Occupying the heights

PLA post on the Galwan (Maxar Technologies via AP)
Patrol Point 14 (site of PLA clash with 16 Bihar) on the Galwan

PP 14 after PLA buildup
(PLA in the Hot Springs area)
Permanent PLA structures
armored vehicles, flatbed trucks to carry them, etc. in a PLA bulit-up area

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.

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, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Intelligence, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, SAARC, satellites, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Tibet. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Occupying the heights

  1. Ashish says:

    Awesome Bharat sir …atleast NOW we occupies the heights…thank god. Now if the PLA want to come through the winding valley at the confluence of Shyok and Galwan the height advantage will be ours. IA can and should deter them …but we should also have presence INSIDE THE VALLEY right Upto the LAC ….so in future even if they want to come In stealthily we can catch them inside the valley…but if they still come with cranes and try to shake the mountain (doubt if they can, but I read somewhere that’s what they did in PP14 on 15th June) they cannot do it …as the mountain are pretty big….also I think Galwan for China is exactly similar as what Siachen is to Pakistan …heights heights heights

  2. Edelbert Kmenlang Badwar says:

    I know the reason why the Red Army is still sitting pretty at Galwan and Pangong Tso.It is because India does not have( et al)
    100 Rafales
    350 Sukhoi
    120 Tejas
    Maybe 20 -30 Su 57/F 35.
    Our severely depleted fighter fleet is the reason why we are not exercising the military option yet.

  3. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Mao once said “China negotiates only to strengthen its position and to frustrate the opponent “.
    Unfortunately our leaders have failed to recognise this Chinese mentality. This reminds me of what Sun Tzu said “know your enemy and know yourself, and you need not worry about 100 battles. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”. Since the Indian government has no ideas about main intentions of China, future doesn’t looks good.

  4. Kunal says:

    Is the economic response by the GOI fine ??

  5. Rajesh says:

    Good Evening Mr. Karnad,

    Looking at the quantity & quality of Chinese buildup & their intent do you deduce any other possibility apart from a limited armed conflict if India has to reclaim her land?

  6. PRATAP A R says:

    The areas now under Chinese Intrusion is Hot Springs and Finger Area.Whats the extent of intrusion in Hot Springs? Has the IA taken over any tactical position on the Chinese side of LAC?

  7. manofsan says:

    I’d read that China’s main strategy to fight India was to use their ballistic missile trucks to bombard Indian airbases non-stop from 500km away. What is the best counter-measure to that? Can we build more bases as decoys? Can we make better use of roadways to serve as airstrips? Should we go in for VTOL/VSTOL-type aircraft? Or should we mainly rely on anti-ballistic defense systems?

  8. manofsan says:

    Depsang plains seem more valuable, thus the PLA’s desire to control Galwan area near DBO road. How can India fortify that Depsang area, since if this crucial area falls into China’s hands, they surely won’t give it back.

  9. Anil says:

    How about the Indian army entering and occupying some disputed spots in the eastern sector? That should act as a bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations. If the Chinese opt for a kinetic response to the Indian ingress then similar actions could be initiated in eastern Ladakh by the Indian military The onus of starting a shooting match would rest entirely with the Chinese.

  10. vivek says:

    Don’t understand. PP14 was place where the army should have removed PLA infrastructure to protect strategic highway. My understanding is PLA has now good infra at PP14 and the Indian highway is still in reach of their artillery guns .

    • Bharat kumar says:

      By transporting T-90 (sitting ducks) to LAC have we not made a laughing stock of ourselves? In a hypothetical war situation (seems unlikely) we lose a few would the Indian army then order light weight tanks?

      • Our armoured corps generals are besotted by heavy tanks and won’t give up their strike corps for the western front. If pushed they may accept light tanks but only as an additionality to the present ORBAT.

  11. RG says:

    Mr. Karnad, I know you would be circumspect in what questions u answer. Bot alert.

  12. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Karnad sir, I read on the Internet that PLA is already occupying places at the Depsang valley. BJP MP Tapir Gao mentions that PLA is even occupying Indian territory in Tawang. Sir please give your valuable opinion on the strategic importance of these places. Thanks and regards with best wishes Debanjan

  13. Sohamg says:

    Mr. Karnad, you have said in one of your lectures on youtube that the drdo etc. goverment companies are less productive and do not develop cutting edge technology. But many bright engineers and scientists join the drdo each year. Many innovations like the KALI, development of UAVs goes on in these companies and these are also inducted in the armed forces.

    • Yes, they do. But the very same bright youngsters in DRDO labs and research centres within 15 years become careerist S&T bureaucrats, who have lost the spark, and are different from the generalist civil servant only in degree. The sort of innovations you mention should be routine and the norm and not exceptions that they are.

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