New Delhi: Noting that a situation of “no war nor peace” will prevail between India and China for the time to come, former Army chief Gen V.P. Malik (retd) said the country should not be in any kind of hurry to pull back troops from Ladakh, adding that the forces have to remain alert against the Chinese.
In an interview to ThePrint, Gen Malik also said that the Chinese incursions at multiple locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh in early May indicated “intelligence and surveillance failure”.
He, however, added that India’s response has been good, especially in the forces occupying strategic heights in the southern bank of Pangong Tso, also known as the Kailash ranges.
The former Army chief also said that the Chinese actions have affected the entire gamut of bilateral relations and brought back memories of the 1962 war. “Chinese actions have broken the trust. It has whitewashed all confidence building agreements that were signed between the two countries,” he said.
As for the way ahead, Gen Malik said, “Although our forces are in eyeball to eyeball positions, I don’t think it will escalate to a conventional war. I have a feeling this confrontation will carry on for quite some time.
While the negotiations are going on, the forces on both sides are likely to remain on alert. There may be some de-escalation possible but even after de-escalation, it will be a position of no war nor peace.”
The officer, who led the Army during the Kargil battle, said India should not talk in segments with China when it comes to Eastern Ladakh.
“We should not talk in segments of the Pangong Tso area or Galwan Valley or Depsang,” he said. “If we want lasting peace along the LAC, we should be taking the whole eastern Ladakh border together because if we have advantage in the Pangong Tso area, we are at disadvantage at many other places also.”
“We should not be in a hurry to give away the advantage we have and accept some less advantageous positions on the northern side,” he added. “For lasting peace, the whole eastern Ladakh border should be taken together.”
Have to be patient while negotiating with Chinese
Gen Malik again reiterated that India should not be “in a hurry to withdraw our troops”.
The former Army chief said he believes that the talks will continue for a long time and India “will have to be patient while negotiating with the Chinese”.
“There should be no great hurry to pull out our forces because of winter or any other situation. We have to look at Chinese military strength on that side,” he said.
Asked if he fears that India is in a hurry to disengage, he replied that was not the case.
“I don’t think so (India is in a hurry to disengage) but pressure will start building. At the moment it does not look like it. I have a feeling that the Army is quite firm on keeping our troops and the troops are also not seen as wanting,” he said. “They are quite sturdy and are prepared to go through all these handicaps. But there is pressure due to the economic situation, this pressure might start building up.”
Long-term objective should be delineation of LAC
Gen Malik said that while the short-term goal is status quo ante, the long-term objective should be to make the Chinese agree to delineation of the LAC on the maps.
“Because unless that is, these kind of intrusions and small actions that take place on the LAC will continue,” he said.
Explaining the relations with China, he said it is competitive and cooperative at the same time.
Gen Malik said the armed forces have been talking about the competitive part of it, the “Ministry of External Affairs and elsewhere have been talking about the cooperative part of it”.
Intelligence and surveillance failure
Gen Malik, however, noted that the Chinese incursions were the result of ‘some intelligence and surveillance failure”.
“Because if surveillance is there and there are some intelligence reports, you should not be taken by surprise,” he said, adding that agencies had poorly assessed two big Chinese formations that had come to Tibet for a military exercise before the incursions.
“That assessment should have been there that these can be used against us on the LAC,” he said. “I have mentioned these because they were some weaknesses that have come out. And I think we have drawn some lessons from it.”
He added that India’s response since has been “fairly good”.
“After we came to know, the action has been fairly good between the Army and the Air Force. The mobilisation that has taken place is very good,” he said. “The response in the Galwan Valley and elsewhere has been good, particularly the response of occupying the Kailash range which has really turned the table.”