File photo of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi | PTI
File photo of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi | PTI
Text Size:

Since the five-point India-China joint statement made in Moscow on 10 September after the foreign ministers’ meet between S. Jaishankar and Wang Yi, there has been no news of fresh action along the Line of Actual Control in the ongoing conflict. However, there have been important statements highlighting the seriousness of the situation in eastern Ladakh. After Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in Parliament that China has mobilised troops and weapons on the LAC, and violated all bilateral agreements, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hit back, saying that the government had misled the country on Chinese encroachment. The Minister of State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai made a bizarre statement in Parliament that there has been “no infiltration at the Indo-China Border in last six months”. Ironically, by default, he was correct because the Chinese have not infiltrated but intruded and captured our territory.

But that’s all happening in the political arena. What explains the lull along the LAC after 10 September? Is it the lull before the proverbial storm or the one being utilised by both countries to plan for a face-saver solution?

Time is at a premium because winter sets in by 30 November. While the disengagement process, when finalised, will take 7-10 days to implement, the de-escalation of additional troops inducted is likely to take nearly a month. This is more, in our case as both the roads to Ladakh close by 15 November. In case the peace process fails, then both sides may either have to settle for maintaining the volatile status quo or seek to make strategic or tactical gains before the winter sets in. It is pertinent to mention that in 1962, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commenced its offensive on 18 October and announced a unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal on 19 November.

I analyse the operational situation along the LAC, implications of the five-point agreement, likely problems in the disengagement process and prognosis, based on my assessment.


Also read: Taking Russia’s help on China and US on Maldives — a new Indian realism is underway


Situation along the LAC

Apart from the Galwan-style confrontation attempted by the PLA at Mukhpari on the intervening night of 7 and 8 September, in which, both India and China accused each other of firing warning shots, there also seems to have been a similar incident at the junction of Finger 3 and Finger 4 ridges, where allegedly 100-200 warning shots were fired by both sides. There has been no other belligerent action by either side along the frontline. Both sides remain poised for escalation at face-off points and also the reserves remain in a state of readiness to pursue strategic and tactical objectives.

The Google Map/Earth coverage north of Pangong Tso has been updated to 16 June, and shows that, even three months ago, the PLA had prepared elaborate defences of a permanent nature, indicating an intent of not vacating the area. However, there are also reports about our troops securing higher heights on Finger 4.

As per my revised assessment, on the Kailash Range, we have not secured Black Top and our troops are on the ridge line at Yellow Bump on our side of the LAC, which is 100 meters lower. In our zeal to not cross the LAC, we have lost an opportunity and forewent significant tactical advantage in relation to Spanggur Tso area. However, by securing Yellow Bump, we have denied the top-down approach to Gurung Hill. Also, we have not secured Helmet Top, losing the advantage of overlooking the PLA road from Moldo to the South Bank of Pangong Tso. This is surprising because this feature is on the LAC. However, we seem to have secured the equivalent height ridge extending to the south. Our position on Rechin La has been reinforced with tanks and Infantry Combat Vehicles — BMPs. My revised inputs notwithstanding, we are well entrenched on the Kailash Range, dominating the PLA in the Spanggur Tso area.

Status quo prevails in the Depsang and Hot Springs-Kugrang-Gogra area. There have been reports of the PLA laying optical fibre cable in the intrusion areas, which is another indication of its intent of permanent occupation.


Also read: China is an enemy of freedom of thought. It wants the same from other powerful nations


The five-point agreement

The joint statement released at the end of the foreign ministers meeting in Moscow reveals very little about the consensus/agreement that has actually been arrived at. Probably, more details will come out after further talks between the Special Representatives and through meetings of Working Mechanisms for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC) as mentioned in point four. However, there are few issues that emerge, giving the trend/agenda for future discussions.

The very first point in the five-point agreement — “both sides should take guidance from the series of consensus of the leaders on developing India-China relations, including not allowing differences to become disputes” — indicates that there have been fundamental differences in approach to the boundary dispute. In my view, these differences relate to perception of the LAC and change in the status of Ladakh with effect from 5 August 2019.

India considers the LAC to be based on the actual positions as held at the time of 1993 agreement. The Chinese consider the LAC to be as per the “the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west” as on 7 November 1959 — the date of Chou Enlai’s letter to Jawaharlal Nehru. This (7 November 1959) was the first time the term ‘Line of Actual Control’ was used, though the coordinates of this line were given later in 1960. Also, the Chinese consider the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh and its map, which includes Aksai Chin, as a fundamental violation of the consensus. As per the Chinese view, our development of the border infrastructure, beyond the 1959 claim line, was an intrusion into their territory and forced them to take counter-action.

