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Modi, Xi are strong leaders, but for lasting peace at the LAC both need to make compromises

Both, Modi and Xi, understand that if India and China don’t make compromises, then a limited war is inevitable, which neither side wants.

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As per media reports, most of them based on sources, the disengagement of troops, from the face-off points in the Galwan River Valley and Hot Springs-Gogra commenced on Sunday and is near completion . At both these places, the troops have disengaged and pulled back by 1.5 km, creating a “buffer zone” of 3-4 km. The buffer zones may vary in size depending on the original distance between the troops at the face-off points.

However, the status quo seems to prevail in the north of Pangong Tso, with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) firmly in control of the area between Finger 4 and Finger 8. With this disengagement, the PLA troops in the Galwan River and Hot Springs-Gogra area have willy-nilly vacated the intrusions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), but we have also pulled back in our own territory. The creation of buffer zones implies that neither side will deploy troops or patrol in these areas.

It is obvious that resolving the situation through military engagement and diplomacy will be a long haul, and possibly, will require another summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, that will be contingent upon the compromises both sides are prepared to make with respect to their short-term political aims. Two strong leaders with absolute backing of their people, Modi and Xi cannot afford to lose face. It has to be a win-win situation for both the countries, and their leaders. Both understand that if they do not meet halfway, then a limited war is inevitable, which neither side wants.

Also read: India could discontinue Modi-Xi informal summits after deadly Galwan clash

What led to the disengagement?

A series of talks between military commanders up to the rank of Major General were held in May, but no agreement was reached. The Corps Commander-level talks held on 6 June paved the way for initial disengagement. However, the unarmed violent clash of 15-16 June, in which, 20 Indian and an unknown number of PLA soldiers were killed, scuttled the process of easing tensions.

This violent incident was a wake-up call for both sides to disengage from “eye ball contact” without prejudice to their claims or troop deployment, to avoid similar incidents in future. The foreign ministers of India and China spoke via video call to break the ice on 17 June. This was followed by a video conference under Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs on 24 June at the Joint Secretary-level. On 22 June and 30 June, marathon meetings were held between Lt Gen Harinder Singh, 14 Corps Commander and his counterpart, Maj. Gen. Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military District. These talks worked out the modalities of the disengagement process.

PM Modi’s strong statement on 3 July at Nimu in Ladakh spelt out India’s resolve to stand-up to China to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, Modi kept the door open for diplomatic engagement. The Special Representatives of India and China on the Boundary Question—India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and China’s State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, had a telephone conversation on 5 July 2020. The two had a frank and in-depth exchange of views on the recent developments in the Western Sector of the India-China border areas to find a diplomatic solution.

Also read: There’s ‘thinning down’ of Chinese troops at Finger 4 at Pangong lake, but no pullback yet

Long haul towards deescalation

What has been achieved at the face-off points is diffusion of the situation and creation of buffer zones to avoid clashes. However, no headway has been made with respect to the 8 km-deep PLA intrusion, usurping 40 square kilometres of Indian territory to the north of Pangong Tso, in the fingers area, a token adjustment seems to have been made by the PLA specifically in area of Finger 4 to avoid close contact between the two forces. China has also given no indication of giving up its claim on the Galwan River valley. Additional forces mobilised by both sides continue to remain deployed in their concentration areas to pursue their respective political and military aims.

The press releases of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), signal the stark differences in the way both countries see the situation.

The press release of the MEA is accommodative and conciliatory: “ …two sides should not allow differences to become disputes. Therefore, they agreed that it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity. …. They re-affirmed that both sides should strictly respect and observe the line of actual control and should not take any unilateral action to alter the status quo and work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquillity in border areas.”

China’s MFA press release is belligerent and assertive: “The right and wrong of what recently happened at the Galwan Valley in the western sector of the China-India boundary is very clear. China will continue firmly safeguarding our territorial sovereignty as well as peace and tranquility in the border areas.” It is a clear signal that China has not given up its claims in the Galwan River or in the north of Pangong Tso.

While India also highlighted the need for de-escalation of forces in the border areas, China’s MFA statement focussed only on disengagement of the frontline troops: “both sides welcomed the progress achieved in the recent military and diplomatic meetings, agreed to stay in dialogue and consultation, and stressed the importance to promptly act on the consensus reached in the commander-level talks between Chinese and Indian border troops, and complete disengagement of the front-line troops as soon as possible.”

Also read: How IAF has played a critical role in the India-China stand-off at Ladakh

Compromising for a lasting solution

What are these compromises that India and China can make with respect to their political aims to bring about lasting peace?

The short-term political aim of China is to prevent India from developing its border infrastructure in areas that threaten Aksai Chin from west and south, that is the Daulat Beg Oldi sector and areas to the north of Pangong Tso, and Hot Springs-Gogra areas. India’s short term political aim is to restore status quo ante April 2020.

India and China are striving to create a win-win situation by formally demarcating the LAC with buffer zones in the disputed areas, in which, neither side will patrol, deploy troops or create any infrastructure. The LAC will be as per actual positions under respective control that existed at the time of the 1993 border agreement and not as per China’s 1959 claim line. This would imply creation of buffer zones of varying sizes in the Depsang Plains, Galwan River, north of Pangong Tso,  Hot Springs-Gogra, Demchok and Chumar. A verification process for the buffer zones will also have to be formalised. Similar exercise will then be carried out in the central sector and in the northeast.

