By K.N. Pandit
First making an incursion and then engaging in table talks is Chinese strategy about Sino-Indian border dispute. Violating Indian airspace, dropping small ration supplies, propaganda leaflets and even at times few uniformed personnel to quickly demolish old Indian posts and then beat a hasty retreat is China’s low-key provocative activity to test India’s retaliation capability. She made 72 intrusions all along the Ladakh border in one year.
Chinese contingent, initially (15th April night) of only 50 PLA solders, has multiplied to 1500 PLA solders, 15 snow chained armoured vehicles, 3 helicopters, 100 missile guns, 200 Army tents, and 3 Emergency Hospital Vehicles. With satellite phones and wireless equipment they are keeping the Headquarters in Beijing informed of their moves.
This massive build up has come up in Depsang Valley within a couple of days of first incursion. Intentions are clear. China means to occupy the new location close to Karakoram Pass and deny India the advantage of monitoring the activities of Chinese and Pakistani armies along the Karakorum Highway besides being an access point to Aksai Chin. Besides deploying a solitary UAH, the ITBP has, reportedly, set up a post 300 meters away from the site. That is all on Indian side. China has already occupied 10,000 kms of Indian Territory in Aksaichin.
Since Mao Zedong era, China has adhered to ancient theorist Sun Tzu’s advice, “The ability to subdue the enemy without any battle is the ultimate reflection of the most supreme strategy.” This approach involves taking an adversary by surprise by exploiting its weaknesses, seizing any opportunistic timing, and camouflaging offence as defence.
As Sun Tzu said, “All warfare is based on deception.” Chinese deception was evident in 1962 War. In 1951 they occupied Tibet and forced out Dalai Lama and his followers to India. Since it happened in Indian neighbourhood, they became friendly with day-dreamer Nehru and made him pronounce Hindi-Cheene bhai bhai. After just three years, once the whole world and India digested that Tibet is a part of China, they attacked us unprovoked and stole away Aksaichin. After the BRICS Summit their new President Xi, with a wry smile on his face, was seen shaking hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Consider the timing of present incursion. Chinese Premier is scheduled to visit India soon. Preparations were afoot for cordiality exercise related to the impending visit. Chinese policy planners have no qualms of conscience. Not to speak of others, Chinese are not true even to their own people; Beijing hates the Shanghai and other Southern Chinese as well.
Border skirmishes should not escalate into major wars; generally they don’t. Just when PLA planned clandestine incursion into Depsong valley in Ladakh, China had simultaneously dispatched eight naval ships close to Daiyou Islands by way of warning Japan that her people should not move into the island. Japan reacted saying it will not allow any landing on the Daiyou Islands even if there are 8 or 80 Chinese Ships and Japan is prepared for War as well. Compare the pusillanimous reaction of New Delhi to Chinese incursion in Ladakh.
China achieves several objectives by violating international laws. She tests India’s patience and capability and with each perfunctory intrusion she is gathering confidence that India has neither will nor capacity to meet the challenge. We may cite an example here or there of PLA withdrawing after initial military reaction, but that is precisely what the Chinese incursion is meant to bring back.
Should India risk war with China? We are not comparing the two in terms of military strength but we take into account the ground situation and the aftermath of a war between the two giants. China is India’s biggest trade partner at the moment and the volume of trade has touched 62 billion dollars annually. Should we put a halt to this or should we mange to maintain trade and other relations yet at the same time persuade China to restore status quo? Chinese officially asserts has not made any violation of the treaty signed only a month ago committing not to increase the number of their troops along the LAC. The ink has hardly dried on that agreement when the incursion followed. Therefore New Delhi has to take limited action on the ground but pursue the talks at various levels which it claims are proceeding right now. Limited military action is necessary because the present intrusion is a major attempt of provoking India. New Delhi has to be firm in war and in peace. It must learn the language that China understands. Flag meetings between the two sides have failed. China has made a strong build up and is determined to be physically present in strong numbers at this strategic point. India has to assert her sovereignty over the territory in her control. China has no business to dictate terms to India, ask her to stop construction of infrastructure along the border with China in Ladakh and not to”aggressively” patrol the border. India has to do strong surveillance over the Karakorum Highway which China is gradually turning into a military strategic line. There is understanding between China and Pakistan on the latter launching border intrusions and waiting to evaluate India’s strength. India has upgraded old airfields along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. These are the airfields at Daulat Beg Oldi and further south at Fuk Che and Nyoma. All these airfields can take transport aircraft and helicopters. There are 70,000 troops including artillery regiments deployed in Siachen and the LOAC. However, India’s big failure is that there is virtually no road network or railways in the region. As compared to India, China deploys more than two lakh troops along Ladakh border. That includes mechanised infantry units, the artillery and tank formations. China has reportedly built 14 major air bases in Tibet, 8 missile bases and 17 secret radar stations. It also has a highway network running all along the Line of Actual Control.
Evasive as well as dismissive statements from highest sources in New Delhi aiming at playing down the incident in Ladakh are little consolation to patriotic sentiment which the incident throws up and is reflected in the statement of BJP Chief Rajnath Singh. The nation is closely watching how the government will react to this situation. With hindsight before us, we can suggest that New Delhi has to adopt two pronged strategy precisely what China has done — a mix of sword rattling and Chanakya strategy has to be employed. Remember Chairman Mao’s immortal words “Power flows through the barrel of the gun”. Also remember Islamabad is very closely and very intently watching the situation.