In the above context, it is pertinent to highlight that in the joint statement, the term LAC has been replaced by “border areas” (point 2 and 3) and as per the Chinese, the 1959 claim line becomes the new reference point. This also indicates that status quo ante April 2020, which is also India’s political aim, is unlikely to come about. Hence, this finds no mention in the joint statement.

The immediate focus of the joint statement is disengagement (point 3), after which further talks will decide the bigger differences. While both sides agree to abide by the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs (point 4), they also agree to the need for new Confidence Building Measures (point 5), implying that the former are inadequate to manage the differences.


Also read: India waving SFF and Tibet cards won’t scare China. Can’t pull levers you don’t have


Disengagement process

The initial disengagement talks were based on the principle of equidistant pull-back by each side to create buffer zones of 3-4 km. Since the PLA intruded up to their 1959 claim line and across the 1993 LAC, as claimed by us, this meant further withdrawal into own territory that came under fire from the Opposition.

Now, with the term ‘border areas’ replacing the reference point of the LAC, the disengagement process will become more complex. The refusal of the PLA to pull back from the 1959 claim line further compounds the problem. Also, any disengagement from the Kailash Range will mean that we vacate the dominant positions we are holding.


Also read: Vajpayee took journalists, analysts to Kargil frontlines. In 2020, Modi can’t even say ‘China’


Prognosis

The four-and-a-half month long conflict along the LAC and the five-point agreement signed in Moscow has opened the way to settle the larger boundary dispute between India and China. We are exactly in the same situation as in 1959. The Chinese offer then was to settle the issue in Ladakh as per the 1959 claim line and recognition of the McMahon Line in the northeast. Through its actions since April 2020, the Chinese have already reached the 1959 claim line in Depsang and north of Pangong Tso. The only other area left is Demchok. We are in no position to take back Aksai Chin or other areas lost to China in the foreseeable future. In my view, the Chinese have signalled their willingness to settle on the terms proposed by them in 1959.

While the government has shown its willingness to negotiate, will its domestic compulsions allow it to progress with the negotiations towards logical conclusion? In the interim, the best what we can hope for is to declare the entire area between the 1993 LAC and the 1959 claim line as an extended buffer zone or ‘zone of actual control’ as Chinese scholar Qian Feng defines it,  where no troops will be deployed or defences/border infrastructure created. This can be a face saving solution for both sides. If negotiations fail then the threat of a limited war will continue to loom large over us.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.

Support Our Journalism

15 Comments Share Your Views

15 COMMENTS

  1. Seriously that whole Aksai Chin is ours, why cannot be simply taken back. screw china, China will eventually claim the whole of Ladakh and shortly later Kashmir as well.

    Screw peace and tranquillity, salami slicing of Chinese will continue,
    Secure your house kick strangers out if they are in your living room.

    War is essential to get our land back. and reclaim your space.

    • It is not worth going offensive to reclaim Aksai Chin.
      It is a plain land and will involve a open battle with armoured vehicles. Many lives will be lost. The Chinese have an edge here.

      Better to prepare a massive and strong defence using mountain geography and good road infrastructure & air power as your aid, grab mountain heights and protect the passes. We have the edge here. Protect Siachen area, the Shyok (Galwan, Saser La) Pangong/Gogra/Chushul and Demchok/Chumar sectors. Then they can never hope to enter Ladakh or Kashmir. I am no expert but this is what I gathered from researching through Google Maps.

  2. ‘ Old Generals of both army and economy expect the current dispensation to do things which they did not do while in power,’

    Cut out the argument that our present failure is due to Congress. It is feeble. Modi said he would give 60 years Congress development in 60 months.
    That includes defence. Why has he not done that ?

    ‘How many of them openly came out for action against the corrupt element in defense or other deals while they were in power, which set this country back against China.’

    Hindus of your ilk turned a blind eye to the Rafale scam. In fact, you made excuses for that corruption.

  3. A tactical level analysis………….real truth is which no Indian Military or civilian, serving or retired has courage to accept…………….India is caught in the classic two front war scenario…………….any limited war with China PLA would immediately lead to confrontation with Pakistan military ……….despite all bragging by Modi Generals it would be close to impossible situation for Indian military………….just imagine what would IAF do if it is simultaneously attacked by PLAAF & PAF?? India needs a statesman at this this moment who can pull India out of this quagmire……………It is because of domestic political shenanigans that Modi govt has closed all doors of negotiations with Pakistan where as in Realpolitik it is always far easier to negotiate with a much smaller adversary than a much bigger enemy !!!

