the heights above Galwan but also, as proposed in an earlier post, along the ridge line above the Shyok River to the Karakorum Pass. The cost of setting up a supply line for all-weather posts on the Galwan peaks with communications gear can be extended to reach other high points at marginal additions in cost. In any case, the financial investment — whatever its size –is a secondary concern. The primary focus should be to prevent the PLA from increasing its footprint.
India has already lost a good part of the Indian side of the Galwan and Pangong Tso area. Firming up an Indian presence at the heights will disincentivize the PLA from taking what remains of our territory in that sector. Because the almost base-area kind of buildup at these sites, as well as in the Hot Springs area means the Chinese do not mean to withdraw, no matter what. If the Chinese stay, so should the Indian army.
The rest is piffle, including the statements issued pro forma by Beijing and Delhi, such as the one by the Chinese government about the official exchanges to-date being “candid and in-depth” and how both intend to “earnestly implement the important consensus” reached by the two Foreign Ministers S Jaishankar and Wang Li in their June 17 talks over the telephone, and — an ugly turn of phrase this — “actively accommodate with the two military forces to implement the outcome reached” at the June 6 and June 22 military level meetings. Conforming to this theme, diplomatic underlings from the two countries yesterday (June 25) agreed to “sincerely implement the understanding on disengagement and de-escalation” along the LAC.
The military commanders for their part announced they too had arrived at a “mutual consensus to disengage” without agreeing either on the timeframe for such disengagement and, even less, its modalities. There are so many of these military and diplomatic forums the head spins especially because they all seem to end up furthering China’s interest even as Indian diplomats are left twiddling their thumbs on the sidelines. Thus, another such body — the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC), too went through its motions and spouted a lot of useless words.
Predictably, these exchanges have ended up with the MEA wagging its finger saying things like both sides should “strictly respect and observe” the Line of Actual Control, and the Chinese Defence Ministry warning in no uncertain terms that “China has sovereignty over the Galwan Valley region and the Chinese border troops have been patrolling and on duty in this region for many years.” Except China’s are fighting words and straightforwardly pose a military challenge to India to prove Beijing wrong. The Modi government, however, does not seem interested in picking up the gauntlet.
This is evident from the contrasting attitudes and approaches. The Indian government relies on peaceful resolution and MEA mouths diplomatese. The Chinese government, on the other hand, asserts its unmaintainable claim over the Indian territory it has brazenly occupied and which, for all intents and purposes, stands annexed through the instrumentality of the PLA.