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Over the last 10 days “diplomatic and military sources” have been giving updates to the media on the disengagement process underway between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army at the face-off points along the Line of Actual Control. The media dutifully has been reporting identical stories without any attempt at independent investigation.

Corps Commander level talks were held for the fourth time on 14 July at Chushul. As per sources, there is disagreement over the disengagement at Depsang Plains and Pangong Tso and overall the pace of disengagement is “very slow and will be on for the next several months”. The issues raised during the talks have been reviewed by the China Study Group (CSG) — a panel comprising top civil servants, besides armed forces and intelligence personnel, that serves as policy adviser to the executive on China – and Army Headquarters.

Also read: India-China talks have progressed, want to promote further disengagement, says China

Opaque disengagement process

As per the media reports based on sources, disengagement has taken place in the Galwan Valley and Hot Springs-Gogra area wherein both sides have pulled back by 1.5-2 km, creating a buffer zone of 3-4 km where neither side will patrol or deploy troops, and by default, India will not build roads. North of Pangong Tso, the PLA, or the People’s Liberation Army continues to be entrenched between Finger 4 and Finger 8, including the heights along the Fingers to the north. The details of the face off at Depsang Plains are not in public domain.  Even with respect to the Galwan Valley and Hot Springs-Gogra area, there is lack of clarity on whether the PLA troops have withdrawn across the LAC or merely disengaged by 1.5-2 km from the face-off points.

When defence analysts pointed out the ramifications of the buffer zones with respect to ‘loss of territory’ and ‘right to patrol’, the “sources” retracted their earlier statements. A senior military commander said, “There is no buffer zone. All we have done is that both sides have withdrawn to rear positions so that no accident or flare-up takes place. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is dismantling structures and moving vehicles back at the stand-off points in daylight to maintain transparency. It also wants Indian troops to move back the same distance as there is trust deficit between the two sides… it only requires a spark to catch fire and undo all the dialogue.”

On 11 July, at the India Global Week 2020, when asked by the programme moderator, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, “So there is a disengagement and a de-escalation process which has been agreed upon. It has just commenced. It’s very much work in progress. At this point, I really wouldn’t like to say more than that.” This is contrary to the Chinese statements, which steer clear from using the term ‘deescalation’ and only focus on ‘disengagement’.

No formal statement has been made by the government or the armed forces  on the military situation at the LAC. We seem to have fallen into a now-familiar pattern: the Chinese actions catch us by surprise, both at the strategic and the tactical level; we react with a much higher force level; the exact place and the extent of the intrusion is never formally acknowledged; the outcomes of the military and diplomatic engagements and concessions meted out in terms of patrolling rights, border infrastructure and loss of territory are not put out in public domain; and a “we won” narrative is belted out, lauding the government’s strategy and the capabilities of our brave armed forces. In the instant crisis the bravery the 20 soldiers killed in action is an additional factor.

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Given the differential in military and economic capabilities between India and China, one cannot fault the government for relying upon diplomacy with or without concessions to resolve the crisis. However, maintaining silence and opacity on the most serious crisis India has faced on the LAC since Sumdorong Chu in 1986-1987 has serious implications. And even more serious is the false narrative being built up to indicate that the Chinese have been forced to retreat by India’s strong political will and military might, and no intrusion or loss of territory has taken place. This approach not only endorses China’s stand, but is also seen through by our neighbours and the international community. Even the domestic narrative will not hold for too long because sooner or later the truth will come out. Proclaimed ‘Doklam victory’ is a classic example where the opaque disengagement process actually allowed the Chinese to occupy the entire plateau which can be seen by the public on Google Earth. How did we come to this sorry pass? And what is the way forward to salvage India’s position from the strategic mess we have created for ourselves?

Also read: Indian Army could get carbines from UAE soon, deal in final stages of confirmation

What went wrong?

