India- China border: Changing profile

China has always been trying to test Indian capabilities from time to time. A detailed analysis on the current scenario as compared to 1962.

India-China border: Changing profile
Image credit: PTI

By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)

India became independent on August 15 1947. As against becoming the heir of British India in totality, it was partitioned in two nations viz India and Pakistan wherein Pakistan was again split in two parts, one in the West as West Pakistan and one in the East as East Pakistan. In addition to this, there were challenges related to integration of more than 500 princely states, majority of which had implications for India. While integration of princely states had commenced, Pakistan raiders with full support of Pakistani Army launched operations in J&K which resulted in the intervention of Indian Armed Forces as Maharaja Hari Singh signed an instrument of accession to accede to India and J&K became integral part of India. It is beside the point that the ceasefire before capture of the entire J&K has resulted in close to 45 percent of the area still being under adverse possession of Pakistan till date.

In addition to fighting Pakistan in 1947-48, India remained engaged in integration of various princely states. India captured Goa, Daman & Diu from the Portuguese as late as in Dec 1961 and that too, militarily. Discussions were also continuing with the PRC from 1957 onwards to resolve the border issue with them. Border areas were predominantly mountainous and high altitude, devoid of major population as well as near absence of axial as well as lateral roads except few which were continuing from pre independence days. The way India had supported PRC after the latter gained independence in the current form on October 1,1949, India never hoped that China would attack militarily. The establishment of so-called defensive forward posts by India from 1960 onwards was also probably based on the hope that China will not attack India.

But it did attack India almost along  the entire front with special focus in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. It was reasonable for China not to employ their air and naval power as they were on their winning spree with land forces  alone but India also did not employ the available air and naval power in this month long war (October 20, 1962 to November 21, 1962) despite suffering huge losses both in terms of territory and soldier’s lives along with infrastructure damage.

It is important to understand that at this point of time ,  the country was just 15 years old, and had already fought a full fledged war with Pakistan besides substantial effort on integrating the princely states and Goa. Country wanted to focus more on the  development of the nation and well being of its people and therefore requisite focus on the defence forces was probably missed out as the threat from China was not visualised in the backdrop of ‘Panchsheel Agreement’ and Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai movement.

In 1962,the size of the defence forces, its equipment be it for Army, Navy or Air Force and its integrated approach did not match that of PRC which had inherited large size of defence forces after defeating ROC during the civil war. As against any major qualitative edge, it had massed the Army with which it overwhelmed our defenders. The outcome of the 1962 war is well known and its analysis has been done over a period of time. This war was  a watershed moment for India as a nation in general and the Indian Defence forces in particular. It is  this war after which the country focused on capacity creation for the defence forces but was not comfortable to develop the infrastructure in the forward areas in initial years as it was probably psyched that infrastructure could be used by the adversaries to advance in case of any future conflict.

While Pakistan launched 1965 war against India and lost, it lost its relevance militarily after 1971 war where it faced a comprehensive defeat and lost East Pakistan forever with East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh as an independent nation. Post 1962, India focused on empowering its defence force with new weapon acquisitions, enhanced synergy in the defence forces and creating necessary logistics sustenance means. These increased capacities resulted in beating Chinese in their own game in 1967 when they attempted skirmishes in Nathula and Chola in Sikkim. India was able to beat them and localize the conflict. The Indian Army alone pushed back them and the Chinese suffered larger casualties. This was followed by the 1971 war which became another watershed in the history of Indian Defence Forces which has become world class in its own way.

The 1967 win with China and 1971 decisive win against Pakistan brought India in a different league of nations. As a follow up, China Study Group(CSG) designated Patrolling Points(PPs) in 1975 in the Ladakh sector and India started asserting itself in the form of Line of Actual Control (LAC) which was included in the 1993 agreement of Peace and Tranquility. In 1975 itself, Sikkim became the 22nd state of India thus  India succeeded in fortifying its borders with China in the state of Sikkim.

China has always been trying to test Indian capabilities from time to time. Having tasted defeat from India in 1967 in Sikkim, it entered into conflict with Russia and got a beating also in 1969. Not only this, it entered into conflict with Vietnam in 1979 and failed to achieve its objective to change the Government in Cambodia for next 10 years. It turned its attention back to India and established Wangdung camp on the Southern side of Samdurong Chu in 1987. India responded by mass mobilization, occupied all forward positions and forced China not to make any further misadventure.

