The current standoff between the Indian Army (IA) and the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) in Eastern Ladakh is the deepest such crisis between India and China since the Sumdorung Chu incident of 1987, the 2017 Doklam faceoff notwithstanding. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would like to believe that it can bully the Indian military along the line of actual control (LAC) with its aggressive behaviour, but the India of 2020, is different from the India of 1962. China, it seems, intends to make an example out of India in order to browbeat the lesser nations on its periphery. India on its part, must disabuse China of such notions, and indeed adopt an aggressive posture of its own, if the latter does not back down soon. Nothing scares the CCP more than the thought of losing face.
For Taiwan, Japan or Vietnam, the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN’s) activities will remain a challenge, but China won’t precipitate a situation wherein the United States (US) is called out to action stations due to its treaty obligations. In Hong Kong, China has already got control. That leaves only India, as a formidable regional power that China will try to take liberties with, while providing weapons and money to its vassal Pakistan, to continue the ongoing proxy war in Kashmir with infiltration, terror attacks and Ceasefire Violations on the line of control (LoC).
In short, keep India occupied on two and a half fronts, in order to scare smaller nations. China wants to demonstrate its ability against India, knowing that India is facing its worst internal crisis since independence, which has been triggered by China, whether accidentally or otherwise. The actions of the PLA in Tibet may appear to have been a theatre-level decision, but have the tacit go ahead of Beijing, nonetheless. It is important to keep in mind, that most of the vast PLA machinery has stayed at the margins of China’s internal pandemic fight. Barring a few provinces, China till now seems to have been relatively untouched by the virus, which means that the PLAGF has enough room to experiment with expansionary doctrines that are perhaps inspired by Sun Tzu’s famous maxim:
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”
Options for India & the demonstration of National Resolve
The Chinese art of warfare revolves around winning a conflict without firing a shot, which is how the confusion over the perception of existing lines of the Ladakh-Tibet Theatre, and LAC vary and is deftly manipulated by the CCP. There is a vast Information Warfare machinery, some even embedded within India, that is being used to mount disinformation campaigns against the government in New Delhi. This nibbling tactic has led to losses of precious territory by India, to China, in recent decades. It has also led to bitter political battles and internal squabbles, which the CCP is well versed and takes advantage of.
Despite the standing military balance stacked in favour of China, it must be remembered that it is always the man behind the machine and his resolve to fight that wins wars.
The Indian soldier fights where he’s ordered to, till his very last breath, under whatever circumstances. Military historians of repute have opined that the Indian soldier lacked everything in 1962, except for his will and resolve to battle. We have battle-hardened troops who have faced continuous insurgencies and display enormous gallantry in various theatres.
On the contrary, the same can’t be said of the Chinese. PLA soldiers have been noted to be risk averse and ready to abandon their posts under fire- as has happened during Face-offs in Vietnam, Sikkim, as well as during recent UN peace keeping Operations in Sudan. The one-child policy is a major risk aversion factor for the Chinese soldier. The internal health of the PLAGF is weaker than Korea/1962 wars, as a recent PLA captain’s radio intercept revealed that “today’s PLA soldier is from the Prince generation, to make him battle-worthy is an uphill task”.
They may have reached Pangongso & Galwan, but now we need to evict them.
Mobilization is the key
The crucial factor of surprise has been lost by India. But eviction is imperative, to hold off both China and Pakistan from developing a pincer in Ladakh. This can only be done by using all available military-civil air assets to deploy additional troops and weapons on the ground. India must also recall all veterans with reserve duty liability immediately.
Once mobilization is demonstrated, New Delhi must put all Central Armed Police Forces with the exception of the CISF and the CRPF under the operational control of the relevant Army Commands for a period of six months. Next, clearly announce complete re-raising of the Indian Army’s XVII or Brahmastra Mountain Strike Corps created to deliver a riposte against Chinese forces on Tibet soil. In conjunction, move all major strategic assets to designated launch pads in the East.
Aggressively expand the war zone into the high seas. Increase domination of the Indian Ocean and create multiple pressure points for China, that the PLAN can’t deal with easily.
Areas where India has a terrain advantage, such as Sikkim, need to be reinforced, by elite Para, Scouts and SF units. Clearly, the decision for escalation to the point of first shots being fired needs to be with the junior commanders on the ground. Freedom of intent has to be given to them, to forcefully evict any new intrusion, as border personnel meeting protocols have already been breached by the PLAGF. The IA must, in the next 30 days, also issue a call out notice to all veterans of the last 3 years, below the rank of Brigadier to rejoin their units/formations. This will be a clarion call and a signal to both China and Pakistan
The PLA of 2020 is far worse than the battle-hardened PLA of 1962. The residual powers of the CCP can last only for 5 years more, before China collapses internally. India must re-seize the initiative, to wrest out a semblance of victory, even if it’s achieved at great sacrifice. If we need any more inspiration, then we just need to look at Vietnam or Israel. Or re- read the 1962 order to a despondent 4 Corps by the greatest Gurkha officer ever: “Gentlemen there will be no retreat without written orders and those orders will never be written”
Colonel Ashish Khanna (Retd) is a decorated veteran of the Indian Army having served in the Special Forces during the course of his career.
*With Inputs from Chandrashekhar Bhattacharyya
© Delhi Defence Review. Reproducing this content in full without permission is prohibited.