Given the national mood, this approach is likely to be very unpopular. However, the differential in military capabilities and the apprehension/consequences of a possible setback in a limited war, have forced PM Modi to bite the bullet. He is confident that with his charisma and popularity, he will be able to sell this idea to the nation. Denial and obfuscation with respect to the intrusions and loss of territory with full support of bulk of media and his jingoist supporters, fit into the pattern.

It is hoped that once the revised short-term political aims are achieved to create a win-win situation for both the countries, then sincere negotiations will begin to achieve the long-term goals.With rival forces poised for a limited war, Modi and Xi have to show statesmanship to arrive at a position from where both appear to be in control before their respective audiences, and this must happen by November before the winter chill freezes the great Himalayan game.

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.

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  1. I am not too sure of the prognosis. Military asymmetry is not about numbers alone as Charles Dupuy said so well when using Lancaster Equations to do numeric models for wargames. It is also possible that the “buffer zone” approach could be a starting towards similar replication in other sectors. Yes, all this is just about postponing the crossing of the Rubicon

  2. Sorry General – you are completely wrong! So we should just accept and absorb Chinese intrusion and claims ?? Are you batting for India or China? Not sure if Modi would eventually do such a horribly treacherous thing, but you seem to pre-empt his plans. We should not back off from a limited military conflict no matter the so called ‘power differential’ is ..what do we have all the mighty military and weapons for , if not to punish the enemy .. just to showcase on Jan 26th and Aug 15th each year?

  3. China, cannot and should not make any compromises
    China started with a view to compromise. it is evident that Modi cannot be trusted and this has been made evident in the past few years by how modi has moved politically.
    The only way for china would be to completely destroy India economically and militarily.
    because Modi considers compromise a sign of weakness.

  4. It would have been great if Sir would’ve elaborated on why creation of buffer zones at various points with 1993 agreement as the baseline would be unpopular in India, it is not amply clear from the article

  5. Truce is good for both. However, the question remains – why did China start all this trouble. There is no doubt that the Galwan attack was pre-planned, though India’s strong response was not anticipated. It is now necessary to establish that buffer zone is shared equally between India and China and the LAC is not redrawn in favour of China. I think Pangong is the key. If China withdraws from there, peace would return. However, even if disengagement is done and forces mobilized by both the countries go back to their peace time areas, this is not end of the story. Anger against China was silently brewing in Indian minds since 1962. This incidence has provoked an unprecedented eruption thereof. The relations are spoiled now. While the military peace can be attained, the previous equation conceived by the successive Indian government to seek China’s economic cooperation and partnership in India’s growth story has to be redrafted. China seeks to dominate the globe and and in its master plan, India has no significant space, nor does it value its relationship with India to any significant extent. Strategic equations have to be reworked.

  6. Graham Allison has referenced the political scientist Taylor Fravel to point out that China in its 23 territorial disputes since 1949 has used force only 3 times viz in 1962 against India, in 1969 against Soviet Union and in 1979 against Vietnam. With its deep distaste for use of military force China would prefer to ruin India’s economy by saddling it with something far bigger than Siachin. Siachin according to the defence analyst Rahul Bedi costs Rupees Five (5) crores per day. With Ladakh Bedi points out that just one round trip of C-17 between Chandigarh and Leh costs rupees one crore The Chinook uses fuel of Rs 3 lac per hour and so on To this Bedi adds the following caveat “These prices have since spiralled and with multiple sorties needed almost daily to stockpile materials, the transportation bill of all three aircraft(C-17, C-130 and Chinook) would be prohibitive.”
    After November Ladakh would be frozen at -35 celsius and imagine the cost of keeping 30,000 persons there in fighting fit condition. For China this would put sufficient drag on India’s GDP to make war unnecessary.

  7. Chinese are notorous im managing media through curruption. Otherwise a sane and patroit soldier will nt write such article.

  8. It is amazing that Source based media reports are used for commentary and opinions. One can understand that being done by people who write for a living, but for someone living off the OROP and getting the rations and cheep booze from the canteens is it not a matter of shame to disregards or suspect the official reports and tag onto the media reports.
    Is it too much expect that the commentators should respect the official reports which could well be selective revelations done on purpose, after all they are suppose to be defense strategists.

  9. What an amazing coincidence.
    Not even 1 day has passed that the ED has been given total freedom to investigate the dubious Mummy & Beta Family Trusts, that attack dogs like the author of this article and second rate media rags like The Print start writing conciliatory articles and start wagging their tails.
    Have you guys seen the writing on the wall?

  10. This message is from either a cheap 5 rupees per hour Pakistani ISI college drop out or a China-man.

    Just laughable.

  11. “ Bulk of the media “ will show an ebbing tide as tumescence. However, recent events would have been observed intently by the rest of the world, led by our small neighbours.

  12. Looked like it was written by someone from Global Times. Sorry to say Mr. Panag ur opinions are coloured! U say we had to bite a bullet coz we are inferior to PLA, a stupid unprofessional army of a party instead of a country, that tells everything about ur views!

  13. In case of Limited war, Govt of India should redraft all retired high rank Army Officers like Lt Gen H.S. Panag, Ajay Shukla , Pravin Sawhney & other sundries etc who are giving all sort of free advises (though nobody asked them) to Army sitting in their AC room house with Govt of India hefty Pension & almost free canteen ration & should be sent to front side of war . Since they are experienced & well knowledgeable( which can be seen from their well researched Articles) , will surely teach a lesson to Chinese Army. Govt of India ,should redraft all these Retired Officers at next higher rank. Send them to War Front & win limited War.

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