A Kargil-like situation
By Rohit Srivastava
While Covid-19 cases spike up exponentially in India with political capital New Delhi and financial capital Mumbai battling with the collapsing medical system, the country is struggling hard to manage its aggressive adversaries. On Monday night, India lost 20 soldiers along with the Commanding Officer of an Infantry Battalion stationed at the Galwan valley in north Ladakh during a violent brawl with Chinese soldiers who are occupying the Indian territory there.
The two parties have been at loggerheads at various places in the Ladakh region. They have also met multiple times to de-escalate the situation and media were informed that the Chinese have pulled back. The situation was calming down, but the events of Monday night have exposed the chinks in Indian strategy big time.
Earlier on May 3, India lost one colonel along with a major and three more soldiers in Handwara in Kashmir valley to Kashmiri terrorists. The incident shocked the security establishment as the valley was fairly peaceful last year.
Many prominent analysts view the Chinese movement in Ladakh as a response to India changing the constitutional status of the Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. It is surprising that the Chinese incursion in the Ladakh region is not very different to Pakistan capturing heights in Kargil region leading to the first ever limited war between two nuclear powers in 1999.
One would expect never to have a similar situation in the region again. But it happened and unlike the Kargil war, India, this time is not sure what to do. The 2017 Doklam stand-off between China and India, at the tri-junction of Indo-Tibet-Bhutan, lasted for two months. It all started when Chinese army began constructing a road in Doklam plateau near Bhutanese army camp at Zompelri on June 16, 2017.
Three years later, they are killing Indian army officers to hold on to the captured territory. The two-month eye to eye with Indian army did dent their global reputation. China as a nation is aspiring to regain its ancient glory and will never accept a forced status-quo. In Doklam, geography was on India’s side. But this time they planned and executed to ensure they don’t face an insulting stand-off.
In the last couple of years, India has initiated major reforms in defence establishments including formation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff, single point of military advice as suggested by Kargil Review Committee to avoid a Kargil-like situation. The events in Ladakh prove things did not go as anticipated. CDS GenBipin Rawat needs to show leadership now.
On Friday, Nepal police in a firing incident killed an Indian citizen at the border near Sitamarhi in Bihar. This has opened the historical wound of how British gave away parts of Tirhut (Darbhanga) region to Nepal. This is was the high point of the ongoing border dispute between India and Nepal.
Starting from Gilgitand expanding upto Arunachal Pradesh, our neighbours claim every part of the Himalayas. Most bizarre of all, Hans of China who live 4,000 km away, claim part of the Himalaya and are ready to fight and die for it. How have things come to this pass?
The answer lies in our failure to react in disproportionate manner. Even Nepal thinks that it can force India to come to the discussion table. If you agree to discuss, you accept dispute. No one realizes that there is a grand plan to displace India from the Himalayas. Since we are reluctant to fight, there is no cost attached to making claims.
Our neighbours have understood our mind. They know we do not have tricks to surprise them. We repeat our old tricks. It is up to them to change the status-quo and we readily accept the new reality and resist change to the new realities. This was the philosophy behind Kargil. General Musharraf was sure India could be brought to the table.
We did not oblige, but we agreed to not crossing the LoC which prolonged the war and cost us heavily in terms of loss of life and money. During Operation Parakaram, launched after the 2001 Parliament attack, Pakistan did not allow (through deft diplomacy and nuclear threat) us to fire a single round. Seven years later, after 26/11 Mumbai attack, India did not attack Pakistan.The government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was tested by Pakistan in Pathankot attack and the response was no different from 2008.
India read too much into the success of surgical strike of 2016. It tried the same in Balakot, but this time the Pakistan retaliated by bringing down an Indian Air Force MiG-21 and India for some unknown reason did not try to re-gain the upper hand and squandered the claim of its air superiority over Pakistan.
Now, coming to the events of Monday night, the preliminary reports are very disturbing. The confirmed loss of twenty soldiers to a brawl is itself very shocking. For the last few years, Indian security forces don’t challenge its Chinese counterpart with weapons. It always fist fight and stone. Chinese would also react in the same manner.
But this was untenable beyond a point and Chinese saw through our tactics. Someone had to take it to the next level. We didn’t plan to take things further so they did it. It is just a matter of overpowering a person and then stone and bats are deadly. Humans have conquered wild life by stone weapons only. Indian Army retaliation killed over 40 Chinese soldiers. One cannot dispute that. Our soldiers are among the best in the world.
The problem lies in the political and military leadership who are risk-averse. Their strategy does not reflect the people’s will. The strategic elite of India have not delivered and it is time to ask difficult questions. All the good press about its bravado is not going to cut much ice with China. We should not forget the Chinese Communist Party is the product of a civil war and it did not fear jumping in to the Korean War against United States.
Although the Bharatiya Janata Party is very critical of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the strategy of PM Narendra Modi towards China is no different from Nehru’s. Will Modi allow the Indian army to launch a limited war to evict the Chinese from Ladakh or will he allow this shocking incidence to pass? If he attacks and loses, he will be standing with Nehru, and if he does not, then he will stand with Manmohan Singh. The nation is waiting.