The yawning gap in comprehensive national power vis-a-vis China, particularly with respect to economic and military factors, simply does not allow us to be an equal in the traditional competitive conflict. It would have been prudent to bide our time as China itself did for 30 years with effect from December 1978. Deng Xiaoping’s 24 character strategy — “observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership” — allowed China to focus on its four modernisations — agriculture, industry, science and technology, and national defense.

We failed to carry out an ethical assessment of our military capability. And even when it was done, we did very little to bridge the gap through holistic reforms and necessary funding. The military hierarchy, rather than apprising the government of the day of the ground realities, itself became part of the political narrative. There is no doubt that the armed forces have come a long way since 1962, but in the same period we have also been outpaced by the PLA by a mile.

Under these circumstances, apart from the macro-level foreign policy challenges that we posed to China, we also challenged its perceived territorial integrity with respect to Aksai Chin — seized by the PLA in 1950s — and other areas captured in 1962 by aggressively developing our border infrastructure in Daulat Beg Oldi, Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La and Pangong Tso sectors. This threat as perceived by China was further amplified by political threats to recapture our lost territories. However, not only we lacked the military capability to recapture the lost territories, we also failed to deploy troops to defend the development of the border roads in the sensitive sectors. Even in 1962, this perceived Indian threat to its territory was one of the major factors that led to the war.

This explains why China decided to violate the 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. It unilaterally decided to capture the areas up to the 1959 claim line to preempt the developing threat.

India was preempted, both politically and militarily, with or without surprise—either we got no intelligence or if we did, we misread the situation. Thus, we missed the opportunity of preempting the PLA in these areas or elsewhere despite having the capability to do so at the tactical level.

China then put the onus on us to escalate. The military capability differential and the risk of a major setback has prevented us from escalating.

Also read: Discussed India-China border clash with Jaishankar, we speak ‘frequently’, says Pompeo

India needs to modify its political aim

Unless we are determined to escalate, strategic sagacity demands that we modify our political aim — restoration of status quo ante April 2020. In fact in my assessment, the government already seems to have done so. The compromise acceptable to both the countries appears to be to revert to status quo ante April 2020 with “buffer zones”. However, no patrolling, deployment of troops and development of infrastructure will be carried out in these zones. China gets the 1959 claim line and we get status quo ante April 2020 albeit with “buffer zones”. Both sides save face.

However, I propose three riders that should accompany such an understanding First, the agreement must be made formal and the modified LAC must be demarcated. Second, the government  must take the opposition and the media into confidence, and explain the issue to the public. I have no doubt that the entire nation will support the government. If this is not done, then it is victory for China and the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu will be proven right — “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is.”

Last but not the least: carry out an ethical strategic review to introduce national security reforms to bring the Indian armed forces at par with the Chinese PLA. It has been my refrain, in and out of service, that we do not have to repeat a ’62 blunder to bring in reforms. Now that we have done so, albeit at a mini scale, let us get down to business.

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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27 Comments Share Your Views


  1. The government or for that matter, media must stop drum beating about withdrawal or who won and who lost. India have already committed a grave mistake by the ceremonious inauguration of the border road by defence minister. This has waken up even nepal unnecessarily. Do China drumbeat what they have done in the Himalayan region? They have quietly built massive eco system. One do Drumbeating only when you want to hide the shortfalls. We must agree that we have overslept and over confident in this case

