Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during his visit to Nimu forward post in Ladakh | PTI
Text Size:

The public perception the Narendra Modi government is seeking to create is that the crisis on the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh has been defused; that the Chinese have been stopped in their tracks through a determined riposte by the Indian armed forces and compelled to climb down from their aggressive and arrogant posture; that the Prime Minister’s stern message delivered during his visit to Ladakh has been the turning point in persuading the Chinese to choose the path of disengagement and de-escalation. These are dangerous illusions not based on any objective assessment of an entirely new situation we are facing, not only in select areas at the LAC, but in the whole context of India-China relations.


Also read: India, China very close to each other at LAC, disengagement a work in progress, says Jaishankar


India should mind the ‘gap’ and move

The projection of China’s meek bowing to Indian display of force and resolve is not believable. There is deep asymmetry of both infrastructural and hardware capabilities in favour of China and this is all along the LAC in west, centre and the east, and this asymmetry is growing. China is conveying that it can create trouble for India where and when it chooses to, keeping us off-balance, or to put it in another way, keep us in line.

India should be mindful of the threat not just at this or that stretch but all along the LAC. One could identify places where our forces have tactical advantage that could enable our side to nibble away the Chinese territory, just as they have been doing to us for years. One would then have something to bargain with when Chinese transgressions take place. This requires highly mobile and well-trained forces along with a proactive mindset.

I have seen neither evidence of us raising such forces nor of having this in our SOPs. Even if we were able to engage in tactical offence, the reality of power asymmetry puts us overall on the strategic defensive. If disengagement does take place and the status quo ante is restored—which I seriously doubt—the lesson to be drawn is not that we have managed to awe the Chinese to step back but rather that they believe their objectives have been achieved through this display of force.


Also read: Chinese threat is unlikely to go away. India needs big plans for LAC to save its land


Problem with buffer zones

If disengagement entails going back from their current positions about a couple of kilometres, this may not mean much since China can amass large forces at the LAC in much shorter periods compared to us. If de-escalation occurs and the rear forces, armaments and even semi-permanent or permanent structures are dismantled and moved further back, this, too, has little meaning precisely for the same reason. Chinese infrastructure makes mobilisation time much faster than on the Indian side. Tensions can be ratcheted up or down as and when required by the Chinese. Only a risky gamble of a surprise operation at a point of our choosing on the LAC could have shifted the onus of escalation on to the Chinese, and given them a pause. The Chinese do not like surprises and usually pause to reflect and reassess before taking further actions. But that moment has passed.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

The Chinese side will not engage in a major military offensive against India because it is not necessary to achieve the political objective of keeping India preoccupied on its borders. Its current series of actions are of a piece with China’s deepening alliance with Pakistan and its steady inroads into our periphery to the north and south.

From China’s perspective, escalation control becomes more difficult as the scale of the offensive expands, particularly against a substantial, well-trained and highly motivated force, which the Indian armed forces undoubtedly are. There is risk of escalation to the nuclear threshold. This may also bring in other major powers into the equation which will add to uncertainties. So, I do not expect such escalation. However, India needs to be honest and objective about its present predicament and devise an appropriate counter-strategy. We should avoid obfuscating the situation by using terms like “buffer zones”, “zones of disengagement” or “differences in perception of the LAC” which deflect attention from the reality of a new LAC having come into existence in some of the contested areas.

If Indian troops have to withdraw from areas on our side of the LAC to create such “buffer zones”, if they have to suspend patrols to avoid clashes, then we would have acquiesced in the Chinese ‘two steps forward one step back’ tried and tested playbook.


Also read: As armies ‘retreat’ at LAC, India must turn to options it hasn’t used against China so far


Lessons from the stand-off

In the short-term, there will have to be a serious consideration of asymmetrical and tactical measures to raise the risk and cost of continued Chinese transgressions. There has to be an acceleration of our border infrastructure building just as it took place after the 1962 debacle. The Border Roads Organisation was set up and chaired by a Prime Minister — Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1960. We need to make a similar effort this time as well. This will convey a stronger signal of resolve than the morale-boosting and image-building visits to the border.

