India shoved further into the corner in eastern Ladakh

The full version of the interview of mine below. The “edited” one carried by Rediffnews April 15, 2021, at


Q.1 There seems to be no breakthrough in the marathon 13-hour military talks that took place between the Indian and Chinese corps commanders last week. In fact, they did not even issue a joint statement this time around. Why was that the case?

A: The 11th edition of the talks between the Indian and Chinese theatre commanders ended as most of the earlier ones had done – without any progress at all. This was so, perhaps, because the two sides were asserting, in different ways, their respective positions that neither party was prepared to back down from, minimizing the prospect of negotiation by compromise.

Q.2.The PLA has not agreed to troop pullback from the contentious areas which include PPS 15,17 and 17A in the Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La areas where they have a sizeable troop presence in the rear areas. Nor are they willing to de-escalate in the Depsang area. What does this indicate?

A: It shows clearly the PLA’s intention to not withdraw from advantageous positions it is holding on to in terms of the Indian patrolling posts you mention and at the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains while, at the same time, getting the Indian army to back down from terrain features benefiting it.

Q.3.The question repeatedly being asked is why the gains accrued by occupying the Kailash range and Trishul Heights were frittered away for a disengagement to take place in north bank of the Pangong Tso lake and not for concessions in the Depsang Plains?

A: This is the point I have been making from the time the Indian SFF first occupied he Kailash range heights in September 2020 last year that the one thing the Indian army should not do is surrender these high points for any reason but rather that the SFF and other units should strengthen and consolidate their hold of these favourable points.

Q4. From all indications it appears as though India is inclined to agree to the Chinese terms in Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains or so one would surmise by the interviews given to the media by the Northern Indian Commander where it seemed as though he were attempting to disassociate himself from this problem claiming the problem in the Depsang Plains predates April 2020 and therefore will is not part of the current round of negotiations So, are we willing to concede around 18 kilometers of territory occupied by the PLA?

A: This is a ridiculous stance for the Northern Army commander, Lt. General Yogesh Kumar Joshi, to take of disavowing whatever happened before he assumed his post and, even more astonishing, that he says he is responsible ONLY for what has occurred in the field AFTER he took over. The army commander, in other words, is willing to take “credit” for the linked withdrawal of the SFF-Indian Army troops from the Kailash Range heights and the PLA from Fingers 4 to 8 on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake – which has hurt the army’s relative military positioning vis a vis the PLA in that sub-area, but is quite content to have the Chinese stay put on the Gogra-Hot Springs and at the Y-Junction on the Depsang. And that, owing to his acceptance of the latter situation, he and his Command have signalled that they will NOT do anything to recover the nearly 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory thus lost, de facto, to the PLA.  This sort of reticence should earn Lt. General Joshi, at a minimum, removal from service, unless these are the express orders from the Army Chief General MM Naravane who in turn, factually reflects the directive from Government of India to avoid a re-triggering of hostilities at all cost.

[Disengaging on the Pangong Lake]

Q5. Of course the government’s stand is that what was of priority for them was to ensure that the eye to eyeball troop confrontation between the two armies on the banks of the Pangong Tso lake be halted as this could lead to an escalation. With China being the aggressor, why should the Indian government / army have been so afraid of a confrontation?

A: This does not make sense. Why would the Indian Army be afraid of eye-balling the PLA on the Pangong and elsewhere in eastern Ladakh? After all, it is precisely an aggressive posture telegraphing that the Indian Army is quite prepared to give as good as it gets that will give PLA commanders and Beijing pause for thought.

Q6. Several defence analysts point out that it is obvious that the Chinese were not willing to disengage further because India has no leverage space with them and therefore it is unlikely they will reduce their troop concentration in eastern Ladakh. If that is the case, what will the consequences of this be for India?

A: India has no space to leverage PLA withdrawal because the Indian government and army have been remiss all these years in not proactively strengthening the vulnerable Indian posts or building up supporting infrastructure in selectively prioritized areas, such as Sub-Sector North, adjoining the strategic Karakorum Highway critical to both China and Pakistan because this Highway – GS 219 has a branch – China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, diverting south at the Karakorum Pass.

Q.7. Are these commander level talks trying to arrive at some settlement around the April 2020 incursion without addressing the entire border problem. Why did the government agree to sector by sector negotiations in Ladakh rather than negotiate it as a whole. By agreeing to do so, India has fallen into a trap laid by the Chinese. Why were negotiations not conducted across the entire area?

A: These mil-to-mil talks are a waste of time – have always been –and merely afford China an excuse to do nothing at the political level – Special Representatives level — which is where a solution will be hammered out.

