Immediately after the Kashmir reorganisation last year (abrogation of Art 370, loss of statehood for Kashmir, making Ladakh an Union Territory), Foreign Minister S Jaishanker rushed to Beijing to assuage his Chinese counterpart that this had no ‘significance for border or bilateral relations.’ Something similar to his assurance made to Bangladesh that Assam’s NRC exercise is ‘an internal exercise’ with no bilateral consequence.
Jaishanker’s motormouth colleague, Home Minister Amit Shah belied him on both counts. By berating Bangladeshis as ‘termites’, he upset millions in that country who see India as a friend for its 1971 role in their liberation from Pakistan.
Then barely after Jaishanker had unpacked his bags on return from Beijing, Amit Shah thundered in Parliament -” We will not sleep in peace until we have brought back into India the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and the China Occupied Aksai Chin.”
The Chinese came back to Jaishanker, angry and upset. “You say it is all internal but your Home Minister says he will recapture Aksai Chin.” The Chinese , unaware of usual Indian election rhetoric because they dont have elections back home, seem to have taken Mr Shah on his word.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi immediately cancelled his plans to visit India to set up Prez Xi Jinping’s summit visit and Jaishanker had to use all his heft and contacts in the Chinese establishment to convince them that Shah’s Parliament statement did not reflect the ‘real thinking’ of the Indian government.
Finally he could convince them with able support from Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and some very capable Indian diplomats and the summit at Mammallapuram was a great success.
But he PLA, convinced that India, with its developing civil-military infrastructure in Ladakh , was actually trying to prepare for a short war to take back areas it lost in 1962.
Former Northern army commander Lt Gen H S Panag writes :”China is extremely suspicious of India. It believes that in the long term, India’s strategic aim is to restore the status quo ante 1950 by recovering Aksai Chin and other areas captured/secured by China. India’s alignment with the US, the presence of Tibetan government-in-exile in India (now tabling of US Senate resolution supporting Tibetan independence), and the aggressive claims on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit Baltistan through Indian weather reports — through which the prestigious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes — only strengthen China’s suspicion.”
Panag says that China’s immediate military aim in Ladakh “is to maintain the “status quo” along the LAC on its own terms, which is to forestall any threat, howsoever remote, to Aksai Chin and NH 219.”
Lt Gen J.R Mukherjee , who served in Kashmir and on China border before retiring as chief of staff of India’s Eastern Army, also told me that his long experience of dealing with the Chinese suggests “that they get very aggressive on the border when they are politically unhappy.”
I don’t have to list the reasons of Chinese unhappiness with India but suffice it to say they are considerable in number and that the Chinese are preparing for military action in the Himalayas if they cannot resolve their major concerns through dialogue and diplomacy.
In the first place, they are preparing for a huge assault in Ladakh and training three divisions , all Rapid Reaction Units, in Helan Shan mountains of China’s Inner Mongolia province. Intercepts by ‘listening post’ run by India’s NTRO and Mongolia’s TSG have picked up loud Hindi propaganda rained on the defensive formation (played by one division feigning to be Indian defenders) to ‘give up and stop fighting’ by the attack formation of two divisions convinced our SIGINT analysts this was a wargame and coordinated exercise to try out an assault plan after having ‘sand modelled’ it.
To deny Indian army an staging post for an assault to take back Aksai Chin, the Chinese PLA have now resorted to multiple intrusions in five areas , the most talked about being the one in the Pangong Tso area.
The Indian media has blared presence of 8000 Chinese troops but Panag and Mukherjee both said they have reports of the presence of a full brigade and other elements , around 3000 troops.
Make no mistake, they will just hold the line if the Indians try to fulfill Amit Shah’s boast. But at least three divisions will be airlifted in 2-3 days (with China’s much-ahead strategic airlift capacity) into staging posts in Ladakh to outmaneuver , outgun and outnumber Indian defenders .
What does this mean for Northeast ?
If the Chinese cannot get a deal that satisfies them , they will launch huge probing actions in the Doklam region (Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction) , seeking to roll down into Chumbi valley and Jaldhaka , at which point they can threaten Siliguri Corridor.
India’s saturation deployment in this area may not be enough if the Chinese resort to a full blast 1962 style offensive, they will swamp the Indian defenders by mobilising 6 to 7 times the force that India can, using their far better infrastructure and logistics.
A Major General who has commanded a brigade in this area says this is the worst case scenario for any Indian defence planner.
The Chinese may not launch massive 1962 style attacks on Bumla-Thagla-Tawang-Bomdilla sector but nobody will be surprised if they make a dash for Walong and instigate their Northeastern rebel proxies.
Knowing the Chinese style of all-out comprehensive planning to implement their ‘1000 cuts ‘ strategy, I will not be surprised if they seek out the NSCN factions, specially Muivah’s group, to renege on the negotiations and fall back on China for an all out insurgent war to complement and supplement the Chinese war effort. General Rawat’s boast of India’s capability to a fight a ‘two-and-half front ‘war will be severely tested. If armies like Hitler’s Germany could not sustain a two front war with a superb army commanded by legends like Von Manstein, Von Guderian and Erwin Rommel, I would not put my money on the likes of Rawat to lead India to victory.
Make no mistake, the Indian soldier and the junior commander is the finest in the world but we often go horribly wrong with the Higher Directions of War, as in 1962. Only when we have Maneckshaws and Jacobs whose planning is long and detailed and meticulous, we get a 1971 type victory.
The scene today is eeriely similar to 1962, not 1971. Unlike Indira Gandhi , Modi-Shah do not enjoy the diplomatic heft despite a fine foreign minister like Jaishanker because of their domestic failures.
Don’t count on the US in crisis — they did not save Pakistan in 1971, they wont save India in 2020. Already Trump is offering mediation , playing games with his ‘great friend’ Modi. He is not offering support of US military. He loves India when we buy US hardware — first time, he met Modi, he patted him on the back for that.
And much as we don’t have a Maneckshaw (Rawat was made chief for his counter-insurgency, not conventional war abilities) or a R.N Kao or Indira herself (who Anit Mukherjee in his ‘Absent Dialogue’ describes as India’s best war leader), we also don’t have strong regional commanders and intelligence chiefs like JFR Jacob or
P N Banerjee (the architect of Sikkim operations with G B S Sidhu).
A top-to-bottom promotion of mediocracy rather than meritocracy has undermined a fine fighting machine with severe shortages and the free-fall economy since demonetisation, made worse by a hastily planned lockdown, has made modernisation a far cry.
In Modi and Amit Shah, we have two leaders who have never done a NCC course properly, let alone an army attachment course. They have not gone beyond the RSS lathi-churi shaka regime. Germany lost the war because a petty corporal like Hitler tried telling the Mansteins and Rommels how to plan and fight a war. We have so much similarity with the Germany of late 1930s but the one I seek to highlight now is the unwanted politicisation of the military and the “badal-hai-to hamla-mumkim’ kind of unwanted useless advice. And we don’t need ‘one-press-conference-a day’ generals who boast of ‘total preparedness.’
Goebbels and his spin doctors could not win the war for Germany, they only delayed realisation of reality by the Germans who believed they were winning when they were actually loosing. Smart people learn from other’s mistakes, fools learn by making them. The last lesson is for all Indians to realise that China is an ally of Pakistan but it is not Pakistan, a failed state. So don’t try a Balakote with China, not even think of it remotely.
Let the Jaishankars and Dovals take charge with professionals in tow and let the ‘jumla’ types take a back seat.