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China has got a new commander for the Western Theatre Command. Gen Zhang Xudong is new to the theatre and obviously is getting in to the picture of his area of operations. He has to prove himself to the Chairman of Central Military Commission, who was not happy with the previous incumbent for not being able to rein in India in time, and for allowing the standoff to spill over to winter and beyond. The prolonged standoff is not in the interest of China as the world at large is calling it a stalemate. The word ‘stalemate’ with India definitely has a negative connotation to Xi as it is tantamount to a setback. For Xi, this impression has to be remedied at the earliest. Gen Zhang has to come out with a quick solution to prove himself and also to restore the prestige of Xi.


Chinese Political and Military Aims in the Current Scenario


The next question is: what is the ‘political aim’ of China against India in the present context?  Possibly to subdue India at the earliest and force it to accept the Chinese version of the 1959 Line of Actual Control (LAC). This is in line with Sun Tzu’s doctrine of “winning the war without fighting a battle”. The ambiguity on the line can be further exploited to gain more territory in the next couple of years.


In the concatenation of planning the ‘military aim’ flows out of ‘political aim’. Remember Clausewitz: “war is a continuation of politics by other means”. The military aim of China is to intimidate India by military means by the use of force or the threat of use of force to yield to the Chinese demand on LAC. Military aim, in turn, leads to military objectives, the capture or attainment of which enables the realisation of its ‘political aim’.


The Chinese military objectives on the India-China frontier would be to mobilise the offensive forces in Tibet, opposite Arunachal and Ladakh Sectors. In both these sectors, they have disputed areas, and the capture of areas in these sectors would have a certain degree of legitimacy to hold on to them. On the contrary, the disputed areas in the Central Sector are too small to be of any consequence. This is in tune with his present doctrine of ‘Legal Warfare’.  It is here that India has to show its political will and military capabilities. The Chinese would be waiting to exploit any chinks in our resolve.


In case China limits confrontation to only Ladakh Front then its limited ‘military objectives’ could be the following:


Firstly, it would opt to hold on to Depsang Plains and make it a fait accompli to the Indians. As it is, China has constructed a 1000-meter runway heliport at Tianwendian in the disputed area of Depsang as a counter to our Airstrip at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO). The construction is said to be elaborate with aprons, hangars and air traffic control coming up. It has a serious operational consequence as it is close to our newly constructed Darbuk-Shyok-DBO Road.  China also perceives Depsang as its strategic vulnerability. In the case of an Indian offensive through Depsang, it is the shortest and the easiest approach to interdict China’s strategic Tibet-Xinjiang Highway (GH-219). In order to deny us this vulnerable approach, China will further amass forces there with a view to threatening DBO. One knows the maxim: offense is the best form of defence. It may force the Indian Armed Forces likewise to defend DBO.  Such action will thwart Indian plans to restore the status quo ante at Depsang.   


Secondly, China would like to keep the Indians at Finger 3 and ensure the territories Finger 4 and North of it remains under Chinese occupation. However, here we are capable of pre-empting China. India has to swoop on to the ‘higher’ heights of the Fingers which emanate from Chang Chen Mo Ridge. Whoever does it early will have its say on the North Bank of Pangong Tso. The logistics nightmare in sustaining the troops at those heights should be planned.


Thirdly, China would try to ensure that Indians withdraw from the Heights of Kailash Range, South of Pangong Tso. Once India withdraws, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would occupy the same just before the onset of winter in October/November 2021 and thereby altering the LAC permanently to its advantage. Under no circumstances should India withdraw from the Kailash Range.


India’s Diplomacy and the Influence of ‘Deep State’?


Gen Zhang would be hard-pressed to achieve the three limited military objectives on the Ladakh Front. He would be wargaming the contingencies with his commanders and staff. At this time the Indian Foreign Ministry officials came to his rescue by agreeing at the meeting on 18 December 2020 that the disengagement on the Ladakh Front would be limited only to friction points.  I earnestly hope and fervently pray that they have not agreed on friction points as well!


Firstly, whose idea was it to stick to friction points for disengagement? I had thought that it was only a terminology in Physics! The entire front is armed to the teeth and these gullible individuals have gone and agreed to the concept of ‘Friction Points’ which does not make any sense. Please read my article on “India-China Standoff: Is the Foreign Ministry at its Shenanigans Again”. One of my friends who is a scholar and highly knowledgeable on workings within the government told me that he would be very glad if the agreement had been done due to naivety, but he perceives an evil and sinister capitulation and surrender of our national interest. The Chinese can buy anything!


Please do not forget that they had the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime under their thumb with CPC contributing to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF). Incidentally, Sonia Gandhi was wearing two hats, as Chairperson of the RGF and UPA, as well. Also, recollect the secret MoU of 2008 between the Congress Party and CPC. One must have seen the photograph of Xi and Sonia standing in the background and Rahul Gandhi and Wang Jia Rui, Minister of the International Department of the CPC signing the MoU. If it was a friendly and non-controversial MoU, should not it be shared with the people of the country? Was the entire Government of India subverted to act against the interests of our country? It is terrible and frightening even to think of such a possibility. But it did happen; did it not? Those who had taken the oath of allegiance to the Constitution of India were actively cooperating with the Communist Party of China and getting funds from the party. It is not corruption! Is it not sedition?


