There are other unconfirmed reports of clashes with PLA occupying unoccupied features on the south bank of Pangong Tso and Indian forces evicting them.
By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd).
The Ministry of Defence issued a statement on August 31 that read, “On the Night of 29/30 August 2020, PLA troops violated the previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements during the ongoing standoff in Eastern Ladakh and carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo. Indian troops pre-empted this PLA activity on the Southern Bank of Pangong Tso Lake undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground. The Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and tranquillity through dialogue but is also equally determined to protect its territorial integrity. A Brigade Commander level Flag Meeting is in progress at Chushul to resolve the issues”.
China’s foreign ministry responded by saying, “China’s border guards have always strictly abided by the actual line of control and have never crossed the line. The border forces of the two countries have been maintaining communication on the issue of the present. On the evening of August 31 spokesman of PLA’s Western Theatre Command stated, “Indian troops have violated the consensus reached at the multi-level talks between India and China and again crossed the line of actual control at the border on Monday (read August 31) and purposely launched provocations. China strongly opposes the acts and urges India to immediately withdraw the troops that have illegally crossed the LAC”.
There are other unconfirmed reports of clashes with PLA occupying unoccupied features on the south bank of Pangong Tso and Indian forces evicting them. All this confirms that PLA will not withdraw from its intrusions in the north bank of Pangong Tso, Gogra/Hot Springs and Depsang. The recent first-time provocation on the south bank of Pangong Tso could have been due to President Xi Jinping’s frustration over the revelation of the graveyard of 103 PLA personnel killed in the Galwan clash on June 15/16 which is more than five times the 20 Indian Army personnel killed. But we need to look at PLA’s latest provocation in the larger context of what China is doing along the entire length of the Line of Actual Control, as well as in Western Pacific and in Bhutan – PLA occupation of Doklam Plateau a month after the 73-day India-China standoff was called off in 2017 plus China’s latest illegal claim to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan.
Xi has plenty of pressure at home with political dissent to his actions, sliding economy, rising unemployment, hiccups in the Belt and Road Initiative, world opinion over accusation of releasing the Wuhan Virus by design or default, capitalizing on the pandemic, and suppression of the democratic movement in Hong Kong. Above all is his ‘China Dream’ of world domination that he would like to achieve in the shortest possible time. Xi may be viewing Indian decision-makers as softies due to reasons like: not capturing Galwan heights immediately after killing 103 PLA personnel and possibly injuring an equally large number on Jun 15/16; not preempting PLA intrusion in Depsang which was more than a week after the Galwan clash, and; not exercising quid pro quo proactive action despite months of standoff.
India’s initial hesitation and covering up Chinese intrusions helped PLA consolidate its position and name India the aggressor. Latter has become the staple norm by China as seen from their statement after the recent provocation in the south bank of Pangong Tso. The endless chain of military-to-military talks gives more time to China for consolidating the intrusions. India is yet to give an ultimatum to China that it has crossed Indian redlines and that henceforth talks will only be either between the two foreign ministers or the two special representatives for border talks. Military-to military talks need to be resorted to only if the exchange of prisoners is required in future or for casualty evacuation. When China does the reverse of agreed border protocol, one-sided adherence from our side gives a pusillanimous impression to the enemy.
From the Chinese viewpoint, the pronouncements by CDS General Bipin Rawat that military options are available in case talks to fail are nothing but sabre rattling; China interprets our political leadership does not have the will. If India does not call that bluff, we will be consigned to being defensive in perpetuity leaving the initiative with China. The fact is if we could inflict more than five times casualties on the PLA in the Galwan clash on June 15/16 when Chinese came prepared with grizzly non-conventional weapons, China can be given a bloody nose in any sector. China is looking to impose a limited war on us whether we like it or not. It can certainly not afford an all-out war, since that may not remain a war only with India. Besides, we too are a nuclear state though that has not deterred Pakistan continue its proxy war on us because we have really not invested in sub-conventional capability.
We have considerable conventional capability against China but that can only deter China from mischief if we employ this capability selectively in a proactive manner to drive home the point to Beijing. This again will be effective if the policymakers stop micro-managing military affairs and don’t keep looking for political gains at every move. Next few months are likely to witness plenty of military activity, for which there is no reason to fear.
(The author is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.)