Talking big, acting small re: Y-j on the Depsang

India's military brass wants swifter build-up of border infrastructure with  China | Hrdots
[Resupplying army in Ladakh]

Speaking at the Bloomberg Economic Summit yesterday external affairs minister S Jaishankar hinted at resolution of the border problems with China being sought through a yet higher channel than the Special Representatives level talks (Ajit Doval and Wang Yi) involving, apparently, Jaishankar and Wang. “Discussions are on, [but] what is going on [in that forum]”, said Jaishankar somewhat mysteriously, “is something confidential between us and the Chinese.” Well, Jaishankar better produce a rabbit out of that hat because nothing else has so far worked.

The MEA spokesperson was just as opaque, stating only that the two sides “exchanged serious proposals”. The Indian government says its sole interest is in arriving at a “comprehensive” disengagement covering all territorial friction points, meaning restoration of the status quo ante. Meanwhile, Beijing has been just as definite that if that’s what Delhi is waiting for it will have to wait for a very, very long time, if ever. Because it is interested for the nonce only in a Ladakh-specific remedy involving the Chinese PLA staying put in virtually all the areas they have intruded into across the LAC while asking the Indian army to decamp from its forward positions.

On this issue the Chinese urgently demand the Indian army vacate the heights it occupied around the Spanggur Lake in surprise moves that, for a change, froze the PLA out of the Rezangla ridge line that also includes ‘Black Top’ the highest point in that mountain range, which enables the Indian army to mount effective surveillance of the Chinese troop movements in the extended area and to launch timely counter actions to frustrate any offensive PLA activity.

But then, as happened very early in the confrontation when MEA offered the indistinctness of the LAC on the map and on the ground as reason for the hostile interface which the Xi regime thereafter used to justify all that transpired subsequently in eastern Ladakh, the MEA spokesperson this time around fouled up by once again offering the Chinese Foreign Office new talking points. He explained the lack of progress in the various parlays afoot by referring to the “complexity” of the disengagement process. “The two sides”, he averred, “have a better understanding of each other’s positions. Disengagement is a complex process that requires redeployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC.” The Chinese negotiators can be expected to hereon gleefully embrace this so-called “complexity” of the mutual withdrawal process to stall all proceedings, and otherwise bring them to an impasse, and use it as plausible cause for refusing to back out of the annexed Indian territory.

Lately, and it is a bit a rich this, but Chinese Foreign Office spokesman have now taken to blaming India’s infrastructure buildup along the LAC as “the root cause of tensions” and implied that continuing with this activity besides “complicat[ing] the situation” would prevent “peace and tranquility” from returning on the LAC. To which his Indian counterpart, diffident and mealymouthed as always, stressed the need for both sides to adhere to all previous accords “in their entirety”.

Why can’t Jaishankar instruct his ministry spokesman to emulate the latter’s Chinese counterpart and vociferously demand the Chinese hand back all territory taken by force, and relinquish the infrastructure built up in the Aksai Chin — the first of which was the Xinjiang Highway constructed starting in 1955-56, and refer to this as, in fact, “the root cause” of all bilateral troubles and ill-will? These are two lines and their variants that should be iterated with vehemence and absolute conviction every time MEA spokespersons open their mouth.

But why do Indian diplomats come out like shrinking violets when compared to the Chinese Foreign Service staffers? In part because the former think their forte is the English language and they can weave a web of words to entangle the Chinese. In actuality, however, it is the new breed of Chinese diplomats posted to Delhi and in Zhongnanhai who speak good English, often are far better read and informed, and who, language-wise, end up hoisting Indians with their own petard.

Worse, when these MEA-wallahs can’t think of anything to say to the press they fall back on recounting the spurious tactical advantage the Indian army has supposedly gained on the Finger 4 feature on the Pangong Tso (spurious because the area Finger 4 to Finger 8 has already been lost to the PLA) and about the more real gain, courtesy the Spanggur-Rezangla area under Indian control. But what they never mention is the crucial and significant negative of the extant state of affairs — the 960 odd sq kms northwestwards of the Y-junction to the Karakorum Pass on the Depsang Plains in PLA’s hands.

