What makes ‘144 Veterans’ qualified enough to force their views on Ladakh?

A group of 144 veterans have written a letter to the President of India and the Prime Minister, raising their concerns related to the stand off between Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army of China. Okay, I agree that it is a step in the right direction and it is a matter of great pride for India to see a group of veterans involved in military issues even after hanging their uniform.

The Chetwode Motto that places national interest at the top of an officer’s mind space is not a commitment meant only till they are in service, rather it is a way of life and approach that an officer is expected to adopt. It carries on till he or she lives. It is these ethos that a soldier is expected to live upto. In light of this it is important that the action by 144 veterans needs to be analysed and assessed for its righteousness.

Firstly, who are these 144 veterans and do the qualify to make the assertions that they have made? They have contended that the Galwan Valley incident happened “because of failure at one or more levels in the political, civil and military establishments.” On this, their demand is that an inquiry be carried out to fix the accountability.

The most important question is whether these veterans are competent enough to raise the issue of failure? How do they say whether the incident was a failure or a strategic success? Moreover, which arm do they belong to, whether they have tenanted appointments at strategic or operational levels and lastly, how much do they know about Ladakh and its operational dynamics? If they qualify on these counts then they would agree that intelligence and operations against Chinese is a completely different ball game. China is a closed society with political, social, cyber and media isolation. The information or intelligence about their military is not so readily available.

Moreover, PLA’s intention when it undertakes mobilization in the garb of training or other routine activities is difficult to discern. There are agreements, to which both India and China were expected to abide by and such an act was not expected from China. The mechanics of Chinese mobilization was such that initially they moved smaller body of troops into the PP14, 15, 17 and Pangong Tso areas. When these troops were challenged by the Indian Army or ITBP, they pushed in additional troops.

While all this was happening, Indian Army was not unaware or sitting tightly. Starting with forward mobilization of troops already present in Ladakh region. Very soon we started hearing about additional reinforcements of the Indian Army movement. Within no time India Army had more troops than Chinese and the Indian Air Force was poised to take on operations. It is this might which got reflected in the violent clash of June 15 at Galwan Valley.

With Chinese Army going back on their words about not deploying any of their troops or military infrastructure on Indian side of the LAC, Col. Santosh Babu led his patrol to express the resolve of ensuring territorial integrity to Chinese troops. Can an Army weak on ground, unaware about the strength and disposition of Chinese troops, take such a bold step. China once again broke the trust and reacted in an unruly and unethical way. Does an Army like India’s expect another Army like that of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) about such response to the overture of peace? Even at this instant at Galwan Valley, did India Army take it lying down? No, it gave back to the PLA in stronger measures and the results are known. So, where was the failure in all this?

Secondly, any gentleman who has been part of this wonderful organisation called the Indian Army must know that even if there are mistakes or errors of judgement about enemy’s intentions, these are dealt with post the situation is over. The 144 veterans joining hands to question the Indian Army while it is still dealing with the enemy reflects the true nature of their intent. Why such a haste? Why such a hurry? Was some timeline to be followed by them? Such a behaviour smacks of some ulterior motives which the time will reveal.

Thirdly, their demand for release of the Henderson Brooks report of 1962 to be released and their demand that the “government expeditiously conclude boundary agreements with all neighbours, especially China and Pakistan” indicates two aspects. One, Henderson Brooks report is a document which has remained secret despite the change of several governments at New Delhi. Its contents may have patterns, mechanics and drills that should not be formally declared. They can rest assured that all measures that were reflected in the report must have been acted upon within the years after 1962, Indian armed forces have become at par with PLA, rather better. Two, their desire that New Delhi must conclude boundary dispute with China expeditiously is a function of both the countries. If it had not been a complicated one, 22 rounds of talks at Senior Representatives level would have headed for a conclusion. China is a country which in an environment of COVID-19 thinks it prudent to take several nations head on or venture to initiate World War-III. Veterans’ demand (expectedly with good intellect and reason) looks like an immature and childish act.

Resolution of boundary dispute calls for engaging China from the position of strength. Just because government or the Indian Army is not giving out the minute to minute commentary, it does not mean that there has been any let up. Who knows, at the end of the day, this entire act of aggression by China turns out to be strategic victory and the detractors, veterans or civilians have to bite the dust.

Fourthly, 144 gentlemen who have been in uniform for decades are expected to understand the nuances of having military, para military and Central Armed Police Force (CAPF). Their nuanced view that CAPF be employed for counter-insurgency operations or manning borders is an expression that does not indicate the view from professionals. Expressing such unprofessional outlook by these veterans simply means that even the common man should not pay any heed to them, what to talk about the Prime Minister or President. However, if they claim to be professionals then they must accept this act as a huge mistake, putting the reputation of this community at stake.

Fifthly, those who are expressing the views that Chinese mobilization of forces was an intelligence or operational failure need to grant that post Kargil, a lot of mechanisms, resources and organizations have come into existence. There’s a lot of horizontal and vertical sharing of information and assessment that takes place. While against china, the intelligence may not be as strong as it is against Pakistan, but no one should infer what the veterans are attempting to infer.

One of the serving officers had once said: “While veterans were in active service, we all granted that they did their job well and the nation trusted their leadership. When others are in their old boots and at the helm, why don’t they grant them a similar honor. Least, the current lot needs to be given the benefit of doubt, till things are over and the outcomes are known. This generation is equally capable and professional. This too has followed the dictum of Chetwode Motto.”

Acharya Chanakya
Acharya Chanakya
Acharya Chanakya is an expert on strategic affairs.

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