Geopolitics

The Tuting Saga – what we should learn
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 16 Jan , 2018

Mao Zhedong said and Deng Xiaoping reiterated, “Tibet is the palm of China and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) are its fingers”. Xi Jinping was a secretary in China’s Ministry of National Defence when China under Deng invaded Vietnam in 1979. Steeped in Deng’s colours, Xi is pursuing Mao’s dictum of ‘five fingers’ systematically, accelerated by his ‘China Dream’ that includes a China-centric Asia. With Pakistan reduced to being a Chinese province, Nepal subsumed into China’s gravitational pull, and Myanmar pushed into Chinese arms with western pressure courtesy the Rohingya crisis.

Since Independence, not a single political party has felt the need for a national security strategy.

China is exerting pressure all along the Line of Control (LAC) always claiming the PLA’s various intrusions are no intrusions – that Chinese troops are always in territory belonging to China. The Doklam standoff was in the same vein and although the Indian response did surprise China, the PLA has dug down in fortified positions just short of the standoff area. After all, Bhutan is one of the ‘five fingers’.

It is in the above context that Lobsang Sangay, Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile recently cautioned India against China’s deceptive policies, warning that what happened to Tibet could happen to India as well, adding, “The Doklam stand-off and the repeated cross-border incursion of Chinese soldiers into Indian territories is a sign of China’s expansionist mindset.” What Lobsang says is even more significant with Geng Shuang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman stating on January 3, 2018 that China “never acknowledged” the existence of Arunachal Pradesh.

The question here is that Doklam Standoff apart, which displayed India’s resoluteness, are we geared up as a nation to face the Chinese challenge? The Shyam Saran report during the UPA rule (not made public) reportedly revealed over the years India had allowed some 645 sq km territory to be nibbled away by China in addition to China’s illegal occupation of Aksai Chin (38,000 sq km) and the Shaksgam Valley (5180 sq km). Despite this report, then Defence Minster AK Anthony told Parliament that we have not lost an inch of territory to China, much to clapping by the cabal.

Ironically, India has never stood together in face of conflict after the 1971 Indo-Pak War. During the IPKF deployment in Sri Lanka, despite loss of lives and limbs of our soldiers, the Tamil Nadu government called them traitors. Even during the Kargil Conflict, opposition gunned for the government and managed to derail the Defence Minister on trumped up charges. With ISI having infiltrated our educational institutions, the Bharat Tere Tukde Honge (BTTH) brigade has political backing from quarters that have sold their conscience.

Focus appears more to build roads to villages, that with population of 100 or more… but what about roads linking our posts along the LAC?

The BTTH appears to have developed roots in the judiciary as well, as witnessed in the recent Supreme Court rebellion. But all this is hardly surprising when one third of the 4582 law makers in the country including 228 Members of Parliament are facing criminal charges. In such environment, how would the nation gear up face national security challenge from an increasingly aggressive China?

Since Independence, not a single political party has felt the need for a national security strategy. As to the recent pearls of wisdom that “Navy should be on the Pakistan border, fighting terrorists….”, reminds one of what Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw once mentioned during a speech, saying: “…politicians…..Most of them can’t tell the difference between a guerilla and gorilla, and some of them resemble the latter…”.

Actually, India would have lost much more territory to China, had not General K Sundarji as Army Chief launched Operation ‘Chequerboard’ and Operation ‘Falcon’ in 1987. Chequerboard was a high-altitude military exercise in the autumn of 1987 involving multiple Army divisions and and several squadrons of the IAF, with redeployment of troops at several places in northeast India to test Indian military response to threats across tha LAC. This was over and above some 55,000 troops already deployed in the region. Falcon was the response to the Chinese intrusion at Wangdung (which Chinese insisted was their territory). Indian Army moved three divisions to positions around Wangdung, that forced China to call off the intrusion and mutually withdraw.

While Chequerboard was launched in 1987, does it prick the conscience of the nation that 30 years later, our soldiers had to walk 19 hours to reach the point of recent Chinese intrusion in Tuting area of Arunachal Pradesh? The MoS (Home) told Parliament last year that the border infrastructure will be completed by 2020 – which is quite unlikely. But forget the poor quality of narrow roads to some of the forward posts with inadequate width of vehicle crossings forces one-way convoy system, which border infrastructure are we talking off anyway?

Accepting Chinese claims its construction workers “inadvertently” strayed into India’s side of LAC will be the height of stupidity.

Focus appears more to build roads to villages, that with population of 100 or more. Sure we can’t Japan that for years is running a train to the Kyu-Shiraki train station of Hokkaido Island for a solitary school girl, but what about roads linking our posts along the LAC? It is rubbish to brush the problem under the carpet by saying that the terrain is easier on the Chinese side. Those talking of difficult terrain need to see the Karakoram Highway (KKH) and communications built by China in Tibet, railway to Lhasa, recent ones linking Nepal, and roads linking each and every post manned by Chinese troops. That we are no ashamed of the quality and capacity of our roads even at border meeting point like Bum La or the trading post at Nathu La is separate another.

