It is a truism that while we are community minded and seek cooperation with others, our interactions tend to be guided less by altruism and more by our own self-interest and greed. It was therefore inherently suspicious when we suddenly found ourselves as the flavour of the week in Washington, and the Modi-Biden pirouette the focus of all eyes, with hyperbole flying thick and fast. Undoubtedly, being courted and feted in such a manner is a wonderful thing, and does wonders for the ego, but despite that we would do well to temper our expectations and keep our feet firmly planted on the ground. It is not without reason that it has often been said that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.
The Americans are of the view that with the requisite assistance, in terms of modern weaponry, actionable intelligence and training, the Indian military is capable of giving a good account of itself in any conventional conflict with China.
However, American motives are not difficult to gauge. Clearly, with Russia greatly weakened, diminished and defanged because of Putin’s missteps in Ukraine, the Americans have now set their sights on countering China. In that context they hope that much in the manner that Ukraine serves America’s purpose, we as the new chosen ones, will help meet America’s vital strategic aims in Asia. From our point of view, more importantly, what is it that Mr. Modi wishes to gain from all this bonhomie?
The Americans are of the view that with the requisite assistance, in terms of modern weaponry, actionable intelligence and training, the Indian military is capable of giving a good account of itself in any conventional conflict with China. They surmise that while we may not be able to defeat the PLA militarily, we will be certainly able to force them into a stalemate. As has been the case with Russia, not only would such a situation adversely impact China’s economy, which is already facing serious headwinds, but more importantly, put a question mark on their capability to occupy Taiwan through the use of military force.
Undoubtedly, given the nature of the terrain and the extended lines of communications from the Mainland to the Tibetan Plateau, it seems obvious that it is not feasible for the PLA to deploy overwhelming force in TAR, or utilise their full war-fighting capabilities against us. The Indian military, on the other hand, would be fighting a defensive battle, with near-parity in forces, from hardened positions developed over time, along interior lines of communication that are being rapidly improved. In addition, being a high- altitude desert, the Tibetan Plateau is conducive for the acquisition of accurate and real-time intelligence with regard to troop movements and concentrations, location of logistic nodes and command and control hubs. This would also help us to gauge their intentions and operational plans and thereby allow us to respond in an appropriate and timely manner.
Moreover, given the lack of natural cover and the extremely difficult terrain which the railway lines and road links from Mainland China to Tibet traverse, these and other infrastructural facilities, along with the PLA’s troop concentrations and the like, would be vulnerable to interdiction. In addition, our offensive forces, which include the two Mountain Strike Corps and the two additional divisions worth of regular and irregular airborne forces, provide the Indian military with a fairly robust capability to snatch the initiative and take the battle into the Tibetan Plateau.
…Chinese aggressive behaviour that we face, should by all means, be a huge miscalculation on their part.
But all of this is only feasible if our political and military leadership display strong nerves, are clear-headed and focussed, and have the requisite self-belief to confront and respond to China’s aggressive designs employing their “Three Warfare” concept naming places in Indian territory with Chinese names, with their salami-slicing tactics of land grab and unilateral diversion of rivers. A quid pro quo action on our part may well result in escalation and lead to conflict. In such a scenario there would be only one winner, the Americans. It would impact our struggling economy quite badly and set us back years, if not decades, depending on intensity and duration of such a conflict.
For us the major benefit, especially if it ends in a stalemate, would be that it would put an end to China’s bullying and high-handed behaviour. If not end, it would certainly raise the costs for them. The likelihood of higher costs being imposed on their attempts to illegally occupy our territory by force or deceit, would force them to rethink their strategy and behaviour. It may also be the required incentive that is necessary if we are to demarcate and stabilise our border in a manner that is equitable and advantageous to both sides.
Given the circumstances therefore Chinese aggressive behaviour that we face, should by all means, be a huge miscalculation on their part. It not only pushes us deeper into the American camp, whatever be the disadvantages of that, and also ensures that it will inevitably end in a damage to Beijing’s credibility and power, if a conflict were to occur. The chances of this occurring increase incrementally as the Indian military modernises and enhances its capabilities with American assistance, while simultaneously also is able to put in place a robust border communication network that will greatly add to its operational flexibility.
Given the debacle of 1962 and the rather tenuous nature of our subsequent response to Chinese aggression ever since, they probably have an exceedingly poor opinion of our political and military leadership.
Obviously, the Chinese leadership either has a very different perspective on the matter, or believes that it needs to cut India down to size before its military becomes too strong. Whatever be its reason, the Chinese leadership seems willing to back its intentions with force. Given the debacle of 1962 and the rather tenuous nature of our subsequent response to Chinese aggression ever since, they probably have an exceedingly poor opinion of our political and military leadership. Certainly, the present government by its actions over the past decade, has given them no reason to change their views.
In this context it is worthwhile remembering that despite China’s occupation in 2020 of what turns out to be 3000Square Kms of territory in Eastern Ladakh, and a deliberate and pre-planned attack against our troops at Galwan that resulted in twenty personnel being killed, all that our government and military have done is talk of disengagement, de-escalation and diffusing of tensions. Moreover, the Prime Minister’s refusal to publicly call out China’s hostile behaviour by name, along with a rather tepid response to counter the burgeoning deficit we suffer in our trade with them, and one cannot help but fully understand the reasons for the Chinese leadership acting in the manner that they do.
Add to that the diplomatic outreach that our government has been indulging in over the past few months, as also speculation that an attempt is underway to arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi on the side-lines of the G 20 Summit here in Delhi. This is par for the course as past actions of this government show that it is willing to concede whatever is necessary, even at the cost of national interest, if it can get the Chinese to remain low-key and keep the border ‘quiet’, whenever state or general elections are on the horizon, so that it is not embarrassed by the opposition.
It had done exactly this in September 2017 following the Dhoklam face-off. Subsequent to Mr Modi’s meeting with President Xi at Wuhan following the confrontation, our government quietly accepted China’s illegal occupation of more than 75% of the Dhoklam Plateau and its subsequent construction of a road till the foothills of the strategic Zampheri Ridge, apart from establishing of Chinese “villages” there. This makes the Siliguri Corridor, connecting our North East to the Mainland, exceedingly vulnerable to interdiction in a conflict. It appears that a similar modus-operandi has been followed with regard to the territory lost in Eastern Ladakh.
As Lt Gen Panag succinctly points out in the Print “the acceptance of the 1959 Claim Line is a fait accompli”. Something that every government since 1962 had ensured the Chinese were unable to achieve.
As Lt Gen Panag succinctly points out in the Print “the acceptance of the 1959 Claim Line is a fait accompli”. Something that every government since 1962 had ensured the Chinese were unable to achieve. Since mainstream media has lost complete credibility thanks to its closeness to the regime, it is unlikely that the government will face any criticism for its act of cowardice.
Clearly this government, through a sleight of hand engineered by our suave and extremely articulate Foreign Minister, hopes to get away with its bizarre attempt to “run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds”. This is wishful thinking and inherently makes us untrustworthy. More importantly, it puts our national interest in grave jeopardy as a house without a strong foundation will collapse on itself. Let us hope when that happens, as it is bound to, we are not forced to pay too great a price. But also let us not fool ourselves, for we are equally at fault for our fanatical loyalty to individuals and an unwillingness to hold the government to account.