  2. What we need to seriously examine is our own thinking about defence matters. It is a fact that, forget the average citizen, even the politicians have no real understanding of military matters.Without properly assessing the cost of buying , maintaining & replacing armaments / ammunition AND providing for them, we spend our resources on paying high salaries to personnel.( The same goes for other matters too. For example, we have had no money to build proper storage for foodgrains procured, but we have continually increased the salaries of the procurement deptts. manifold. Meanwhile, the grains continue to rot ! )
    In 2017, a study found that 60 % of our ammunition was past its useful life. Does anyone give a damn or understand its implication ?
    The professional competence of our generals is never ever examined or discussed. One factor could be that after Independence, a huge army was left under command of persons who had been just Majors or Colonels under the British & therefore had no understanding of the broad strategic thinking that was required for a country of India’s size. Add to that our initial leaderships distrust of the army and conviction that scarce resources need to be used for development & not defence . It is now being said that our top military brass has a better knowledge of share / property markets than of military matters. That professionalism takes a back seat where sycophancy gets rewarded. We talk about the latest & most expensive weaponry, forgetting that it is the basic rifle that is THE decisive weapon in our many insurgencies. Do we even know what is the average score of our infantrymen in firing at a fixed target a 100 meters away ? Or how accurately our artillerymen are trained to fire ?
    Our only hope would be if our retired military officers had a forum where they could frankly discuss the problems facing our defence & above all , how our top brass could be made to act more professionally. For example, Gen. Thapar clicked his heels & saluted when Pt. Nehru ordered him to throw the Chinese out of Sela, but Gen. Manekshaw refused to act until he was fully prepared for the Bangladesh war. Or, when the Kargil incursions were discovered, how our army commanders, without knowing the full extent of the incursions, wildly promised to throw out the intruders in two days. They sent our javans scampering up the mountains, to be mowed down, in their scores , by enemy machineguns. But in the same engagement, Air Marshal Tipnis refused to join the melee until he had prepared the air force for a full fledged war.

    • Not entirely correct! The army has much proffessional competence at the working levels right up to AHQ, it’s politics and Babu’s who fail us and that cannot change! Look at the relevance given to National Interest by this government alone! The NSA can meddle with everything and even gets the COAS to salute him!
      From the day they came to power, the armed forces have only been ill treated and miss used. The result is there to see!

  3. When 8th failed leaders govern, their only aim is to have photo shoots with chinese premier or american president, and in their uneducated tiny brain, that is all the foreign policy that a nation needs.
    We deserve such joker as PM

    • What about the m/f gandhi Nehru family, they r the one responsible for all this since independence. U like highly educated looters that a true nationalist. Shame….

  4. Quite rightly said. The need to bring out these facts are in national interest. The real weakness where it hurts most is CCP thugs moneys belt. If consumer stop buying their end products, it will help to send that message. BjP is shying away from telling us it, like the previous governments, is indeed being bullied by Ccp thugs, instead of looking weak, it will create a democratic revolt for CCP Chinese thugs product. We are Jerry and they are Tom. And then work your act out.

  5. We all are beating in the bush for our opaque understanding what the real situation is at the border due to false narrative of the Govt. Informations are suppressed. Just like Pakistan gives false impression to its citizens and medias. Similarly, India is doing the same when the confrontation is with China.