Bishing village in Tuting area is closest to where the Chinese road construction party recently intruded 1.25 km across the LAC recently. Chinese drove to the intrusion area simply because they ‘have’ built the road to the LAC and beyond to the point they came. It was no innocent activity but well planned after a recent exercise with troops our Army in the area had ended. Bishing does not have a motorable road because of the “norm” of not providing roads for villages less than 100 population under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) and since we bother little about building roads to the LAC. So, it was a local porter who having seen the Chinese road building activity in last week December 2017 during a routine trek alerted the ITBP, who in turn informed the Army.

As per media reports, some 120 Army had to be rushed to the LAC with ration that could last them for 30 days. With no roads to the border and no animal transport at disposal, Army pressed into service a company of 300 porters raised earlier to stock the troops. To feed the troops before the porters arrived, Army heli-dropped 100 packets of ready-to-eat meal and 30,000 packets of chocolates. Each porter can carry 10-15 kg ration and must rest before coming downhill for the next trip up.

Media quoting a defence source says, “The initial reading was that the Chinese might be planning to open up another area of dispute after Doklam. We were certain that it would be a long haul, after the Doklam standoff lesson and we moved our troops immediately on December 28,” Subsequently, on January 6, 2018 a flag meeting was held at the point of intrusion, to which PLA personnel merrily drove up. The issue reportedly was resolved amicably and the Chinese returned with the road construction equipment. All is well is being publicized but is it so and for how long considering that this is not the only Chinese intrusion that has occurred after the Doklam standoff?

Clearly we as a nation are not geared up to face the Chinese challenge behind the argument that China does not want conflict.

Let us be clear that any road construction by China along the LAC is undertaken by PLA – same as in Doklam area. Referring them as civilians is playing the ostrich. Why would Chinese civilians be constructing the road in the intrusion area without PLA mandate – certainly not to link Bishing? Accepting Chinese claims its construction workers “inadvertently” strayed into India’s side of LAC will be the height of stupidity. The fact the point up to which the present intrusion took place had three feet of snow shows the PLA resolve. Obviously if the activity was not detected by chance, the road would have been developed further by many km more.

This time again, PLA perhaps did not expect to be detected and chose to withdraw, but next time the situation could be different. Operation ‘Chequerboard’ was launched for precisely dealing with such contingencies, but unfortunately we failed to capitalize on it because of lack of political will. How long are we going to sit kilometers behind, manning the LAC for one-two months calling it an exercise or Op ‘Alert’, then falling back, waiting for chance discovery of an intrusion and then go hell for leather hoping no confrontation?

Clearly we as a nation are not geared up to face the Chinese challenge behind the argument that China does not want conflict. But why should China seek conflict when it could salami-slice huge swathes of Arunachal Pradesh, postponing conflict to a later date, if at all? Are we prepared for multiple intrusions along the LAC, given the fact and PLA has been probing everywhere – looking for soft spots? Tuting area was never considered a hotspot but can we discard that possibility now?

PLA did not constructed that road for nothing with troops from China’s Western Theatre Command right opposite in Nyingchi prefecture of China. As a nation we need to relook at our response to the Chinese challenge which without doubt will be upgraded. The cynically cold, calculated ruthlessness of Xi Jinping can be gauged from the genocide in Xinjiang, Tibet and recent demolition of all churches in China including dynamiting Hong Kong’s largest church where more than 50,000 Christians worshipped. The fact that China has ordered photos of Jesus Christ to be replaced by those of Xi Jinping more than indicates Xi Jinping considers himself reincarnation of Hitler and will be much more vicious than his predecessors.

Prudence demands that we be prepared for mass intrusions by PLA, perhaps on scale even bigger than Kargil in unmanned areas, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. Ruling this out in winter months would be as stupid; akin to the pre-Kargil intrusions appreciation that Mashkoh area cannot be traversed during winter while we sat at the Saltoro Range. Hiding behind the fallacy of Arunachal being inaccessible to Chinese will be yet another strategic blunder. With the type of communications the PLA has built enables them to sally forth gradually in what they illegally claim their own territory. As per recent media reports, government plans to raise another 15 BSF and ITBP battalions for beefing up borders with Pakistan, China and Bangladesh. Apparently, that is all that we can think of, but look at the massive concentration of forces in Maoist insurgency areas and the perception building of everything going hunky-dory whereas the ground situation is quite different.

The responsibility of guarding international borders and development of border infrastructure must rest with the Defence Minister, not the Home Minister.

Unless we are content with running a banana republic, the following actions are warranted:

The Defence Minister must seriously review the border infrastructure. The hotchpotch of Border Roads under MoD with responsibility of developing border infrastructure with MHA must be rectified. The responsibility of guarding international borders and development of border infrastructure must rest with the Defence Minister, not the Home Minister. The Defence Sectary who is officially charged with the defence of India has never bothered to resolve this mess, simply because he is not accountable, and couldn’t care less.

