By J.V. Lakshmana Rao
Indian and Chinese forces seem to have reached a flashpoint on the India-China border as per current indications. Unlike in the past, now the Indian troops have fully consolidated themselves to face any eventuality and have warned Chinese to disengage and pull back its troops.
Induction of the Rafale fighter jets in the Indian Air Force and joint naval exercises with friendly nations in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean should make China that India is not what it was in 1962. And India is not alone. China should honor its commitments made in the diplomatic, military and ministerial level forums.
Watching that China has been provocatively advancing and amassing its troops on the northern side of Pangong Lake in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Indian forces have been quick to consolidate their positions to protect their territory by occupying the high altitude vulnerable hilltops gaining vantage position from where they would be able to watch the movement of Chinese troops. This preemptive bid of the Indian troops has infuriated the Chinese troops which have been trying to flex their muscle by firing in the air.
In a major escalation of the faceoff on the LAC in Ladakh, Chinese troops fired shots in the air on the late evening of September 7. It was for the first time in 45 years that shots were fired by Chinese at the LAC. Armed with guns and other traditional sharp weapons, Chinese troops attempted to dislodge Indian troops from Jukhpari, one of the tallest peaks in the Chushul sector.
Placed at an advantageous height, Indian soldiers could see the Chinese troops advancing and warned them to move back, and that was when, in retaliation, they fired shots in the air. It seems about 40 Chinese soldiers were involved in a direct faceoff with Indian soldiers in the sensitive general area of Mukhpari. Contrary to the reality, China has blamed India saying that its soldiers were first to fire shots in the air.
Reports indicate that the Indian troops have occupied the strategic heights that allow them to dominate the Moldo Garrison and the Spangur Gap under Chinese control. Both India and China had earlier claimed some of these heights. However, Indian troops, it is stated, also have occupied some heights near finger 4.
It is interesting to note that, of all the most critical spots, the Indian troops have been manning, is the Rechin La, following which the Chinese army has protested.
At present, the Indian Army enjoys a vantage point, not just to monitor Chinese military bases on the south bank of the Pangong Lake, but also to keep an eye on the Finger 4 area (latest reports indicate India has gained control over it) on the north of the lake.
It is said that additional Chinese tents and camouflaged material can be seen on the shores of finger 5. The Chinese buildup also suggests that the Chinese troops could be preparing for a long haul in this area.
Earlier, the PLA’s western theatre command issued a statement accusing the Indian armed forces of crossing the LAC.
In reply, the Indian Army has issued a statement categorically refuting the statement made by the Chinese army and said: “At no stage has the Indian Army transgressed across the LAC or resorted to adopt to any aggressive means, including firing.”
Because of a threat perception, India has put its borders – the India-Pakistan border on the western side and India-China border on the northern side – on high alert by moving border security forces and more Indian Army contingents.
Also as many as 100 companies consisting of 10,000 personnel of para-military forces have been rushed to border areas by India.
The fortification of defense forces on both the fronts has been taken by India, as there has been no significant progress to break the deadlock on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Ladakh sector, while talks were being held between the top leaders of India and China in Moscow. The intelligence reports indicate that China can use proxy Pakistan as a conduit to escalate already existing disturbed conditions along the international border and the Line of Control (LOC). Therefore, India has put Border Security Force (BSF), the Indian Army and other security forces on a high alert along the borders with Pakistan as well as China.
Senior officials of the BSF have indicated that they have “specific” intelligence inputs that China, in an attempt to divert the focus and attention of Indian security forces along the LAC, is using Pakistan to foment an armed offensive by violating ceasefire along the LOC of the Indo-Pak border.
The officials say that the Indian Home Ministry has increased the presence of forces along other vulnerable stretches of the Indo-China border, particularly in Sikkim and Uttarakhand.
Never before India has been so assertive to tell China in the language it can understand to maintain status quo ante by asking it to pull back its troops to where they remained at pre-May 2020 positions.
India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has shown India’s determination of its stand during the talks he had held with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meet in Moscow on September 4.
Reiterating India’s determination not to compromise on its sovereignty by conceding even an inch of its territory, Rajnath Singh said neither India nor China should take any action that could complicate matters.
He said that amassing Chinese troops and unilaterally attempting to alter status quo were in violation of bilateral agreements. “There should be no doubt about India’s determination to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.
Forgetting conveniently, the months of preparations by the PLA that led to the standoff with the Indian troops at the Galwan range on June 15-16 night and alleging India was responsible for it, Wei Fenghe said the Chinese military was fully determined, capable, and confident to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Similarly, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi had a face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of SCO meet in Moscow on September 10. Reports indicate that both countries have agreed that border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions. The two countries have come out with a five-point joint statement calling for the ease of tensions. It has to be seen how sincere China would be to follow the five points.
Though at these two high-level Moscow meetings, China and India have agreed to work through diplomatic and military channels towards disengaging of the troops and de-escalating of the tense situation, there has been no indication by China to break the impasse.
However, for India, promises of China can never be trustworthy. Its promises are always contrary to its actions. This has been amply proved since the time of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru when he raised the banner of “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” and supported China’s case of a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Even during this bon homie between the two countries, China was brutalizing Tibet and preparing for a war with India. India was caught unawares when China attacked India in 1962.
Similar to several occasions in the past, it has also been India’s current experience. While de-escalation talks were in progress, the armies of India and China were locked in a violent physical skirmish in the Galwan Valley region of the eastern Ladakh on June 15-16 night, in which 20 Indian soldiers including an unarmed colonel were brutally killed and several others were grievously injured. It was also reported that 43 casualties on the Chinese side, though China was silent on it.
Now the Chinese promises to India at Moscow’s SCO sideline meetings held on September 4 and 10 also cannot be trusted. If that was the intention of China, its troops should not have made a failed second attempt on August 30-31 to capture peaks on the southern banks of the Pangong Tso, which has been the latest flash point between the troops of India and China.
But brave Indian troops, with a forethought, have tactfully occupied several vital peaks on the southern banks of Pangong Tso and preempted the Chinese soldiers to their surprise. All this happened when the ground commanders of the two sides were in discussions to de-escalate the situation.
According to Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, due to timely defensive action, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts of Chinese troops to unilaterally alter the status quo. The Chinese Army, during dark hours of August 30-31 and again on September 1 was trying to close in on at the area, but they were spotted by the Indian troops. And the PLA troops were suitably warned and prevented from moving closer to the Indian side.
All along since May, it has been PLA troops’ strategy to grab the common vacant buffer areas and peaks along the LAC in the Ladakh sector, but now on observing their attempts to move in large numbers, the Indian troops have acted fast and occupied many peaks in a preemptive bid. This control of the peaks has given Indian troops, an advantage to dominate the area and watch the movement of the Chinese troops.
On September 1, China denied India’s allegations against PLA, and in turn, accused India of violating its territorial sovereignty by trespassing the LAC. But India has made it clear that the Chinese troops have been attempting to change the status quo at the southern bank of Pangong Tso Lake.
As the faceoff continues between the troops of India and China, it is still hoped that a thaw between the two countries may emerge as the outcome of the proposed meeting of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Ping Xi Jinping at the SCO summit in Moscow.
Peace and normalcy between the two countries can be possible only when China withdraws its troops and maintains status quo ante on the India-China border.
By J.V. Lakshmana Rao