It is important for the government to take the people of India into confidence and share with them what the real situation at the border is even if that is currently discouraging. Any attempt to obscure ground reality due to misplaced domestic political compulsions or to shield the leader’s outsized public image, is fraught with even greater risk than the threat itself.

In these days of high-resolution satellites images and sophisticated intelligence gathering by friends and adversaries alike, our public posture or the lack of one, can be easily verified and assessed. The international credibility of the Indian state and its political leadership can be seriously undermined if posture does not match reality. This aggravates India’s vulnerabilities and undermines its ability to contribute credence and capability to the countervailing coalition, which must be a part of our external balancing strategy until we begin the hard work of building up our economic and security capabilities to shrink the glaring power gap with China.

Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary and a Senior Fellow CPR. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only 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 we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

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 our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

37 Comments Share Your Views

37 COMMENTS

  1. Does India really has the credibility when it faces defeat by letting killed its 20 soldiers by their misadventure? also after getting humiliated there pilot when a misadventure was taken place at Pakistani side of the border in feb 2019. India just remain at the doldrums of its supporter however the capability and brevity India has has gone to zero after these recurrent events of failures.

  2. Indian credibility is already jeopardized when in February 2019, it conducted false flag operation against Pakistan and Modi tried spread hatred among people in India. However, Modi not only faced shame and humiliation but also showed the whole world that India has no credibility.

  3. Sad to see that our diplomats are still stuck in the old ways of making conflicting arguments.

    The solution is relatively simple: free up the economy and let the animal spirits of the Indian entrepreneurs take over and see India growing 10% per year. Without more money there’s no more budget or more defense budget.
    Remember there’s only one threat to India and that’s China.. the rest of the Pygmy enemies can’t do any harm to India. In a way I am glad the ladakh incident happened, any illusion as far China is concerned must now be completely thrown away to the dustbin where it belongs.
    Lastly, Shyam Saran is wrong about history. The Chinese will have to go back from Ladakh like they had to go back from Doklam in 2017. But they will be back and we need to do all of the above to give them a bloody nose next time they try a misadventure.

  4. The Ladakh debacle is another major setback for India after the 1962 defeat and Shyam Saran has been witness to them all along. But for some reason, Saran, although a seasoned government official sans any worthwhile achievement to his credit, has been less than honest when he just took PM Modi to task for what he alludes to as cover-up of the creation of new LAC at India’s expense. To start with, the asymmetry between China and India is huge and widening by the day. While India is barely a 2.5 trillion dollar economy, China has climbed to 13, projected to catch up with that US’s 19 trillion in a decade or two. This asymmetry means many yawning gaps in capabilities between China and India in almost all sectors including the military. But what is worse is that India has failed to work out its strategy of national survival and growth in any realistic manner, and is, for some inexplicable reasons, behaves like a super power and likes to be treated as one. The fact is that, given India’s chronic and massive poverty and miniscule manufacturing sector, China is the only country who can help her out. But it is that very country that India has chosen to offend by participating in such ill-conceive alliances like Indo-Pacific Strategy and all that. Besides, India has this long running sickening habit–Saran as former foreign secretary is complicit in it–of keeping border problems unresolved with all its immediate neighbors. If India, like China, had settled her border demarcation on time, today she would have been spared of this Ladakh humiliation.

  5. Mr Sarans views have logical consistencies, note: “One could identify places where our forces have tactical advantage that could enable our side to nibble away the Chinese territory, just as they have been doing to us for years. ”

    And then he goes on to say: “Even if we were able to engage in tactical offence, the reality of power asymmetry puts us overall on the strategic defensive,”

    When India is on strategic defensive because of asymmetry in infrastructure and firepower, then why recommend this strategy of nibbling creep? Where did that get in 1962 ? On the advice of clueless diplomats to political leaders riding high on nationalism., the military was ordered to deploy at Namka Chu!

