India-China standoff in Ladakh: The eighth round of talks

November 3, 2020 4:35 PM

The Indo-China border talks are more akin to the Super Heavy Weight boxers pummelling each other to win the coveted world championship.

Apart from the obvious condemnation of Zhenhua, and the possibility of India trying to do the same thing to China—even if not at the same scale—it is clear there will be domestic implications.The dates for the next round are yet to be announced and the Agenda “Military De-escalation” under a broad heading.

By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)

The Indo-China border talks are more akin to the Super Heavy Weight boxers pummelling each other to win the coveted world championship. Here, other than the boxers the judges and the spectators have an immediate interest in the ongoing bouts as its viewed from a different prism depending on whether you are one of China’s fourteen neighbours sharing a land border or you are a Nation along the Sea Lines of Communication or you are part of the QUAD which is shaping up and needs its teeth to be more effective.

The rationale is that if India continues to take a hard stand against the Chinese belligerence and is seen to be defending its territory, it will give the smaller Nations ‘spine’ to take on the Chinese belligerence with support from countries like India, USA, Australia, Japan amongst many others who have been bullied by China.

The CCP/PLA thought that it was business as usual, and they will continue with the Salami Slicing and the Government of India/Indian Army will remain tethered to its historical baggage of 1962 and remain in a decision dilemma to the Chinese belligerence.

The events of 1967 and 1986-87, 2017 and now have given a fair indication that India / Indian Army is unshackled and prepared to stand its ground. The Chinese Government propaganda machine went into overdrive in showcasing its military might by releasing training videos of the PLA hoping that this would dampen the morale and would leave the combat troops overawed by the display of the Chinese Military Prowess.

Troops on active combat duty are busy fellows with an endless number of tasks that need to be done and preparation of defences is never complete till the battle is joined and even then it’s continuously improved upon.

The Indian Troops are combat-hardened and the induction of the Tibetans / Ladakhis to the forefront to actively engage the PLA has given a sense of supremacy to this dominant force, which was held back till now as an ace up the sleeve.

The discussions between the Raksha Mantri, External Affairs Minister and the National Security Advisor with their Chinese counterparts on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Moscow indicated that the two Asian giants were keen to diffuse the situation along the Line of Actual Control and not let an all-out conflict take place.

While the political and diplomatic intent was clear, on the military intent there was no letting up as the IA and PLA in an eyeball contact refused to step back from its positions.

In upping the ante the Indian Army occupied heights dominating the Chinese defences and had gained a bird’s eye view into the Chinese Moldo Garrison.

The CCP/ PLA smarted by the Indian Army have been suggesting and indicated that they recognised the 1959 positions of the Line of Actual Control. The quick fall back to the 1959 positions by the Chinese was a red herring to make the Indian Army withdraw, which was against all common military knowledge dictates’.

The Ministry of External Affairs representatives joined the Military Talks but were not able to help break the impasse on the current deployment.

The Chinese presence in the Depsang subsector and its threat to our lines of communication to the ice-cap Siachen Glacier is well understood. The Chinese in violation of all norms developed the CPEC through PoK and wants to give depth to its lines of communication to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea / Gwadar Port.

The Chinese investments in Pakistan and its purse strings open to keep Pakistan as country going bankrupt has not been liked by the domestic audience and the political parties in Pakistan; who have recently launched an agitation to take on the Pakistan Army and Imran Khan for the quagmire jointly created and the threat of blacklisting by FATF, Damocles Sword hangs on Pakistan’s head.

What is the likely Agenda for the 8th Round?

The dates for the next round are yet to be announced and the Agenda “Military De-escalation” under a broad heading.

Is the Military De-escalation likely to be held?

Much as the CCP/PLA would desire that the Indian Army vacates the heights on the Kailash Range; Military Judgement is against it as both sides very well know the foolishness of taking this foolhardy step.

The trade-off of in de-escalation has to be seen from the perspective of our defences along the entire Line of Actual Control subsector wise; in particular, the Depsang sub-sector to give depth to lines of communication to the Siachen Glacier. Eastern Ladakh has to be a status quo.

While this may keep getting discussed over the next several rounds of talks too; it’s important that creature comforts of the troops deployed should paid greater attention. The troops are well equipped and are comfortable in the harsh Ladakh winter.

The Rest and Recuperation policy would have been promulgated and to keep the downtime down for deployment, Leh and cities along the LAC should have such facilities created to give the troops a break.

The infrastructure development and logistics supply chain must be developed as far forward as possible to reduce the turnaround time of personnel and equipment.

The Chinese need to be contained at sea too and their vulnerabilities need to be exploited by the Indian Navy and the QUAD as it gains momentum.

The indigenous weapons are being tested and given operational clearances giving the three services a major advantage of getting more bang for the buck.

The shortcomings are known and we must continue to develop our capabilities to meet the Chinese threat in the given area of operations. We can’t be in a catch your game, yet we need strong military alliances which have been backed by the 2+2 Indo US dialogue as well as the French Government during the official induction of the Rafael fighter jets on 10 September 2020 at Ambala Airbase.

The Indian Government, Indian Defence Services and the Indian population are well prepared to fight the Chinese CCP/PLA, the China Virus and the Economic Challenges are thrown up by the Economic slow-down as Europe undergoes Lockdown 02.

Let’s wait and watch and see what rabbits are pulled out of the hat in the three virtual meetings this month between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping; maybe their virtual meetings may well set the agenda for the 8th round of talks.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views are personal)

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