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By Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd)
The preemptive occupation of operationally dominant heights on the South Bank of Pangong Tso by Indian troops on 29/30 August not only prevented Chinese creeping forward deployment along the LAC but has sent the correct signals to China. The tactical level action with strategic implications by Indian Army duly spearheaded by a Vikas Battalion which comprises of Tibetian troops and leaders has certainly changed the narrative further demonstrating India’s resolute response.
Despite the treachery at Galwan where 20 gallant Indian soldiers made the supreme sacrifice giving a befitting reply to the PLA, India demonstrated restraint by not expanding the scope of standoffs, however at the same time, surprised the Chinese with a resolute military response. Numerous talks at the military and political level failed to make much headway, as the Chinese claimed that the agreed-upon disengagement was complete whereas India stood firm that the disengagement process will only be considered completed once the ‘Status Quo Ante’ is restored. The stalemate continued with talks taking place at multiple levels and forums from Flag Meeting by the military at Borders to a meeting of the WMCC and Special Representatives to Ministerial level. As long as the two sides are talking there is always hope of a peaceful resolution and equilibrium being restored.
On 29 Aug when a six-hour-long Brigade Commander level Flag meeting was ongoing, China in a surprise move tried to occupy operationally important heights on the South Bank of Pangong Tso. Till now it was the North Bank of the Pangong lake which had witnessed the Standoff since early May. The Indian Army in a pre-emptive move occupied the dominating heights on the South Bank, thus effectively defeating the Chinese designs. The heights on the South Bank dominate the tactically important ingress routes to Chushul via the Spanggur Gap. Indian Army also now occupies the heights South of Spanggur Gap, thus denying any attempt by PLA to dominate Chushul. This not only surprised and defeated the Chinese but has strengthened India’s positions in the talks as we now have certain leverages. India has occupied the dominating heights on its own side of the LAC, though China claims that India has transgressed four Kms across the LAC, which is incorrect. It will be China now seeking ‘Status Quo Ante’ in the next round of talks, giving India the much-needed leverages for negotiations. An aggressive and arrogant China will do well to understand that military coercion is not going to pay dividends with India. India stands militarily strong all along the 3,488 Km long border from Karakoram in the West to Kibithoo in the East.
The key question is what next? The situation along the LAC is one of heightened tension, which will need some sane handling from both sides and as such the talks should continue. There is always a probability of a spiral, wherein hardening of positions have the potential to lead to a skirmish. Any escalation is definitely not in the interest of either China or India. As China plans and prepares to challenge the US for global supremacy, It can not afford a conflict with India. China has opened up too many fronts taking advantage as the world was and continues to be preoccupied in battling the pandemic – made in China CoronaVirus. This leaves China vulnerable, especially as the US has deployed the aircraft carriers in the proximity of the South China Sea and redeployed its forces from Europe to counter the emerging security challenges from China. Having said that, it will be difficult for China to make a clean break and hence India should be prepared to continue to counter and deter China’s aggressive behaviour along the LAC. China respects strength and India should and will demonstrate strength. China stands surprised by India’s resolute response. India will also continue to be vigilant on the western front as Pakistan sensing an opportunity may indulge in some mischief or perpetuate a high profile terror attack, appreciating India’s military preoccupation along the LAC. Both India and China are in for a long long haul.
The author is Former DGMO, Director CENJOWS. Views expressed are personal.)