Post loss of face in 1987, China became more accommodative on improving peace and tranquility signing the agreements from 1993 onwards besides instituting formal mechanisms to resolve the border dispute. India also re-focused itself on Chinese border and infrastructure development albeit with normal pace. While India repelled Pakistani intrusion in 1999 in Kargil war, China kept itself aloof without jumping into the conflict. With Indian focus on infrastructure development and Arunachal Pradesh being granted full statehood in 1987, China’s discomfort had grown. The possibility of Chinese incursion across Samdurang Chu in 1987 being linked with grant of statehood to Arunachal Pradesh cannot be ruled out in totality while expansionist agenda and salami slicing were other two plausible reasons.

China has remained a restless country since inception and has been misadventuring regularly. It carried out Depsang incursions in 2013 which was resolved after political intervention and after granting certain concessions in Chumar. China tested India again through Bhutan in Doklam in 2017. India deployed its troops promptly and China had to withdraw back from the Doklam which was another event of loss of face.

Read More: Stage set for India-China talks! Corps Commanders to meet at Indian side of Chusul Moldo

While the world was battling Corona in the end 2019/beginning of 2020 presumably having started from China, China continued its expansionist agenda without break. It made incursions across LAC in Eastern Ladakh at multiple points in Apr-May 2020 and has not returned to those locations despite 16 rounds of Corps Cdr level talks. Air intrusions across LAC, in defiance of agreement of not coming close to LAC within 10Kms, are  becoming more regular.

It is important to realize and feel good about it that Indian defence forces have changed quantitatively and qualitatively. They are capable of handling both China and Pakistan together. Of course, it needs to further strengthen itself and make its future ready for the impending wars.

Key milestones on the Chinese border now Vs 1962 profile

-There has been an infrastructure surge all across our borders with China in terms of road and rail connectivity. It has helped in reducing our mobilization time for the war besides providing us the option for switching our forces from one area to another in an operationally acceptable timeframe. More work is needed and the same is being progressed. Once classifications of roads are improved and tiered lateral connectivities get completed, our capacity to both defend as well as launch offensive operations will increase.

-All weather connections have been created. Rohtang tunnel is operational. Fast pace work has commenced on Sela tunnel and Zojila tunnel. It’s a matter of time that we shall not be weather dependent for mobilistion of our troops. Road/rail movement will be possible as against being dependent only on aerial resources. Cost of sustenance of troops will reduce both in peace and war.

-Multiple crossing points have been created by laying bridges on the formidable rivers like Brahmaputra reducing our vulnerabilities.

-Forward airfields, heliports and landing grounds have been created to enhance the reach of our air power and the defence forces.

-High quality of induction of equipment is taking place in the Army, Navy and Airforce. More is in the pipeline with renewed focus on indigenous production. As we move ahead in time, we shall not remain hostage to any external country. Our Rafale gives shocks to the Chinese and we don’t have second thoughts to scramble our aircraft against Chinese AC. Our entire approach from being defensive in 1962 has been changed into a fully offensive approach to claim rightfully what is ours. We are willing to take risks and respond aggressively as done in 1967,1987, 2017 and now in 2020 while capturing Kailash ranges in Eastern Ladakh.

-We not only take offensive action as part of our defensive strategy but are willing to be proactive for offensive operations. It will be appropriate to highlight that now it’s a new India fully ready to handle China.

-India is now willing to take higher risks. It will not restrain itself from not  using air and naval power as was done in 1962 but will utilize every organ of the state to defend its national interests. IAF is being equipped with the best aircraft in the world while the Navy is being given the capability of controlling sea waters of the Indian Ocean.

-India has embarked upon the increased synergy of its defence forces. CDS post has been created and operationalised. Theatre commands are into making. Resource allocation and capacity creation will be in sync with threat perception.

Read More: China-Pakistan relation: Strain in ties between all-weather friends?

-As against seeing China-Pakistan as collusive partners,  they are being seen as a single border. A new term could be coined for ‘China-Pak border’ as ‘Chi-Napak border’ based on their agenda towards India.

-India has attained nuclear status (so are China and Pakistan) and it is willing to risk conventional conflict under nuclear overhang.

-Largely having fought in 1962 on its own, it now has the support of multiple nations on its side. China’s expansionist agenda has been exposed and the world has taken a note of it.

-India has become economically strong and can sustain the war fighting over a prolonged duration.

In 1962, when India hoped that China would not attack but it did. India in the 75th year of independence now thinks that China can attack anytime and it has geared up accordingly. It has prepared capability based response and not the intent based response as intent can change overnight which is a common factor both in Chinese as well as Pak actions. At this juncture of 75th year of independence, while India has to make strides in multiple domains, it has become capable of defending its national interests.

The author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He can be contacted at trinetra.foundationonline@gmail.com and tweets from @chanakyaoracle.

Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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