Indo-Chinese Troops Disengagement at Ladakh LAC
Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh announced in the Indian Parliament on 11 FEB 21 that an agreement has been reached at the LAC in which in the first phase, India and China will be dis-engaging at the north and south of the Pangong lake in a phased and verifiable manner. He mentioned that the PLA will be withdrawing from the north bank to the east of finger 8 and the Indian troops will withdraw from the south bank. After 48 hours of the withdrawal, the talks will start for dis-engagement from other areas too. No sooner his announcement came; the anti-Modi chatter box became alive again with all guns blazing. They said PM Modi misled the nation on 19 Jun 20 when post Galwan violence he had announced that PLA was not on our land. Let us relook at what PM had said and what Congress lead opposition is blaming. PM Modi was referring to the violence at Galwan valley and in that context, whatever he said, is unquestionable. As on 19 Jun 20, PLA was not on the Indian land. The violence had taken place on the “No mans’ land” at PP14 and that after the violence, not troops were in position. What the RMO mentioned in the Parliament was in reference to their withdrawal from the Pangong area, the bone of contention between the two nations that the PLA had transgressed from their earlier held position at finger 8 to the finger 4 area. So now they are vacating those land in order to maintain status quo ante’ of April 2020. So clearly, the opposition chatterbox is misleading.
May the politicians speak what they want, but the fact is that the two Army has come out from almost the brink of war. If the dis-engagement is taking place without losing any ‘new piece of land’ to the PLA, it is commendable. It is noteworthy that Chinese are in illegal occupation of vast stretch of Indian territories. In the Aksai Chin they occupied 38000 Sq Km in 1962, another 5180 Sq Km of PoK was illegally ceded by Pakistan to China under the so-called China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ signed on 2nd March, 1963. There is yet another nearly 450 Sq Km of territory at the Depsang plains that the Chinese gradually occupied from 2009 to 2013. In fact, the PLA grabbed the entire Depsang (~900 Sq Km), Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) air strip up to the Raki-Nala in Apr-May 2013 and camped for over 3 weeks when they were ‘persuaded’ by the UPA govt to go back following series of negotiations. However, under their ‘salami slicing’ act, they marched 2 steps and went back one. As a result, half of the Depsang plains are under their illegal occupation since 2013 which is threatening the DBO as well as the safety of the DS-DBO road…the only lifeline to the troops at the DBO. This loss of the Indian territory has surely been due to the negligence of the Indian Govt esp the ITBP and the Army intelligence unable to raise red flag in time. The UPA govt further cheated the nation by sweeping the Chinese occupation under carpet. It was a treachery… for all that the IAF and the Indian Army had risked in May 2008 by re-activating the 16700 ft altitude world’s highest DBO airstrip. This heroic in AN-32 was operationally challenging if not contra-indicated due to the extreme altitude. It was under Air Mshl Barbora as the AOC-in-C of the Western Air Command and Gp Capt S Chafekar as the Commanding Officer of No 48 Sqn AF; that after >40 yrs of closure, the DBO airstrip was operationalised. The combo got the opportunity to do similar path-breaking operationalised of the Fukche and Nyoma Advance Landing Grounds (ALGs) within next 17 months. Nation salutes them. However, all these efforts were nullified by the UPA govt by letting the Chinese occupy it. Both the intent and the acts of the UPA govt were highly suspect.
The contemporary PM Manmohan Singh was clean but the govt he headed, was highly corrupt; the Raksha Mantri Anthony was honest but the govt’s actions in the defence of the nation were highly suspect. These showed-up on as many fronts…of allowing the Chinese grab our territories, by delaying the Defence Modernisation, by ignoring the development of the Border Roads and Infrastructures. Their worst acts were…of keeping the nation in dark, not employing military intelligence against the Chinese, unaware of the PLA developments across the LAC. Did the CCP signing of memo with the ruling Congress Party of India in August 2008 (in getting illegal funding?) had anything to do? We don’t know for sure. However, the fact is that long after the painful events of 1962 and 1963 in which India had lost >43000 Sq Km of territories in Eastern Ladakh to China, the Congress led Govt at centre allowed China to swallow another ~450 Sq Km of strategic Depsang Plains with no remorse at all whatsoever. This loss has immensely compromised the Indian defence of DBO, the Karakoram, the Siachen and Leh. Any aircraft landing or taking off at the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) will be in the direct line of PLA fire. PLA taking positions on vantage points along DS-DBO road will expose the military convoys to even the small-arm fire. It will be a huge task for the present govt to get these strategic lands vacated by the Chinese. If they have taken 7 months of intense negotiations and counter-deployments by the Indian Army on the vantage points of ‘Black-top, Helmet-top, Rechang la’ and so on…to vacate ~8 km of Pangong, they may take ages to vacate the ~450 Sq Km of Depsang. With an eye on occupying the DBO air strip and the Karakoram Pass, they may even refuse to vacate altogether. No one should have any doubt on it.