  6. Quite so.
    Modi is a Nehru (3.0) after Vajpayee’s Nehru (2.0)
    India took 50, 000 Square Kilometers of Indian Territory in 1962.
    Post 1962:
    Every time there is an opportunity which the Chinese see, the Chinese come further into Indian territory. This is like moving forward towards the goal in Rugby or American football.’
    Apart from on going fluid opportunities due to lack of border infrastructure for the Indian Armed Forces, the Indian Army presented the Chinese with two significant opportunities, which they took advantage of.
    (1) During Kargil, the Indian soldiers were moved from their positions at Daulat Beg Oldie to reinforce the forces taking on Pakistan’s Norther nLight infantry in Kargil Heights. Kargil was a classic example of Indian failure in intelligence, logistics, military command and control as well as political leadership. In effect, the Pakis had moved into the heights and entrenched themselves when the Indian Army moved down during winter. Just as the Chinese did when the Indian Army moved from Pangong Lake (Daulat Beg Oldie) to Kargil. And India had to retake what was originally its own at enormous cost of Indian blood and lives owing to poor preparation, lack of ammunition, lack of reliable and appropriate equipment and weaponry, lack of co-ordination and laughable, unrealistic “Charge of the Light Brigade” Brass Hat commands, totally divorced from the reality on the ground or the methods of 20th Century warfare..
    (2) Owing to the lack of proper high altitude winter equipment, the Indian Army again moved to lower slopes more recently vacating territory which the Chinese quickly occupied.
    In both cases, the buck stops at the table of the politicians and bureaucrats at Delhi who constrain the Army into having to cope with what they have and carrying out orders issued with scant understanding of warfare or operational command. This the Government does not want exposed.
    The Indian Army on returning to these heights in fairer weather resume patrolling in India’s side of the LAC only to find themselves challenged by the Chinese who are now in occupation leading to these tussles.
    There is also the pathetic faith of India’s “diplomats”, “bureaucrats” and “politicians” that foreign powers are more honest than themselves and will adhere to promises, agreements and treaties more faithfully than they themselves do. Hence, there is an excessive faith in diplomacy and that China will adhere to what was the agreed Line of Actual Control rather than in building, refining and applying Indian hard power.
    All that has been agreed so far is “disengagement” of forces at a line which is well within India’s territory (India is notorious for fighting all its wars inside Indian territory. Every dog barks in its own back yard?)
    China has occupied Indian territory and now India and China have agreed to disengage well within Indian territory. This is exactly what has happened since1947
    So each time, China takes 100 and returns 25 or less while India goes home with its tail tucked between its legs.
    In India, the truth will surface in shorter time than during earlier eras due to Social Media and leaks of military information by patriotic soldiers on the ground.

  7. Gen Panag was in the pinnacle of Army Rank and file. Then what all steps did he take to modernise the Army. Why is the Indian Army is still in prehistoric era with substandard weapons, equipments and personal clothing? The unemployment rate is so high in India that even highly academically and technically qualified individuals are joining in the lowest profile of Armed Forces. The quality of personnel joining the army had improved but the Army is still where it is. Whome should anyone blame? Politicians, bureaucrats or top army brasses who did this ultimate failure in planning to modernise the Army.

    • Does any of the writters ask questions how we came to this, congress seems to have always brushed the issue under the carpet and that is what we seem to like. As a nation we need to stand up to the bully and show them their place , whatever it takes it to do .We as a nation should know only brave are respected timidity does not pay .

  8. Role nd creibility of our military has been severely bruised nd downplayed by the current govt by its political interests. From Balakot, Chandrayan-ii to Galwan, it’s all over to promote the events to boost Govt’s political agenda.
    No other govt in the history of this country rode on d fame nd achievements of these institutions to advertise for its own promotions.

    This is utterly sad nd bleak for country’s future!

  9. Gen Panag I really like your well written articles.You are really brave son of Mother India like Ajai Shukla and BrahmaChellaney.May GOD bless you with long life

  10. “Proclaimed ‘Doklam victory’ is a classic example where the opaque disengagement process actually allowed the Chinese to occupy the entire plateau which can be seen by the public on Google Earth. How did we come to this sorry pass? ”
    How did we come to this sorry pass. Because of the overarching goal of making a coward into a hero. A dwarf to a giant. An intellectual cretin to a genouls

