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'Modi-Xi summit could certainly help end standoff'

By ARCHANA MASIH
April 18, 2022 12:35 IST
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'The period of tranquility along the LAC is over.'
'Even if disengagement takes place, establishing trust would take some years.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, left with Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist party of China, at the Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, April 27, 2018. Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

"Threats exist from both the Western and Northern fronts. We cannot say with certainty how these threats could manifest, but it would be foolish to ignore the possibility of both fronts being active at the same time," says Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda (retd), PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM & Bar, the former commander-in-chief of the Indian Army's Northern Command responsible for guarding the border with Pakistan and China

General Hooda was in charge of the planning and execution of the surgical strikes of 2016. After a distinguished military career for nearly four decades, the general is currently a senior fellow at the Delhi Policy Group, a think-tank based in the national capital.

"The India-China border problem exists since Independence and India wants this issue settled peacefully through negotiations. For this, India must have the military capability to deter China from using military force along the LAC," General Hooda tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih as India's senior-most generals meet for a five day commanders conference in New Delhi, two years after the People's Liberation Army intruded into eastern Ladakh.

 

Did Galwan harden the army's resolve, and did it take the Chinese by surprise?

Galwan was certainly a turning point in both India's thinking and actions. After the deadly clash, it was clear that the Chinese moves along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) in Eastern Ladakh were of a completely different magnitude as compared to past incidents.

Thereafter, the Indian Army conducted a massive mobilisation along the LAC, and this would certainly have taken the PLA by surprise.

Do you think the Chinese generals actually thought the Indian Army would be a pushover which is why they undertook this Ladakh adventure?

It is difficult to get into the Chinese generals's minds, but they would certainly have anticipated an easy victory in which India accepts the Chinese incursions as a new reality.

This has obviously not happened, and in fact the PLA has disengaged from two positions.

India is also firm that the status quo that existed in April 2020 must be restored along the LAC, and till this is achieved, there can be no normalisation of ties.

In your assessment, what are the five military actions the Indian Army took in Ladakh that made the Chinese realise what opponents they were against?

In my view, the five key actions taken by the military were:

1.The strong local resistance to PLA incursions. It was one such incident that led to the Galwan clash.

2. The speedy mobilisation of almost 50,000 additional soldiers into Ladakh. The strategic airlift capability of the Indian Air Force was on full display during this mobilisation.

3.The occupation of the Kailash Heights in August 2020 in a very well-planned operation to put pressure on the PLA.

4. Building up the logistics capability and living habitat for the additional troops inducted into Ladakh. This was really a challenging exercise as Ladakh remains cut off from the rest of the country for at least five months in a year.

5. The realignment of large forces, including an offensive corps, from the Western to the Northern theatre to meet future operational contingencies.

IMAGE: An Indian Air Force An-32 flying against the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains of Ladakh, April 13, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

With the aura of tranquility that existed over the LAC since 1993 a thing of the past, has the LAC become a 'hot' border like the LoC?

At least for the foreseeable future, the period of tranquility along the LAC is over. While we may not see the kind of firing that happens at the LoC with Pakistan, the situation will remain tense.

This is mainly because the Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) that had been put in place through a series of agreements, have now broken down.

Even if disengagement takes place, establishing trust would take some years.

What does constant patrolling of the 3,488 km long LAC affect the Indian Army, its personnel and resources? How will it affect military strategy in the years to come?

The terrain along the LAC is extremely harsh, and border management, including patrolling, takes a toll on the soldiers.

Providing logistics support to the additional soldiers deployed along the LAC is also a challenge.

Going ahead, the Indian Army is already reviewing its border management posture with greater reliance on technology to improve surveillance, deployment of modern weapon systems, and speeding up road construction.

All this will form a part of the strategy to enhance deterrence.

IMAGE: A view of the Helina, an anti-tank guided missile being tested in Leh. Photograph: ANI Photo

What will India need to keep China quiet, and does the possibility of a two front war actually exist?

The India-China border problem exists since Independence and India wants this issue settled peacefully through negotiations. For this, India must have the military capability to deter China from using military force along the LAC.

What shape this military capability takes is something that the military leadership must seriously discuss keeping in view the character of future wars.

As far as the two-front war is concerned, threats exist from both the Western and Northern fronts. We cannot say with certainty how these threats could manifest, but it would be foolish to ignore the possibility of both fronts being active at the same time.

Was the retreat from the Kailash Heights an error of judgement given how slippery the Chinese are?

In hindsight, we could say that the vacation of Kailash Heights could have been linked to the overall disengagement process, and not only to the disengagement at Pangong Tso.

However, we must also remember that the Chinese acceptance to withdraw from the North Bank of Pangong Tso was contingent on our vacating Kailash Heights.

If this condition had not been accepted, we would probably have not seen any disengagement at all at any of the positions.

IMAGE: An Indian Army soldier stands guard at the Zojila pass. Photograph: ANI Photo

Do you think a Wuhan-like Modi-Xi summit could end the stand-off? Or do you -- as some strategic thinkers assert -- believe that Prime Minister Modi must not be seen in Xi Jinping's company after the manner in which the Chinese have betrayed our trust?

A Modi-Xi summit could certainly help end the standoff. However, a lot of preparatory work would have to go in and China must be prepared to announce an end to the standoff by disengaging from the remaining areas along the LAC.

If there is no concrete result, there would be no value in the summit.

IMAGE: Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda (retd), PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM & Bar. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com

The bridge constructed by China over Pangong lake will help the PLA move faster in eastern Ladakh. How is this likely to impact the Indian Army?

The newly constructed bridge is approximately 25 kilometres from the site of the 2020 standoff at Finger 4 and provides access for the swift move of PLA soldiers across the Pangong Tso to react to contingencies on either bank.

These are routine infrastructure developments, and the Indian Army would have taken this into consideration in their tactical plans.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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