Having completed the dis-engagement at Pangong lake, the two militaries have started the negotiations for dis-engagement from the other regions. At the onset, any significant headway in the PLA pull-out from any area without a bargaining chip with India, looks extremely bleak and the same was revealed in the 16-hour long marathon meeting held on 20 Feb 21. There has to be an X-factor of bargaining chip for PLA to pull-out esp from Depsang plateau. Where and how India acquires that bargaining chip that can compel China to pull-out from their 8-10 yrs of Depsang occupation, remains to be seen. However, the Indian side must have a strong resolve to make them retreat from every inch of it’s territory. Near one sq km of the area of dispute at Ghogra & Hot-Spring are of little consequence, important nonetheless.
These remote parts of the Eastern Ladakh cannot be left isolated by the Indian Govt. It must be brought in to the main-stream inhabitation. The easiest option for the govt to bring these territories under main-stream, is to start an exclusive tourism and civil inhabitation at Depsang, the world’s highest airfield, the Daulat Beg Oldie. Subsidised trips to DBO having specific tourist and adventure sports iterineries will do. A regular civil & military inhabitation must start. The support services of transportation (incl Heli-lift), regenerable power supply, a communication network could also start an additional transit route to / from China. It must start at the earliest. The Indian Govt may also think of making a small but permanent high altitude garrison with regular turn-over from Durbuk/Siachen/Leh. It should be feasible. In order to make this area absolutely secured, the Indian Govt (MoD and MEA) may consider leasing / providing a small high altitude research base to Russia / USA adjacent to the Aksai Chin. This may be an ideal location for keeping an eye and gathering military intelligence in the five adjacent countries. It could be a very interesting project offer for USA. This single US/Russian base will prevent any Chinese misadventure in the future.
After the Pangong lake dis-engagement by the PLA, some reports are emerging of letting the Chinese economic activities to re-start in India. It may be highly premature step at this stage. The Chinese must be made to pull-back from every inch of Indian territories and sign the permanent international border before any normalisation of relation can be thought of. Modi govt may be making a grave mistake if these principles are not adhered to. Chinese cannot be trusted upon. Come spring and summer, they may surprise us again. Not a single penny of Indian money should go to China that can bleed us in very near future again. Similarly, Chinese FDIs as reported, may not be desirable at this stage.
Military has gone through the offensive followed by the dis-engagement but what about our diplomacy? They have been lagging far behind. We have not heard even once if Indian MEA is re-considering ‘one China Policy’. It must be made clear to the Chinese that each of their actions will be reciprocated appropriately, be it military or diplomatic. China must respect all parts of India to expect the same by India. We also have not seen any Indian diplomatic movement towards Taiwan as well as the Tibetan govt in exile. China has been indulging in Human Rights bogey of Jammu & Kashmir at the UNSC (one being recently tried in the 3rd week of Feb 21) but we have not witnessed India bringing a similar case against rampantly violated Human Rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong by China as well as in Baluchistan and on the religious minorities by Pakistan. Modi Govt must wake-up from its deep sleep on the plethora of issues pertaining to the lack of any proactive stance by the Min of External Affairs headed by Dr Jaishankar. This is all sending a wrong signal to our enemies and adversaries.
Coming back to the present stand-off with the Chinese at Ladakh, the clash at Galwan was a clear set-back to the Chinese design of Salami-Slicing in Ladakh. Although after the clash they made a hasty retreat from PP14, 15 as well as Gogra & Hot Spring areas, they were back in larger force with the later escalation. On the hindsight, it appears that the PLA had a very clear intent of encroaching in to our territories essentially for controlling the DS-DBO road…firstly to cut-off the life-line to the DBO airstrip and secondly, to threaten both Siachen Glacier through Murgo-Saser-Sasoma, and also supplementing any Pangong-Durbuk axis of encroachment in their future advance. That intent of the PLA got a severe blow after the troop mobilisation following Galwan violence. The entire LAC was activated by deploying enough forces to thwart any further PLA misadventure. Chinese got a clear message that Modi Govt will not put any of their further intrusion under carpet…unlike what UPA had done.