  4. It is difficult to believe that our ramping up of border infrastructure or increasing closeness to the US or article 370 was the reason for China’s moves.

    It’s more likely they just wanted to take advantage due to Covid situation.

  5. Good analysis. Thanks for bringing out the truth regarding Helmet Top and Black Top.

    Chushul is a crucial sector for us to prevent the PLA from seizing the Indus sector and threaten Leh.

  6. Chinese strategy mainly works on fear psychosis. It uses the fear of war as a weapon rather than the war itself. India must not hesitate to engage in limited combat at least to ensure that the Chinese get the message that India is ready both war and peace. Otherwise, China will continue to take advantage of our lax patrolling and keep snatching away our land bit by bit.

  7. “We are in no position to take back Aksai Chin or other areas lost to China in the foreseeable future.”

    The government is well aware of our limitations I am sure. But in the eyes of the public they will need some desperate face saver to protect BJP nationalist image. Especially for those who have been tom-tomming for war, teaching China a lesson and reclaiming Aksai Chin.

    It is reasonably safe to assume based on hindsight that the Article 370 abrogation had impacts in China. BJP government had not factored the Chinese when they planned and executed the 370 abrogation. They were too much focussed on Pakistan and whipping up public sentiments after Balakot.

    While realistically we can’t do much about Depsang and DBO due to the geography and remoteness, the Indian Army has it’s task cut out to pre-empt the PLA keeping us busy through Saser La and dragging us into a two front conflict situation in Siachen.

    Chinese are serious about their Belt and Road strategy. That is the reason behind all their fears and anxieties due to 370 abrogation. CPEC highway through the Karakorams reaching Gwadar is a critical part of that strategy.

  8. Sir, if 1959 agreement holds true than how come China can keep 1962 occupied area?
    You seem very frightened by China. We aren’t a 1962 India. Plz have some courage! You are a retired army officer, right!

    • Yes India of 2020 is not 1962.
      We learnt our lessons from 1962.
      Now stop the 1962 bashing.
      We should cultivate humility and not mislead. False pride generates public pressure on government to act and this can have severe consequences esp. when we are dealing with a deceptive and resourceful enemy.

      • ‘False pride generates public pressure on government to act and this can have severe consequences esp. when we are dealing with a deceptive and resourceful enemy.’

        The govt. itself is filled with Hindus rolling in false pride. Like the boastful 56 inch Hindu chowkidar, and his lieutenant who said India will re-capture Aksai Chin, not to mention Akhand Bharat.

      • Between 1962 and 2020 there was a 1967 (just 2 years after the 1965 Indo- Pak war) as well when the Chinese received a bloody nose. Remaining humble does not mean losing a sense of reality.

  9. This Jaishankar fellow is over rated. Although he does not dress like a typical RSS Hindu, he is another gobar filled Hindu mind.

    There is not much India can do with China, so the BJP will spend its time fooling around fighting Indian Muslims, and Hindus will continue their devotion. That is what they did in the past, that is all they know, so it will continue.

  10. It is amazing when, people knowing the reality ask questions just to remain in the news.
    1. Can any one deny that since independence we made no serious effort to have economic or military parity with China because we ware busy filling our own pockets.
    2. Old Generals of both army and economy expect the current dispensation to do things which they did not do while in power, and are not willing to recognize that the serious efforts are being made to bring back that parity because that will expose their Hippocracy.
    3. How many of them openly came out for action against the corrupt element in defense or other deals while they were in power, which set this country back against China.
    4. How many of them have or can suggest a solution to problems on both borders, keeping in mind the priorities than need to be addressed in health and education over looked for over 70 years.

    • Do you have any specific solutions to offer in the comments section rather than harping about wasted 70 years.

      Don’t spend time blaming your internal enemies instead it is more productive to focus on our external enemy.

      I request you to first understand the geography of the East Karakoram, Ladakh Range, Pangong Range, Zanskar Range etc , the rivers and glaciers there so you are aware of the difficulties armed forces face in such terrain, altitude and climate. Then understand the G219 highway infrastructure from Xinjiang to Tibet, PLA posts in Aksai Chin and PLA bases in Rutog, Ngari etc.
      Similarly in Himachal, Sikkim and Arunachal. Then the deployment and numbers of forces from each side. You will realise the enormity of the situation we face in all sectors.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here