India must press home its strategic advantage on snowy heights

Given China’s military intentions and aim, taking advantage of the pandemic, for which it is blamed, it is vital for India to take proactive and powerful measures to ensure its security and integrity, writes Col Anil Bhat (retd) for South Asia Monitor 

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Sep 30, 2020
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Satellite images have shown how Kailash Manasarovar, a venerated place of religious pilgrimage for Hindus now resembles a battle zone with a heavy military presence. This was reported in Defence News on August 23 and added that China's enhancement of military facilities near Mount Kailash includes the deployment of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) with fresh constructions that started in April 2020 being completed by September 2020.

Mount Kailash and many areas along with Manasarovar, including Rakshastal and Gauri Kund, are revered by Hindus and Buddhists. The latest satellite images from August 16 indicate possibly, HQ-9 SAM system under tarpaulin covers. This also amounts to desecration and defacing or destruction also of the holy site. A TV news network showed visuals of young Chinese soldiers sitting in a bus crying, reportedly on their way to the China-India Line of Actual Control (LAC), juxtaposed by Indian soldiers playing kabaddi in three feet of snow, somewhere near the LAC.  

Crying Chinese soldiers 

The Chinese soldiers, mostly single children of their parents owing to the Chinese Communist Party’s diktat on limiting family size, are most likely crying as they have heard of the fate of their senior comrades in the Galwan valley on June 15-16, 2020. This video is reportedly from Taiwan and was stoutly denied by China’s controlled mouthpiece, Global Times. That was the day when Chinese troops broke all agreements for peace and tranquility and also broke all records of military confrontation by killing 20 Indian soldiers including their battalion commander on June 15, by using, not firearms, but medieval barbaric weapons. 

The intense revenge counter-attack by Indian soldiers shortly thereafter resulted in three or four times more Chinese soldiers being killed without the use of firearms and 14 Chinese soldiers being bare-handedly thrown into the freezing waters of the Galwan river by a single young Indian Army brave-heart Gurtej Singh, who also died. Some Chinese personnel was captured too. Earlier on June 5 and 9, 2020, Chinese troops resorted to stoning and attacking with medieval weapons at East Ladakh and Naku La (pass), Sikkim respectively, injuring over 100 Indian soldiers, but with none killed. 

Indian Army commanding new heights

But even then, PLA (People's Liberation Army) violated the spirit of all past agreements. The other unexpected and unprecedented rude shock to PLA was when some commanding new heights were occupied by the Indian Army, including its Tibetan troops of Special Frontier Force for the first time since its raising in 1962, between August 29 and the second week of September. These new heights include Magar hill, Gurung Hill, Recehen La, Rezang La, Mokhpari, and the dominating height over Chinese positions near Finger 4. 

After being shocked again, PLA is frustrated like never before and reportedly been forced to plan for its troops to spend the coming snow-filled winter facing the Indian Army troops. Before and after these incidents there have been many rounds of talks between military commanders.

India-China talks

The corps commander level meeting on September 21 which reportedly went on for fourteen hours were also inconclusive.  Talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi  Jinping, which, viewed retrospectively, amount to China making a mockery of them. When PM Modi was hosting Xi and his wife at the Sabarmati riverfront, Chinese troops had intruded into Chumar. And the greatest irony is Xi inviting PM Modi to Wuhan, from where China is said to have launched its biological attack on the world in the form of COVID-19. During the foreign and defence ministers meetings in September 2020, Indian ministers stated whatever China had done/should not have done, but both meetings were inconclusive.

The brigadier-level talks between Indian and Chinese armies on September 7, led to much heat from both sides and resulted in their deciding against holding in-person talks. Both the military commanders then exchanged heated arguments over the hotline. This was on September 8, a day after Chinese soldiers attempted to dislodge Indian forces which occupied strategic heights in Mukhpari peak and Rezang La areas in Ladakh on the night of August 29-30, 2020. PLA’s attempts to dislodge Indian soldiers on the newly occupied heights by its group of soldiers armed with staves and firearms were thwarted.