    Then Mr Saran brings about coup de gras of masterly confusion:”We should avoid obfuscating the situation by using terms like “buffer zones”, “zones of disengagement” or “differences in perception of the LAC” which deflect attention from the reality of a new LAC having come into existence in some of the contested areas.

    Mr Saran, these terms were invented by diplomats. Had there been military leaders in your negotiating teams for these agreements, our soldiers would not have been the saddled with such confusion ever since 1996.

    Instead of advising the politicians to build matching infrastructure and heavier firepower which can be used in the three sectors, what we get, agreements to unfurl the banners? Having hot the Indians into signing these kinds of agreements, the Chinese diplomats must have gone swimming in their “baijiu”- a kind of Chinese vodka!

    I think every diplomat, before joining the first posting, should spend a tenure in the forward areas to understand military capacities of national security.

  6. This old man believes that those leading the Indian armed forces are fools and he knows better than them. He can write any bulshit to earn his living. Such armchair analysts only use buzz words. Make them sit with the army heads and they would be looking either sideways or gazing the roof. But one thing is for sure that slavery of over 1000 years have made genetic changes in some Indians who can remain happy as slaves only. Their slave mindset can’t dream the lead the world. They always get scared of obstacles and never show determination to overcome the obstacles. Their loosing world is made of words only and there is no action to win.

  7. Its high time we accepted reality – that to retrieve our territory and image we have to use force, and takes the risks that entails. Otherwise we will reinforce our image as a nation that backs down when faced with a real military threat. That would be as serious a loss of our credibility as in 1962. We all know that the Chinese have taken the Indian army and the Indian state by surprise, and walked in several kilometers deeper into our territory than they already were. Mutual disengagement means we lose territory, whilst they get to keep much of what they took in April. Rhetoric does not fool anybody, not the Chinese and not the Indian public.

    Thereafter, we need to get our act together in terms of defense preparedness. That entails raising defense budgets, and a total overhaul in our procurement process, which is currently a laughing stock run by clueless bureaucrats and their counterparts in the armed forces brass.

    Above all, we need to fix the economy. Without that we cannot afford the sort of defense we need against China. And we need to get realism into our foreign policy. We always know China is an opportunistic bully; now we need to make sure we give it the treatment it deserves. It is pathetic, absurd and self-defeating that we maintain normal trade relations; accept their claim over Tibet and Taiwan; and hesitate from denouncing their actions against Hong Kong and the Uighurs …. even as they blatantly walk into our territory, back the thugs in Pakistan, oppose our entry into the UNSC and generally behave as though we were some sort of cowardly, weak, lesser beings.

    We elected Mr. Modi because we thought he was clear-headed, determined and strong … it is time he lived up to that image.

    • ‘We all know that the Chinese have taken the Indian army and the Indian state by surprise, and walked in several kilometers deeper into our territory than they already were. ‘

      Modi said nothing of the kind happened, so why are question the elected leader ?

      ‘We elected Mr. Modi because we thought he was clear-headed, determined and strong … it is time he lived up to that image.’

      You elected him only because he beat up the Muslim minority. Modi cannot handle China. He was so clear minded that he told us he has a Plus One relationship with China.

  8. It looks like the Indian side has accepted the fait accompli. However, it is keen to make the costs strategic to China. It would rather take the route of taking steps it always wanted to take but was afraid to take due to an imaginary fear or an irrational hope of a strategic convergence with China.
    The implication is- China may gain an important mountain peak or two, but it has lost India strategically. India is a democracy, not an authoritarian state like China. Here, decision making involves people. It wasn’t easy to decouple with China earlier- it is now.

    What is frightening is the possibility that the Chinese leadership may well have taken these possibilities into account. It thinks that nothing that India can do can hurt it significantly anymore. To hurt China significantly, India will have to descend into a madcap frenzy and China calculates India is just not cut for such frenzy. This may actually be the truth or just the result of hubris- in which case, India will be able to create headaches for China while still speaking sweet words and employing doublespeak.