The Chinese have achieved this by simply blocking Indian troops from accessing India’s traditional patrolling points beyond the junction. That XIV Corps and Indian army HQrs have not so far thought it worth their while to plan and execute an Indian army operation, obviously by Special Forces, to outflank and isolate PLA’s blocking force by going around the mountain range on the Y-junction rather than waiting for the PLA to permit Indian patrols, is pretty much allowing this bit of Indian territory to settle in China’s lap.

This lack of military initiative where China is concerned, alas, reflects the civilianizing of the military leadership — and not in a good way — to a point where risk-aversion has become part of the institutional DNA and central to the thinking of the military brass.

Like our political leaders, our armed services chiefs too have learned to talk big, act small.

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.
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28 Responses to Talking big, acting small re: Y-j on the Depsang

  1. Amit says:

    I guess the outcome of this stand off will be on the PM and not the FM. One can only hope it turns out for the best!

  2. Sankar says:

    This assessment bares open the complete bankruptcy in Indian statecraft under the present Hindu Modi Raj. More interestingly, the Indian armed forces have been brought under the spotlight in the succinct pointer in the very last paragraph.

    Very recently I had a brief interaction with a retired Major Gen who was at one time a commander in the Tawang sector. His stand was in the past the Arunachalis were paying “taxes” (whatever that means) to Lhasa and not to the Indian state (whatever the army’s conception of India is), hence India could not claim Arunachal as a “historical” part of India. The implication is better to retain Arunachal than keep fighting China in Chusul and that area. Amazingly, the army does not take into account that Arunachalis never paid any taxes to Han China either. Or even, when I pointed out to him that generations of my forefathers have gone to Manossarovar for religious purposes and had never required any permission from China to get a “visa” or permission as such, he did not respond.

    I guess, there is a fundamental problem here. The Indian mindset is formed by the power holders in Delhi who are predominantly from Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujrat, South India, and surroundings. They regard Arunachalis, Ladakhis, Assamese, and similar others as peripheral people, that is to say, that they are not true “Indian” Indians like them. Hence there is a disconnect and no national feeling for them. It will not matter to them if these “fringe-dwellers” lose their land holdings to the Chinese. And there is no intrinsic urge to defend Indian sovereignty there.
    Could Professor Karnad comment on my observation here?

    • True, outlier communities and the provinces they inhabit are invariably the ones left out of the mainstream’s reckoning and have to fight to make a mark in national consciousness. Unless there’s a military crisis, like currently, then no one at the Centre quite knows just how to handle unfolding events.

    • apl says:

      Sankar@ — What do you mean by Hindu Modi Raj? What do you want a Muslim Raj?

      • Sankar says:

        Not clear about how you came to the alternative “Muslim Raj”!
        It is like the former US President George Bush dumping people in his war on terror, either you are with me or against me. There must be other alternatives – it is not a “yes-No” choice question most of the time, especially in the political field.
        Anyway, I used the qualification “Hindu” as a negative attribute in the context here. The glaring defect in the Hindu DNA is the absence of “killer instinct” which has let down the nation from time immemorial – a good example Modi Raj. But there were one or two exceptions in history – Indira Gandhi in recent times and the Great Ashoka more than two millenniums ago who conquered Afghanistan.
        Modi has made India an easy game for Chinese state power in their expansionist venture. This has been well exposed in these columns of Professor Karnad if you have been reading them. Indian sovereignty is being gradually lost by the Chinese aggression, but Modi is in a state of paralysis for taking military action against the PLA to regain India’s northern territory. This has been the strait of the many “Hindu Rajs” throughout history and India has been subjugated by her external enemies. In short, that is what I wanted to bring out in my post as the characteristic of the “Hindu” Raj – nothing more, nothing less.