The heated exchange on the hotline was over Chinese troops’ attempt to approach Mukhpari Peak, dominated by Indian forces as well as the PLA’s use of medieval weaponry. What emerges from a look back at the talks mentioned and those from 1993 till 2020, both politico-diplomatic and military, including maybe thousands of talks held by commanders on the ground from 1967 till 2020 is the characteristic lies,  deceit, utter lack of sincerity, bullying attitude, and unending greed for land, particularly that with valuable natural resources, which makes them to continuously keep creeping across the LAC, about which they refuse to declare their claim lines. 

Not declaring their claim as lies suit PLA so that it can try to claim any area based on Chinese perception. Some Indian Army veterans who faced the monkey tricks of PLA during their service believe, this unresolved border should be referred to as the Line of Existing Control, not ‘Actual’control. 1981 parallel track policy of working to build harmonious ties even as the two countries sort out the boundary issue has not paid any dividends to India. Instead, India has lost territory since then, letting 65 patrolling points defined by the China Study Group in 1976 turn into the de facto LAC in Ladakh.

The patrolling points are well within the Indian perception of the LAC but the movement of the Indian forces to these points has been curtailed by the presence of Chinese troops, face-offs with PLA patrolling parties, and on occasions, the harsh weather, and mountainous terrain. It is under the guise of a summer exercise that PLA marshaled a large force with all supporting units of tanks, guns, missiles, etc and used it in Galwan, and Pangong Tso, in June 2020 after Depsang and Daulat Beg Oldie in May 2020. PLA has no intention of disengaging or de-escalating. In fact, it is frustrated and feverishly proceeding with efforts to grab parts of Bhutan is still incomplete.  

With the after effect on PLA’s morale by Indian Army’s revenge counter attack on June 15-16, 2020, at Galwan and the unprecedented occupation of commanding heights since August 29, raising India’s bargaining leverage substantially, India must press forward till mid-October till the snows set in to occupy even more such positions.

And simultaneously India must assertively begin using all cards against China, from Aksai Chin onwards at least. India should refuse to hold any further talks with China until it does not relent.  This is the time after seven decades when India must begin to keep rubbing China with all that it has done by way of bullying India during the decades of India's Congress government rule-except for Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri (1965) and Indira Gandhi (1967 at Nathu La/Cho La and 1971)- till mid-2014 being too soft and ever-bending. 

India must be prepared 

While the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government has been assertive relatively, it needs to go quite a bit further to ensure that the post-August 29 gains are maintained and not frittered away by falling back as a result of any further/future talks. It is critically important to break the Nehruvian jinx of not using force when required and when it would have been effective, or not using enough of it and now determinedly take on all issues to change the narrative with China. Given China’s military intentions and aim, taking advantage of the pandemic, for which it is blamed, it is vital for India to take proactive and powerful measures to ensure its security and integrity. 

Indian Army’s post-August 19 moves are going to force PLA into camping the 2020-21 winter with extra clothing and equipment. If the Chinese leadership is pig-headed enough to think it can pitch PLA into a winter war, which today is technologically possible, it will only mean a heavy price to pay by way of bodybags and its economy. 

While Indian Army troops are quite used to the extremely cold climate and are quite adept at maintaining tanks in such temperature conditions, PLA soldiers may find the going a bit tough, to put it mildly. It got quite amply proved in 1967 in Sikkim and in 2020 in Eastern Ladakh that PLA is not made of super-soldiers. 

Having come so far, all that the Indian leadership has to do is to ensure that the mountain strike corps is equipped with all necessities and then maintain its high level of political will to pay back the Chinese establishment diplomatically and militarily.  

(The author, a strategic analyst and former spokesperson, Defence Ministry and Indian Army, can be contacted at wordsword02@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal) 

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