Ladakh stand-off and Indian Army’s commendable response

Though reassuring, New Delhi’s recent statement that both India and China have agreed on disengagement in the area of Gogra-Hot Springs [PP-15]” doesn’t mean that existing perceptional differences regarding alignment of the Line of Actual Control [LAC] between the two countries has been resolved. Nor does it in any way imply that Beijing would hereafter concentrate on mending fences with New Delhi by adopting a more constructive approach rather than maintaining a belligerent stance.

There may also be varying opinions regarding the import of this “disengagement”. While some may hail it as a positive diplomatic development, there would certainly be others who would dismiss it as something inconsequential- citing the duplicitous Hindi-Chini Bhai, Bhai” [Indians and Chinese are brothers] slogan made by Beijing before attacking India in 1962. However, analysts across the spectrum would agree that the chances of China’s People’s Liberation Army [PLA] using physical force to assert its point of view on the boundary issue with India are now indeed very slim.

This is undoubtedly a positive occurrence for which the Indian army deserves due credit.  Readers may recall that it was the PLA which precipitated the current crisis by its provocative actions that led to the May 2020 bloody clash in the Galwan area of Eastern Ladakh. It was for the first time after the Sino-Indian war of 1962 that the PLA indulged in premeditated violence on such a big scale. So, there are good reasons to believe that the Chinese political and military leadership believed that New Delhi could be intimidated by the PLA’s muscle-flexing.   

However, the Indian army’s professional response proved that Beijing’s assessment was flawed. Instead of being unsettled by PLA’s confrontational actions and indulging in knee-jerk reactions, the India army instead adopted a mature strategy, aptly defined by Indian army’s former Director General of Military Operations [DGMO] Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia as one of ‘No blinking- no brinkmanship’. So, while it sagaciously opted not to escalate violence levels after the Galwan clash, by occupying strategic heights on the Kailash range, it unambiguously demonstrated a firm resolve to counter PLA’s brazen bellicosity.

Braving the near-arctic climatic conditions prevailing in Ladakh for two years , the Indian army has not only firmly stood its ground but even inducted additional forces for stemming any misadventure by the PLA. While effecting quantum increase of field forces on the foreboding heights along the LAC is in itself a massive exercise, doing so in a compressed time frame necessitated by military considerations makes things even more difficult especially when requisite infrastructure at ‘friction points’  is non-existent. Furthermore, additional troops moved into Ladakh had to be suitably billeted and administered to withstand harsh climatic conditions and sub-zero temperatures.

The logistics branch of the Indian army has worked wonders by using ingenuity and improvisation to ensure that the additional forces inducted in Ladakh are administratively well-looked after. However, given the enormity of the task, the arrangements made are by no means ideal and it’s here that the characteristic resoluteness and resilience of the Indian army soldier has once again come to the fore. Braving all odds, its rank and file has picked up the gauntlet by maintaining an effective 24X7 all weather vigil to thwart any PLA designs to change the status quo on the LAC.

Even at the cost of repetition, it would be in order to mention once again that Beijing is known for making extremely complex but very well calculated moves. As such, the PLA’s menacing actions in Ladakh are most certainly not the result of an impulsive decision taken by some intermediary ‘hawks’ within the echelons of China’s political or military hierarchy. So, it would be fair to assume that the PLA’s aggressive actions in Ladakh were duly vetted and approved by the Central Military Commission, China’s uppermost national defence organisation. Accordingly, there’s definitely a method in what otherwise appears to an untrained eye as wanton acts of madness on the PLA’s part .

Given the secrecy surrounding decision making in China, what exactly prompted Beijing to jump the gun and adopt an antagonist view in Ladakh may never be known. However, by accepting to undertake the “disengagement process” in the PP-15 area, it has willy-nilly accepted that its territorial claims in Ladakh and allegations of Indian “intrusions” are dubious. If they weren’t, then why would Beijing agree to disengage from an area that it so vociferously asserts is its own territory?

By braving the elements and taking pre-emptive actions to prevent any ingress by the PLA in Ladakh, the Indian army has clearly demonstrated its firm resolve to safeguard India’s territorial integrity come what may. By not blinking or resorting to brinkmanship, the Indian army has effectively foreclosed Beijing’s attempts to militarily intimidate New Delhi into making any concessions and forced it to take the face-saving  “disengagement” route.

So, while political and diplomatic efforts to resolve the LAC alignment issue continue, let’s not forget the crucial role played by the indomitable Indian soldier whose astounding grit and dedication it has effectually demolished the myth of PLA’s invincibility and thereby ensured that the Indian side negotiates from a position of strength!

Nilesh Kunwar
Nilesh Kunwar
Writer is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in terrorism-infested areas of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a 'Kashmir-Watcher' who keeps a close tab on the state's developments.

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