  11. The plain truth is that in India at present the only moral value that holds is that of winning elections and remaining in power as long as India still exists as a country and this mindset is appreciated and applauded by the majority. Witness the way in which senior ideologues of a party are willing to jump to the rival party at the drop of a hat. I would not be at all surprised if tomorrow Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi defect to the BJP and Amit Shah and Narinder Modi defect to the Congress. To hold power you need help of shady characters (DSP Davindra Singh needed for hanging Afzal Guru and parliament attack and the likes of Vikas Dubey are small fry who are eliminated when not useful anymore.It is not safe to mention bigger names).Truth is hated so much that in spite of my best efforts I could not get a print copy of the book” War Dispatches” by Lt.Gen.Harbaksh Singh from any source and had to be content with the Kindle version.In another article Gen.Panag refers to the Hype that was built up around the Goa operation. That hype was nothing compared to the hype built around Surgical Strikes and Balakote. It is astounding that the same persons who hyped the punitive action at Balakote now hype the fact that the Indian Army soldiers did not even fire a shot as they were beaten to death.and indeed the Foreign Minister replying to Rahul Gandhi asserted that they were fully armed and loaded as they were killed !
    No country can develop as long as it is at war with its own people.Unfortunately the majority is brainwashed into thinking that India is the greatest country in the World and Hindus are the greatest people in the world and the reason for the fact that that the actual state of affairs is quite the opposite is because of minorities especially Muslims. Thus attention from addressing the real reasons for India”s poverty (India’s per capita income is slightly more than Sub Saharan Africa) is diverted to Cow Slaughter,Muslim Personal Law, Article 370 and Citizenship Register and it is these issues which matter at the ballot box.
    General Panag talks of biding time for 30 years. Apart from the fact that during those 30 years we would be spending all our time building citizenship registers and putting non citizen Muslims in detention centers and tending stray cattle, fate has something else in store for the subcontinent. 4000 years back the Harappan civilization was destroyed by a 200 year long drought at the beginning of the Meghalayan Period. Science predicts that if carbon emission continue at the present rate the subcontinent will meet a similar fate in less than a century, perhaps in just half a century so that the name of India might survive only in History books.
    Poets are prescient and the poet Iqbal hinted in one of his verses that such a fate might befall India if Indians failed to grasp their actual reality in a logical and objective fashion. He used the urdu phrase “Na sumjho gey). ” “Na sumhaj ” is a person who is foolishly unaware of the reality of a situation.

    • Poets are romantic….most poets have been failures in life!!! so much for that..
      The writer is talking of dealing with China..he is looking at the Chrystal ball, but putting across a view point – not astrology (I am not endorsing his views here)
      The nebulous and unresolved borders with China is here to stay fro some decades….THAT should not be the central point in our actions to build a strong Nation (we are only 70 odd years old – a young Nation)…

      We CAN be strong despite the undefined LAC. Just get your priorities right and we will be there

      • If only all the people especially all the leaders especially all the leaders who hold the reins of power would frankly admit and tell the people that India is a young underdeveloped country just 70 years old and with a per capita income slightly more than that of Sub Saharan Africa and not an established great power and and needs to develop from scratch in a rational manner all the problems facing India would be solved. This was what everyone understood from Achhe Din and Vikas Pursh but today nobody talks of either Achhe Din or Vikas..

        • Hindus voted for Modi not for ache din and vikas, but because his anti-Muslim plank appealed to them. Even today, that is sufficient for Hindus.

  12. His daughter was defeated in elections by bjp. So every chance he gets, he rolls out this gyaan. All these paper tiger generals are products of Congress’s chamcha culture

  13. It is amazing that Babus in and out of uniform sitting on fat pensions and perks start giving words of wisdom on source based information. Little realising that the ones in authority were trained by them. On the back of the statements such as ” The yawning gap in comprehensive national power vis-a-vis China, particularly with respect to economic and military factors, simply does not allow us to be an equal in the traditional competitive conflict.” do they not realize that the creation of this YAWNING GAP was there own doing while in power.
    While China was building capacity the politicians and Babus (both in and out of uniform) were busy robbing or help rob the country.

  14. I dont understand General Panags whine..For 50 years after 62 we didnt do anything to improve our Border Roads infrastructure..when we started to take action it has infuriated the Chinese even tho our actions are on our side of the LAC..General Panag seems to suggest that we should do anything to antagonise the Chinese just because they have an asymmetric superiority in military buildup..according to him we should cooperate with the Chinese for the next 30years till we build up capacity..and I suppose taking the arguement of General Panag further we should just roll over whenever the Chinese take it upon themselves to activate the border and go beyond the 1959 claim line which holds no sanctity in their eyes


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