    • China can bamboo India as Indian heads are filled with gobar. We have a chai wallah and encoounter specialist leading, with a cow worshipper Yogi next in line.

      • You can write as much nonsense to support the state of beggaristan that you belong to: it achieves nothing. Not here, not anywhere else. Focus on the topic or else the only laughing stock here is you.

  9. A a seasoned diplomat, Shyam saran should have done more than highlight the asymmetry in strength between China and India which has been there for over 2 decades. What about the diplomatic and economic options ? What does he have to say about re starting the border dialogue ? Is there a way to bring China to the table with maps and then resolve each contentious area ?

  10. China has a hundred year plan. Modi has a dream. China dedicates itself to achieving it’s vision. Modi cannot think beyond the next election. He has to cater to his core voter and at the same time is constrained by his myopic Shakha indoctrination.

    • @barbedewyre- You are totally right except your last phrase! May be I’m wrong but I have started feeling that the Shakha doctrine is the closest to the Indian civilization and most pragmatic one. It is also the closest thing we have for a long term vision. Dare I say, the Chinese have been actively working on realizing a similar kind of vision for their own country while we have been whiling our time away, worrying less on core national interests and more on lofty principles and “log-kya-kahenge” syndrome.

  11. Don’t write an article just for sake of writing something meaningless. At least support your country and give our Juwan’s courage.

  12. What the author suggest may well happen the next time. I think it makes sense for India to build its infrastructure and weapons capabilities before it goes on an offensive. Given its current state, India has done well on the border. Hopefully this incident will lead to a higher sense of urgency on the borders. But before we start talking about being offensive with China, we need to be stronger. The fact that we are importing all kinds of weapons instead of ordering or expediting local programs indicates that not just infrastructure building, but also weapons capabilities are sub par. Unless India addresses these underlying issues trying to be proactive maybe be a costly strategy.

  13. Retaliation by way nibbling territory on the Chinese side of LAC as a counter-measure and leverage for futures negotiations may not be possible for now as China has mobilized enough forces across LAC. India will have to be patient to seize the opportunity at an appropriate time. China is playing a game of patience and forbearance and wants to engage India in the task of maintaining vigilance and preparedness at our eastern borders. This preoccupation will have economic and geopolitical costs. China wants to remind all the countries in Asia about who is the boss and and India cannot compete. India will have spend all its energy in defending its borders and may not be able to establish itself as a rival superpower in Asia. If China succeeds in this, it would have attained its objective. China has expertise in practicing the art of winning a war without fighting it. India should be very careful in dealing with such a treacherous deceitful and tricky neighbour.

  14. It looks like the Indian side has accepted the fait accompli. However, it is keen to make the costs strategic to China. It would rather take the route of taking steps it always wanted to take but was afraid to take due to an imaginary fear or an irrational hope of a strategic convergence with China.
    The implication is- China may gain an important mountain peak or two, but it has lost India strategically. India is a democracy, not an authoritarian state like China. Here, decision making involves people. It wasn’t easy to decouple with China earlier- it is now.
    What is frightening is the possibility that the Chinese leadership may well have taken these possibilities into account. It thinks that nothing that India can do can hurt it significantly anymore. To hurt China significantly, India will have to descend into a madcap frenzy and China calculates India is just not cut for such frenzy. This may actually be the truth or just the result of hubris- in which case, India will be able to create headaches for China while still speaking sweet words and employing doublespeak.

  15. this great diplomat was the architect of “mountain of peace” remember? along with MMS. probably the most foolish act had it happened. now he is advising the present govt what to do against china. shame….

  16. If the Chinese have built a road in the Galwan valley then their troops removing some other structures and withdrawing does not return matters to the state before the current conflict.