  3. Joydeep Sircar
    bharat karnad

    Sat, 17 Oct at 10:54 am

    Well done, Bharat, keep kicking their backsides hard. Jaishankar is a timid loquacious mouse who lacks the ability to see that his blizzard of emollient obfuscation confuses only himself. By the way, we must not fall into the trap of accepting status quo ante now : China will quite likely agree to that as a means of getting us off the dominating crests of the Kailas range, only to lunge for these heights as soon as we pull out. We should ask for specific points only, like Y-junction, Finger 8 and Hot Springs.

    As it stands the existing lndo-Chinese boundary in Ladakh is a defensible if not a comfortable boundary, and l feel we should settle for it, like we settled for the Siachen CFL. No point in wasting time in talks. Holding Moldo under threat gives us an advantage it would be foolish to surrender.

    Jaishankar may be mealy-mouthed before Wang Yi, but he seems to be a sneaky fellow not averse to kicking the Chinese on the sly. The Taiwan interview was well-timed and so was the US – Tibetan interaction. This is the time for a secret but proper lndo-Tibetan border agreement with the Tibetan govt.-in-exile. We do not need a runaround like the one the Dalai Lama’s foolishly obstinate govt. caused over Tawang.

  4. Joydeep Sircar
    bharat karnad
    Sat, 17 Oct at 12:30 pm

    Ever since 1962 lndia has followed the Nehru model of dealing with kicks delivered by China : go into a foetal posture, shut eyes tightly and keep muttering ‘lt did not hurt …lt did not hurt’.

    I wonder if , finding a shadow play of sound and fury meant to overawe lndia and turn it pliant suddenly becoming a full-scale confrontation on awkward ground, and realizing that contemptible lndia has suddenly become a major menace , Xi is now lying in a foetal position with eyes shut tight and moaning ‘There is no Quad, there is no Quad…..’

    J. Sircar

  5. Tony says:

    Our generals are no doubt patriots. But, I am sad to write, their body language and their words are neither motivating for Indians nor induce fear in the enemy. The main culprit here are not these men but intellectual and moral pygmies in power. I read somewhere that the very presence of General Konstantin Rokossovsky later to become Marshal of the Soviet Union after barely escaping Stalinist purges would electrify the Red Army with his presence. I hope and pray Indian generals understand their primary duty is to the Motherland.

  6. vivek says:

    Biggest problem is India becoming US agent without any benefit like Pak was during the cold war.

  7. Vaibhav says:

    India Crossed LAC At Seven Places To Bring China To The Negotiating Table, Says Report Citing Officials.
    Mr. Karnad, what are your thoughts about this?

    • Nothing new, but these are small transgressions on the range adjoining Chushul (the Rezangla ridge line). Whether this initiative spurred the Chinese to negotiate is a debatable proposition and, in terms of the territory captured, is nothing compared to the PLA’s absorbing the entire sub-sector beyond the Y-junction on the Depsang Plains.

  8. Kunal Singh says:

    Karnad sir what about high yield N-tests. Should we do it ,when drdo scientists talk about “simulation is possible today”. Is it reliable. What say??

  9. andy says:

    There’s such a dearth of trust between China and India in Ladakh ,that no matter what the optimists are saying about disengagement, the possibility is remote.

    Having stirred into proactive action some 4 months into the standoff in late August, the Indian army should have kept up the pressure by occupying other areas, instead of limiting themselves to just the heights on the Kailash range,south of the pangong tso.

    That the Chinese are looking for tactical gains is obvious, the only way for Indian armour to access the aksai chin plateau and the crucial highway G 219, is through the Depsang plains or pangong tso north bank, ingression at these points provides a buffer . The Galwan valley is too dicey for heavy armour to traverse.

    After the 1962 war the Chinese selectively withdrew 20kms from the LAC, keeping about 3500 sqkms of Indian territory, the present push seems to be about reaching the same areas that they had fought and won in that fateful war. Any infrastructure buildup in those areas by India is seen as a challenge to their sovereignty claims by the Chinese and therefore they seem to be so intent on claiming the undemarcated areas upto the 1959 line and beyond, otherwise,in their thinking, whatever they fought for in 1962 comes to naught.