We need to optimize on the lessons of Op ‘Chequerboard’. Standing patrols will need to man unheld gaps even as we can’t afford to sit permanently many km behind anymore. It would be prudent to expand and employ Arunachal Scouts for tasks like standing forward suevellance rather than deploying BSF and ITBP from elsewhere. The Defence Minister needs to look afresh at the requirements of developing border infrastructure to the LAC in face of increased assertiveness of China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi must place all international borders (manning and infrastructure development) under the Defence Minister overruling the turf wars and the faux pas prevailing since Independence, put in place deliberately by the bureaucracy. Defence of international borders is not a Diwali ki barfi with everyone getting a piece. It requires a single point command in the Defence Minister. This will go a long way in improving focus on securing our borders. With Border Roads under the MoD, the Defence Minister must launch an aggressive plan to build the required communications on priority harnessing private enterprises and Army Engineer resources as well.

There is no reason that ‘norms’ of PMGSY connecting roads to villages of only 100 or more population cannot be relaxed for forward-most villages like Bishing. The advantages by way of intelligence and response are obvious.

R&AW and IB need to be specifically tasked astride the LAC to provide early warning of enemy movements…

Rightfully, there has been much talk about optimizing technology including satellites, drones etc. But what of our borders? The misconception that national security is only military security has led us to neglect of our borders, with Home Ministry focused primarily on the Indo-Pak border in the plains sector. Despite Jinping’s stated focus of digitization of the PLA, India Army’ battlefield management system has been foreclosed after pursuing it for 13 years. Cohesive surveillance, battlefield management and communications systems need to be put in placed integrating all forces deployed along the LAC are vital necessities. This nation must provide the finances for this rather than grandiose plans of procuring 10,000 seaplanes that a Union Minister is propagating.

HUMINT will continue to play a major role in these areas, as was evident from the manner in which the Tuting intrusion was detected, not that we did any better in context of the Kargil intrusions. R&AW and IB need to be specifically tasked astride the LAC to provide early warning of enemy movements, even though fixation of all Indian Governments has been to use intelligence agencies to do down the Opposition – as scripted by MK Dhar, former Joint Director IB in his book ‘Open Secrets – India’s intelligence unveiled’.

According to K Apang, Additional Deputy Commissioner in-charge of Tuting circle, “…. Only recently when we saw google maps, we realized that this is our land. The Chinese had already constructed 1250 metre (1.25km) of road inside Indian territory”. So the question is that while the LAC / MacMohan Line is not demarcated on ground, why is the administrative machinery of affected states along the LAC not educated similar to how Apang discovered what our territory is? And having done that, why can’t state intelligence sources be integrated into the surveillance grid? Jinping recently called upon Tibetan villagers close to the LAC to contribute to guarding the LAC. Why can’t we do so similarly?

The choices with the Modi Government are simple. Either ‘Act Borders’ (get its act together along borders, particularly the LAC) or continue as before (playing down intrusions / transgression, whatever) as prelude to the looming strategic setback with loss of more territory. Of course, resort to bureaucratic advice is always available as the fallback option – that China will undertake no such action purely for economic reasons. But then the game of Blind Man’s Buff was not invented without reason. If Jinping can order demolition of all churches with US-China rivalry having come to the fore, imagine to what length he would go when viewing US-China relations anti-China.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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6 thoughts on “The Tuting Saga – what we should learn

  1. Our politicians are too busy fighting and name calling each other and have little interest in governance; and this is likely to continue for more than the next year till elections decide who is to be PM and new Parliament is in place. Meanwhile China is free to infiltrate & make inroads beyond LAC.
    If action has to be taken our military leaders need to take a stand, and device a way to do so circumventing the political arena. Otherwise the old slogan — hindi-chini bhai bhai, — will become a reality.

  2. “Tibet is the palm of China and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) are its fingers”

    Did Mao ever consider that one day Pakistan will become China’s Butt ? BY putting most of their eggs in the Pakistani basket, the Chinese have made a grave error. Nothing to be gained from there as they will see one day.

    India should simply be prepared to hold China off all along the LAC. No point fretting over this or that incursion since there will always be a new one.

  3. “What we should learn” from the recent intrusion in Tuting is that China can never be trusted and don’t dream of lasting peace with the dragon. Build your capability both economic and defense and when the time is ripe “HIT BACK”. China respects hard power and the power that flows from the barrel of a gun. Be ruthless and be merciless with the Chinese.

  4. A blunt reminder to the government about the imminent danger on our northern borders and also the enemies among us. We as a nation have face the threat from both quarters with resolution. Our people have to be goaded into doing their work diligently as our enemies will not give us any warning. Be it road and rail construction or acquisition of wherewithal for the armed forces. Chalta hai attitude will ensure that we will forever be a mediocre power.
    The first task should be to neutralise the enemy within as it will nullify any constructive action taken by the government.

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