BY AIR MARSHAL (RETD) HARISH MASAND
More than four months have gone by since the PLA upped the ante on the borders with India resulting in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. The confrontation has also been unprecedented with the largest loss of lives since the Nathu La confrontation of 1967 with 17 Div of Maj Gen Sagat Singh. The clash at PP 14 in the Galwan area resulted in the loss of Colonel Santosh Babu, the CO of 16 Bihar and 19 other ranks on the night of 15/16 June 2020 in a most barbaric and treacherous attack by the PLA despite the consensus on disengagement reached in the Corps level talks on June 6.
Though the brave Indian troops inflicted a much larger number of casualties on the PLA, this tragic incident on the LAC is being recounted to remind everyone of China’s duplicity and the resultant trust deficit on the Indian side on the value of China’s words, particularly since China has been playing such a game ever since the Panchsheel agreement of 1954.
While the Indian media has been covering the details of the day-to-day developments in these four months of confrontation, sometimes excessively so, the Chinese media, all officially controlled, has been reticent but continues with its propaganda on trying to put the blame on India for the current situation on the LAC. India put out the number of casualties on 15/16 June almost immediately and gave a widely publicised last salute to its 20 martyrs while China has kept a lid on the number of casualties on its side and almost buried the details thus disowning its losses on the lines of the Pakistanis during the Kargil War of 1999 when India had to finally give a decent burial to the Pakistani dead.
Fortunately, with Chinese aggressive moves all across on various fronts in its wolf warrior diplomacy, the international community has seen through the propaganda with many other nations having suffered its salami slicing tactics, particularly in the South and East China Seas. Due to this, world opinion has rallied behind India as evident from the US moves and exercises in the South China Sea and the recent call of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to all nations to stand up against Chinese aggression in the recently-concluded ASEAN meeting.
Fortunately also, this time India has decided to stand up to Chinese designs and aggression no matter what the costs, unlike previous instances when we let China continue with its nibbling. It’s nobody case that India is looking for war, with its focus on economic development and poverty alleviation in a peaceful environment and co-existence with all its neighbors. Despite the betrayal of the 1950s culminating in the war of 1962, India has continued to work towards peace on the existing borders despite its legitimate claim to the Aksai Chin and other areas illegally ceded territories by Pakistan to China.
This resulted in a number of agreements since 1993, including 22 rounds of talks between the Special Representatives and two summits between the two heads of state. All of these were violated in a jiffy by the PLA in the current standoff by moving almost 50,000 troops from its so-called exercise in Tibet earlier this year and attempting to alter the status quo on the LAC. Despite these provocations from China, India has kept the door of diplomacy open. Accordingly, the two Foreign Ministers met on September 10 on the sidelines of the SCO in Moscow in an effort to find a peaceful resolution to the current imbroglio, as of writing this piece.
Details of the agreement reached between the two Foreign Ministers are slowly emerging, with some hopeful indications of maintaining peace and tranquility on the existing borders and abiding by the existing protocols and understandings on disengagement to avoid further escalation. However, lest one gets optimistic about this being an end to the stalemate, it needs to be remembered that such platitudes have been mouthed many times earlier. In a press conference on September 11, Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, still talked of India’s provocations.
Therefore, while India awaits the words to be converted to deeds and visible action on the ground by the PLA to disengage and withdraw to its peacetime locations, it must continue to counter Chinese moves on all fronts, economic as well as military, without letting its guard down. Economically, while China may be far ahead of India, India has sufficient military might to give more than a bloody nose to China should push come to shove. China would be making a grave error if it underestimates India’s resolve and its capacity to fight when national honour and sovereignty are at stake. China certainly has taken on more than it can chew.
(Air Marshal (Retd) Harish Masand served in the Indian Air Force)