    The Chinese troops had been blocking Indian patrols at the Y junction just by stationing a few vehicles, whenever they saw an Indian patrol approaching they would get off and block the Indians, question is why wasn’t anything done at that point of time? Now the situation is out of hand.

  10. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Recently a Globaltimes article has threatened to support insurgencies in the North East if India continues to support Taiwan. Do you think Chinese support to the North Eastern insurgencies can create another potential front against India? Can China do to India now what India did to Pakistan in 1971?

    • Actually, China’s material and financial assistance to NE insurgents continues w/o a break. But it will be a very good thing if Beijing goes public with this because then it will force the hand of the do-nothingers in the Indian government to more fully exploit the Taiwan, Tibet and Uyghur-East Turkestan cards, among other things. And no, China cannot stir up things as it once could and did.

  11. Sankar says:

    @Professor Karnad
    My query is off the topic here but militarily could have a remote relevance for defending Ladakh in the DBO if a war breaks out. Hence, I am putting it: Under whose control is Karakoram Pass at present – under India? Here is a past link from an army general’s interview which could support that. I quote:
    “You can hold the Karakoram pass only if you remain deployed along the Saltoro ridge” –
    To my knowledge, the Indian Army is sitting on Saltoro ridge with firm control now. Is there any possibility that you could find out from your sources the ground reality on Karakorum Pass? Thank you.

  12. With the Saltoro Ridge in its control, India has a dominating presence on the Karakorum Pass which, incidentally, is a “saddle” with smallish mountains on either side and gentle but barren slopes that are wind-swept but ice free.

    • Sankar says:

      Thank you. Karakoram Pass is an excellent strategic gateway to hold on to. China will need to think twice if it decides to mount an attack on DBO. Unfortunately, in 1962 India vacated all the crucial passes in the Himalayas that lead to the Tibetan plateau. It reminds me of the American General Maxwell Taylor’s observation in the aftermath of the 1962 debacle, that India had handed over to China the impregnable defenses provided by the Himalayas throughout its past history.

  13. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Sir would you recommend India taking part in development of 6th gen (Tempest) fighter jet with Britain and other nations? What I think is that India should join the program only if it is able to get a significant say in developing the jet (like critical technologies, source codes etc) that too with a private player and it should not impact AMCA.
    Your views sir…

    • No agreement will prevent UK from denying India critical aircraft tech, esp jet turbine engine, but will happily accept tens of billions at the outset as financial stake. Best for India to invest solely in and develop AMCA on our own.

  14. Kunal Singh says:

    Sir, Waiting for ur video on defensive offence channel

    • We had a web discussion with Major Arya yesterday early evening. It should be up by now in time for the Oct 22 anniversary of the raiders’ intrusion into J&K in 1947.

      • Prem N says:

        Sir, a person of your caliber does a great disservice to himself by appearing in any “discussion” with a loser like “major” arya. Is it because you are not invited by more honourable hosts?

      • I accept any media outlet that invites me, seeing it as an opportunity to get my views across. However, most “mainstream” media, who feel they have to be on the right side of the govt of the day, hesitate to have me on.

  15. Pradeep Sharma says:

    It has been always so with Indian Government. What defies logic is the constant degradation of Military Power in the face of threats and lack of ability to protect National Interests ,yet talking big perhaps to fool the citizens ? Or is it in coluson with the Adversary? In politics anything is possible!

  16. RS says:

    Mr Karnad,
    On the election night, let me state that it is all okay no matter who wins. If it is Trump, then India could cover lost ground, and if our leader( and the advising team) is courageous, we could even do a few H-tests and then go over and talk to him to placate any ruffled feathers(leaders of other countries). Your guess is as good as mine whether we would be courageous to be prepared to do it right in the first week and not tell ANYONE before conducting it. India will be at an advantage only if we muster to play, otherwise not much.

    If it is Biden, then Indians looking to go there will gain with liberal visa regime. Considering that we rarely play the big game and take the advantage, a liberal visa regime is a pleasant outcome.

    China should be able to make deals with both, I think. They have a good leadership team to navigate around challenges.

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