Now, the question arises: have the officials of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) surrendered our national interests? We all know the ‘deep state’ in our government. Remember, Christian Michelle who had a minute-to-minute information on the movement of Westland Helicopter File from table to table both in the South and North Blocks!  He was giving impetus to the movement of the file, probably at each table? During Indira Gandhi’s time, just look at the Mitrokhin Archives; a narration by a KGB agent who was deputed to India. It brazenly reveals how suitcases of money were given to cabinet ministers and the left parties. That the country was on sale is a very mild way to describe the extent of corruption prevailing in those times. Again, please do not lend political colour to my writing as I do not have to be apologetic to support ministers who are not corrupt. However, I would not be able to say it for the bureaucrats. A large number of them have been embedded in the ‘deep state’ of the system where corruption is routine. It is very difficult for them to come out of the morass where they conveniently and blissfully wallowed. A case in point is the recent permission by the government to prosecute former Defence Secretary and former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Shashi Kant Sharma for alleged violations and kickbacks in the Augusta Westland Deals. 


The next meeting of the Corps Commanders as and when it takes place, one is forced to feel that the Indian General would be severely restricted by the limitation imposed by the MEA for disengaging only from the friction points!


India, Trapped in Bilateralism


India should not be imprisoned by the concept of ‘bilateralism’ vis-à-vis China. We are trying to apply the same template on China as we do to Pakistan. Imagination has never been a forte of bureaucrats. Working in silos and copy-pasting old letters with a change in dates has been the basis of our office work, euphemistically called as continuity in policy. India and Pakistan are bound by the Shimla Agreement of 1972 for sorting our border disputes bilaterally. It makes sense to deal with Pakistan bilaterally. We are pushing the same policy forward for the convenience and delight of China.


Now, let us look at China. It forced Tibet to sign the ‘17 Point Agreement’ with China in 1951, with its Army poised in Lhasa for coercion. The representatives of HH Dalai Lama had not even carried the Tibetan Government Seal, and the Chinese made duplicate seals in Peking and forced the representatives to sign the agreement. It was a bilateral agreement.


Again, while annexing the South China Sea, China occupied islands and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Yet, China has never discussed the dispute collectively within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum. It wants to have bilateral meetings with each of the countries individually so that it can browbeat and impose its will on them. Even the ‘Code of Conduct’ in the South China Sea has not been agreed by China, literally impinging on the rights of littoral countries.


The Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, asked the US not to meddle in the Sino-Indian dispute. Obviously, the Ambassador thinks we are all foolish enough to believe in his despotic and totalitarian regime. He expects us to have implicit trust in his perfidious and capricious government. Sadly, our foreign ministry continues to harp on the bilateral frame in negotiations with China. Naked aggression is being covered up by our Foreign Ministry, where we did not even support Mike Pompeo in the Quad Meeting of the Foreign Ministers when he was expressing concern at China’s expansionism in the Himalayas. We should have no choice but to take on China ‘militarily’. However, we should not feel shy to name and shame China diplomatically.  We should call out its expansionism as detrimental to world peace. We, for some reason, do not want to even name China, and instead get mired in innuendoes and oblique imputations. Chinese aggression cannot be considered bilateral. It disrupts the world peace as both are nuclear powers. It cannot be limited to a bilateral discussion. We should not hesitate to discuss with the USA, UK, West Asia, South East Asia and the EU, and expose China. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government naively did not invest in military capabilities in the first six years and spent a lot of time in befriending China, a nation with no scruples and habituated to treat weaker countries with disdain. China only listens to strength.  Modi was misled by the bureaucrats in the MEA that by mollycoddling China, we can avert a confrontation with it. We are paying the price for listening to them.


Xi’s Predicament


Xi having crowned himself as emperor for life has to prove to the Politburo his credentials. Any signs of affliction would directly impact his image as the ‘core leader’. This year is the centenary of the founding of the CPC. Xi would be under greater pressure to prove himself before the politburo. As it is effectively the only political party in the country, an impression has to be painted to project the inviolability and indispensability of the party that has made China into a world power. From its perspective, China losing face to a peripheral power like India is certainly not on the cards. He would therefore instruct Gen Zhang to subdue India at the earliest by the use of necessary and minimum force. At the same time, is it unlikely that he would go on a major offensive? A limited offensive, possibly?


Our Response


Notwithstanding, we should not plan on a premise that China will not go on the offensive once the snow melts. We should expect China’s offensive, and plan to blunt it and go on a counteroffensive. The mutual de-induction of 10,000 troops from depth areas should not make us complacent. It could be just a ploy! We should be able to monitor the movements on the three highways and railway lines linking Tibet with the mainland. We should also monitor China’s intra-theatre movement of troops and other war-waging resources. We should keep a tag on both civil and military aircrafts which are flying in and out of Tibet from all the airports and forward airstrips, including those constructed in the last five years. We should plan to counter the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean. We should keep ready fully acclimatised troops in depth areas and the means of transporting them to the LAC in the shortest possible time. We should give China no quarters. The recent realignment of Strike Corps to the Sino-Indian border is brilliant. We have given a clear signal to China that we mean business and those intimidation tactics which it is used to employing against smaller neighbours have become obsolescent.    Gen Zhang has a difficult task at hand. We should expect some indiscretions from him, to prove himself. We should be ready to exploit them and not allow him to extricate from the LAC without losing face.


Lastly, for heaven’s sake, China has one Western Theatre Command looking after the entire Sino-Indian Frontier. We have three Army Commands and a number of Air Commands looking upon the same front. Look at the difficulty in coordinating and controlling! If that was not enough, we have the ‘Indo Tibetan Border Police’ (ITBP) that operates directly under the Ministry of Home (MHA). So, we not only have a replete of commands responsible for the defence of the Sino-Indian Frontier, we also have two ministries, Defence and Home responsible for it.  We have lost out on our patrolling access into Depsang which was patrolled by ITBP.  Now, we want to fight a war with China with two ministries handling the front. Can you believe it?  Our ministerial battles are more intense; we can think of China later, as we are not willing to put ITBP under the command of the Army. This is my second appeal. 


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal.