Television and newspaper reports suggesting Chinese soldiers setting up fresh structures in the sensitive Galwan valley are not without basis. Anything that hurts sentiment, especially when the country’s prestige is at stake, is unacceptable to an Indian. Therefore, the many questions on the preparedness of the Indian Army and the government are not unexpected.
Without a doubt, the Chinese have been ambitious, to an extent untrustworthy. To build structures and gun position in an apparently disputed area at a time when core commanders are discussing a smooth process for disengagement is hitting one below the belt. More so, when so many lives have been lost in that bloody confrontation on June 15. The Chinese could have been more circumspect now.
It is foolish to assume that the Indian Army in Ladakh area are like sitting ducks. To think that our soldiers are not aware of what the Chinese are up to is absurd. On the contrary, Indian commanders are fully prepared to meet any eventuality and react at the shortest possible time. The Ladakh Division has staged forward its vital elements like artillery guns, tanks and of course, additional infantry. There will be contingency plans for any emergency too. Defence is also a form of attack and one need not be cavalier all the times. This is a period of restraint and not get unnecessarily provoked.
India need not do a Balakot with China. But what we can certainly do is take the fight into the Chinese camp. There will be several soft softs in the over 3000 kilometre border with China. India needs to identify a few, be bold and enter Chinese territory and sit there. Let’s not forget that there are 23 disputed points—11 in Ladakh, four in the central sector and eight in the east—along the border and therefore the scope is enormous, especially in the central and eastern sectors. This posturing will tell China that India is not a punching bag.
China can never be a happy nation when it shares a 22,000 km border with 14 nations. Since 1989 when the conflict with Vietnam ended, the Chinese haven’t fought a proper war. The Chinese leadership is apprehensive about the preparedness of its forces and the only way it can keep its superpower status intact is to needle a developing nation like India, quite capable of looking the dragon in the eye. Doklam in 2017, that witnessed a 73-day standoff, is a clear example.
No wonder, the Chinese are instigating Nepal against India. These are signs of a nation that is unsure of its alliances and loyalty. The more than normal Army build-up in Galwan behind talks of a peaceful disengagement at Chusul Moldo point speaks eloquently of how jittery the Chinese are.
There is enough reason for the Chinese to be perennially on the tenterhooks. In 1962, India lost the war to China. India were certainly underprepared then as we lost 3,000 people as against China’s 700. The Chinese occupied Aksai-Chin in Ladakh and continue to do so after the 32-day battle. But in 1967, India won a ‘theatre-level’ conflict in the eastern sector (Nathula/Chola). Indian forces had actually forced the Chinese to get out of Chola an Indian area where they had transgressed.
This confrontation at Nathula/Chola region was similar to Kargil and not a full-fledged war. India ended as clear winners. China lost 400 and India 80. The situation in Galwan is like a theatre-level conflict and the Chinese know how dangerous India can be.
At an operational level, there have been two meetings at the core commander’s level on June 6 and June 22. India was represented by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, GOC 14 Corps. The Chinese were led by Major General Liu Lin, the south Xinxiang military district chief. Although he is not part of the meetings, the Chinese also have a political commissar (a civilian), whose main job is to keep the government updated. It only shows the intention of the Chinese government.
The Indian government has complete faith in its Army. Almost every task in recent times has been fulfilled with overwhelming success. It is the job of the media to ask relevant questions. There is no harm in doing that. As long as the media shows belief in the soldiers who are not scared of iron rods with spikes, it will be good enough. And media organisations must remember that satellite images can never read what’s building up in the core of a soldier's heart.
(In a career spanning 40 years, Lt Gen Utpal Bhattacharyya has served in all three hotspots confronting China, i.e. NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh), UP-TIBET border (Dharchula-Lipulekh)and Ladakh. He also took part in the Bangladesh operation and Kargil war with Pakistan. Views expressed are personal).