  17. Dreams need money
    Money needs GDP
    GDP needs peace not war. Above all peace with ones own people. And the citizens of India as the extremely heterogeneous remnants of the British Empire do not conform to one Hindu stereotype as the proponents of Hindutva would have us believe.
    GDP needs investment in health care , education and infrastructure. When Piketty in 2013 wrote that tax revenues in China ” ..are invested in education,health and infrastructure on a far larger scale than in..India, which China has clearly outdistanced” no eyebrows were raised in India or even the name of Piketty mentioned..The government was too busy turning a blind eye to D.S.P Davindra Singh and hanging Afzal Guru. The opposition leader Mr.Modi was too busy cheering the fall of the Rupee from Rs 50 to Rs 6o to a dollar.
    With a lopsided budget that allocates Rs 400000 to defense and Rs 69000 to health. With a GDP of less than $3 trillion ( 5 times less than that of China) dreams of border road building,of having highly mobile and trained forces that nibble at China’s borders will remain just dreams.

    • Leadership needs first courage then GDP………..when IAF bombed Balakot last year PAF retaliated in one day…………PAF did not care it has 1/10 budget of IAF………….PLA kills 20 Indian soldiers….. what happened ?…….Modi cannot even utter the word ‘China’………shameful !!!

      • Agreed, these Hinutva Hindus are all mouth and no cheddi. Even in Balakot, they boasted vainly they won – when they did not strike anything, and they lost a plane and got a pilot captured. Their vanity and courage are inversely proportional.

  18. Mr.Shyam Saran’s cautions and caviats are well placed. But, the difference is about the political will power. Until 2013, the governments have given me the distinct impression of yielding to the stronger will of China. In 2011, when transgressions occurred, India was the injured party. But, P.Chidambaram, the then Home Minister talked of “confidence building measures”. Having suffered transgressions, should India have taken these CB Measures, or should China have done them for restoring India’s confidence in China?

    In any case, Mr.Shyam Saran is right on one point. It is no longer easy for government to lie to its citizens about border situations. Nehru and Indira Gandhi had that luxury, but not Modi. The Eye in the Sky will tell everything to everyone.

  19. 2020 is not 1962. The biggest difference is the political will of the country’s leadership.
    1962 happened only because of the stupid way Neheru engaged in it.

    • The biggest difference is the political will of the country’s leadership.

      Yes, that will is to lie and say nothing happened, and keep quiet. Hindu cowardice dominates.

  20. Rather an all-knowing statement from Mr Saran. War is often about weapons and machines – but always about courage and guts and the belief that it is okay to die for the cause. Army is a killing machine, not an intellectual hera-phiri.
    .
    Indian Army, thanks to the British legacy, must be one of the most professional Army in the world. Here people die for the Motherland – unlike some who are supposed to die for the cause of political ideologies and party.
    .
    In the event of a war with the communists – Our Navy is capable enough to impose a naval blockade against these fake capitalist-communists from China.
    .
    Of course, we have to prepare for an all-out war….we can start by freeing our private enterprises to build the industrial complex that will make the war machines and equipment that will be needed sooner or later.

    • interesting you should label views from a former diplomat as ‘all-knowing’.
      true our naval forces enjoy an advantage, but as latest analyses suggest, that gap too could be narrowing.
      and he hasn’t for once denied our military morale and capability are extremely high. that is beyond question.
      what is being highlighted here are the policy lags of this and earlier governments. it has nothing to do with the military, but the policymakers at the top level. they need to rev up and be a bit more decisive and smart in devising responses to the enemy.

  21. China put in so much effort and planning into the border build ups, so they must have had some goals in their mind. Their goals couldn’t have been to just chat with Indian commanders and come back happily. What were those goals, have they been met? Was their a posturing a miscalculation, or has India “bought” peace? The ideal outcome for India would have been if we were able to “checkmate” China – – that we moved our pawns, Russian, American and Israel support so deftly, that China just shook hands and got up from the table. Was that the case, did it happen that way?!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here