Issues prevail across Line of Actual Control

Issues prevail across Line of Actual Control

  • The winter is setting in in the icy cold deserts of Ladakh.
  • There is no respite for Indian and Chinese soldiers who will remain deployed against each other.
  • At high altitude, soldiers suffer with rarefied atmosphere and low temperatures.
  • In the last 10 months, the Chinese Western Theatre Command has seen four commanders, two of them, moved out for serious health issues.

China’s aggressive focus on India

  • Massive infrastructure construction, induction of a large quantity of modern equipment, and a sharp increase in the number of military exercises directed towards India.
  • These actions are not limited to Ladakh but have also been initiated in the middle and eastern sectors of the 3,488-kilometre long Line of Actual Control (LAC).
  • The PLA incursion into Barahoti in Uttarakhand in August was a significant pointer to the renewed Chinese aggression against India.
  • Even though Barahoti is a disputed area between the two sides, it has been a demilitarised zone.
  • No persons in uniform enter the area. This was violated when PLA soldiers came deep into Indian territory in uniform and damaged some infrastructure.
  • The forays of Chinese patrols in Arunachal Pradesh have also increased in frequency and duration, denoting the PLA’s intention to keep the Indian military under pressure.
  • Such hostility carries the risk of triggering an unintended escalation, as was the case after 200 PLA soldiers were stopped by an Indian patrol in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang earlier this month.
  • Western scholars with Chinese connections point to two major drivers for the PLA’s aggressive approach against India.
  1. Its institutional interest as the ‘army of the revolution’ which is now losing its primacy to the PLA Air Force and PLA Navy when it comes to Taiwan or the South China Sea.
  • With China having resolved its boundary disputes with most countries, the only major adversary available for the PLA is India.
  1. The PLA’s view that the Indian military has been registering a greater presence on “Chinese territory” in the border areas in the last 10-12 years.
  • After the United Progressive Alliance government decided to build infrastructure and raise additional forces for the China border, a larger number of Indian patrols have been going more frequently into areas which they would rarely, if ever, visit.
  • The Doklam stand-off of 2017, when Indian soldiers walked onto Bhutanese territory claimed by China, was a turning point in the PLA’s appreciation of Indian designs, reinforcing its apprehensions about territorial losses.

New Delhi’s response

  • In response to the PLA’s actions on the LAC, the Indian military has also inducted more modern military platforms and systems on the China border which has been backed by infrastructure construction.
  • The Indian military always maintained a defensive deterrence against the PLA which worked for nearly three decades before breaking down completely in 2020.
  • The new troop deployments and equipment inductions, along with infrastructure creation — showcased extensively to the Indian media — are trying to reconstruct that deterrence.

Impact on modernization

  • The foremost among them is the sharp decline in the Indian economy after demonetisation, further battered by the Government’s poor handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  • It means that New Delhi is unable to generate enough resources for military modernisation.
  • Ashley Tellis had calculated in 2016 that the Indian Air Force (IAF) would need about 60 fighter jet squadrons by 2020 for a serious two-front threat from China and Pakistan but is down to 30 and losing numbers sharply.
  • The Indian Navy Chief’s pleas for another aircraft carrier have been rebuffed for want of funds. 
  • The parliamentary standing committee on defence has repeatedly warned about the abnormally high share of vintage equipment in the Indian Army’s profile.
  • So rapidly is the technological asymmetry with the PLA increasing, that in a few years it is feared that India and China will be fighting two different generations of war.
  • The second factor is the increasingly divisive majoritarian politics practised by the ruling party that has left India vulnerable.
  • The United Arab Emirates-brokered backchannel deal with Pakistan fell through apparently because of New Delhi’s policies in Kashmir, reactivating the challenge of a two-front collusive military threat.
  • The ceasefire on the Line of Control is barely holding up, with infiltration from the Pakistani side adding to the local Kashmiri youth willing to pick up the gun, opening another half-front for the military.
  • The recent fracas (a noisy argument or fight, usually involving several people) with Bangladesh on the treatment of religious minorities or the ongoing turmoil over the influx of Myanmar refugees in Mizoram has left India, internally unbalanced, weaker in the region to deal with China.
  • The third is the geopolitics arising out of the great power competition in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Many strategic commentators in India had pinned their hopes on the external rebalancing via the Quad (India, the United States, Australia, Japan) but the grouping does not have a ‘hard power’ agenda yet.
  • That role seems to have devolved upon the AUKUS (the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States).
  • Closer ties between Washington DC and New Delhi, short of an alliance, leave the questions of actual support during a Sino-India military crisis unanswered.

The executive’s shadow

  • In the Ladakh border crisis, the Government and its supporters were in denial about the Chinese ingress into Indian territory for months, including the Prime Minister’s statement that no one had entered Indian territory.
  • Use of euphemisms like ‘friction points’ for places of Chinese ingress or the removal of an official report about Chinese presence across the LAC from the Defence Ministry’s website or non-acknowledgement of Indian soldiers in Chinese captivity after the Galwan clash have been done to evade political accountability.
  • Parliament has not been allowed to ask questions or seek clarifications; nor has the parliamentary standing committee deliberated upon the issue.
  • Large sections of Indian media have been complicit in this cover up, keeping the public in the dark and blocking the feedback loop that keeps democratic governments honest and responsive.

Looking ahead

  • The amplitude of New Delhi’s stance on the Sino-India border crisis in the last 20 months has oscillated between denial and bluster.
  • Dampening the oscillations, New Delhi’s avowed aim is to restore the status quo on the LAC in Ladakh that existed before May 2020. That has not happened so far.
  • In areas of disengagement, a new status quo has been created which curtails Indian patrolling rights while the PLA remains ensconced (somewhere, you are made or make yourself comfortable and safe in that place or position) on Indian territory in Depsang, Hot Springs and Demchok.
  • India now has no choice but to be prepared for all eventualities on the Sino-India border.

Source : The Hindu