[CDS General Rawat interacting with troops in Ladakh]

Q.8 While Indian government has gone overboard on stating that there have been no Chinese incursions on Indian territory, a US military commander Admiral Philip Davidson has blown the lie on the Indian government face by stating that the Chinese PLA has not withdrawn from several `forward positions’ which they have occupied. This statement was not contradicted by the Indian government?

A: All the US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral Davidson has done is repeat what I for one have been saying since the PLA armed incursions came to light in June last year. Nothing big there, unless it is to point out that the Indian government and media take something coming out of America more seriously than they do what’s being openly said by informed analysts here.

Q9. Does the statement of Admiral Davidson not contradict Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh’s statement in Parliament that we have made no concessions to the Chinese?

A: Of course, it does (if you lend Davidson’s words weight)

Q 10. India seems to have foregone their grazing rights in  the Demchuk area with this land being occupied by Chinese Tibetan graziers. Ladakhis continue to complain against this but the Indian government has failed to take any action on the ground?

A: The record of Ladakhi graziers taking their herds to the Depsang Plains is strong evidence for India’s negotiating position, except it is now trumped by the PLA simply  establishing their presence – something the local administration, Indian government and army should long ago have proactively done.

[Logistics fetching up]

Q11. Why has the issue of the massive failure intelligence failure highlighting the Chinese PLA build up not been acted upon?

A: The Indian government wakes up after the fact when it can do nothing, or rather lacks the will to prosecute military actions to reverse these adverse PLA-driven developments. Which ought to make everybody wonder what good, if anything, our numerous civilian and military intelligence agencies do

Q12. The fact that the Indian government is willing to make massive concessions means they understand that this is not going to impact the mood in the Indian army. India seems to have a history of making concessions whether it be in Tashkent of at the Simla Agreement. Which country cedes so much territory with no assurances on the ground?

A: The Indian Army brass is very much in sync with the GOI’s thinking and happy for the government to make concessions to China just so long as they do not have to actually fight the PLA.

Q13. Would it be correct to say the 35-year old treaty of the maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the LAC has been trashed to the dustbin of history. China wanted to teach the Indian political class a lesson for making claims that Aksai Chin and POK were all part of India and in response to their redrawing of Indian maps making such claims?

A: The peace and tranquility accord signed was a sham from the start, because it was a way for the Indian government, intel agencies and the military to avoid reorienting fully to the only credible threat India faces, namely, China.

Q.14. Would it be correct to state that our present leadership is more interested in playing to the domestic class rather than in pursuing policies that suit India’s geo political needs?

A: Not sure what you mean by “domestic political class”. Surely, no section of Indian society wants a dishonourable peace with China; and geopolitics has perennially been India’s overarching strategic weakness.

[Showing the flag on the frozen Pangong Tso]

Q15. In 2013, when the Chinese moved into Depsang Plains, India took a diversionary chunk of territory in order to get them to negotiate. Why was no attempt to put pressure on the Chinese this time around.

A: Two reasons: No political will, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi conflicted about how much to alienate President Xi and imperil the supposedly good personal relations the two have cultivated and the possibility of massive Chinese infrastructure investment. And inadequate military capability with the Pakistan-fixated army reluctant to commit its resources more fully to the extended China front.

Q.16. It seems to me that there is no hope of returning to status quo ante of April 2020? Is it correct that all the new buffer zones that have been created post April 2020 are now on the Indian side of our patrolling points?

A: By and large, true.

Q.17 To come specifically to the Gogra Hot Spring area, so you see any concessions?

A: Chinese, unlike Indians who can’t see beyond their noses, act always with the long view in mind. So, no, PLA is unlikely to concede on Gogra and Hot Springs, or remove its blockade of the Y-Junction in the Depsang.

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, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, SAARC, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Tibet. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to India shoved further into the corner in eastern Ladakh

  1. Amit says:

    This is a little depressing. I wonder if India has any options here other than war…no counter occupation of territory like at Pangong Pso?

  2. San Mann says:

    Hopefully RSS is watching and noticing the lackluster indecisiveness of BJP leadership, and will take steps to upgrade that leadership in the future.

  3. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    “Owing to his acceptance of the latter situation, he and his Command have signalled that they will NOT do anything to recover the nearly 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory thus lost, de facto, to the PLA. This sort of reticence should earn Lt. General Joshi, at a minimum, removal from service, unless these are the express orders from the Army Chief General MM Naravane”

    Sadly, Joshi and Naravane are birds of the same feather. They take their cues from the PM.

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