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'India and China don't want to go to war'

By ARCHANA MASIH
November 03, 2021 12:48 IST
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'China is unwilling to restore the status quo ante of April 2020.'
'India will have to weigh its options based on this premise.'

IMAGE: An Indian Army convoy moving towards the border with China. Photograph: ANI Photo

"The new Chinese border law complicates the finding of a solution to the ongoing standoff between India and China in Ladakh," says Lieutenant General D S Hooda (retired) PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM & Bar.

"This could translate into a more hardened Chinese stance during negotiations and make a pullout from areas like Depsang and Demchok less likely," says the distinguished general who was general officer commanding-in-chief of the Northern Command.

The Northern Command is the Indian Army's most strategic command responsible for the Line of Control, including the Siachen Glacier and the border with China.

General Hooda was in charge of the planning and execution of the surgical strikes across the Line of Control in September 2016.

He was army commander during the 16-day standoff with China in Chumar in eastern Ladakh in 2016.

Before taking the post of the highest ranking officer in the Northern Command, General Hooda commanded the strategic 16 Corps responsible for guarding the Line of Control with Pakistan south of Pir Panjal range.

In his military career, he has seen many security challenges across the Pakistan and China borders.

A senior fellow of military strategy at the Delhi Policy Group, he discussed the extended standoff with China with Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

 

A group of veterans recently sent a letter to President, PM, raksha mantri and army chief stating that formal statements should be issued when incidents like Galwan happen so that the Indian public is not confused and aggressor nation does not take advantage.
Do you think that the defence ministry and Indian Army should be more forthcoming about keeping the public informed about what is going on at the LAC? What should such a mechanism be?

It is necessary that the people of the country are kept informed when there are major security incidents. This prevents rumours and fake news from finding space, particularly on the social media.

Ultimately, transparency in revealing facts increases national credibility. The mechanism can be decided by the ministry of defence through the established public relations channel.

A balance can be maintained between the need to disseminate information and operational security considerations.

The veterans stated that a fact-finding body should be instituted regarding the intrusions, incursions and encroachments by China in Depsang, Galwan, Pangong Tso, etc and tabled in Parliament.
Has something like this been done before? And more importantly, should such an exercise be undertaken?

A fact-finding body would help in distilling the lessons learned and provide useful pointers to improve the national security architecture, border management, etc.

Such an exercise was carried out after the Kargil War and many of the recommendations were implemented to strengthen our national security.

Whether the report should be tabled in Parliament is for the government to decide, based on its contents.

However, a thorough review of the incident must certainly be carried out.

IMAGE: A view of Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengaging from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake area in eastern Ladakhin February 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

How do you think the new Chinese border law that comes into force from January 1, 2022 is likely to alter the situation on the India-China border areas?

The new Chinese border law complicates the finding of a solution to the ongoing standoff between India and China in Ladakh.

The law aims to 'safeguard national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.'

This could translate into a more hardened Chinese stance during negotiations and make a pullout from areas like Depsang and Demchok less likely.

We could also see the settlement of civilian population in border villages in disputed areas in a bid to reinforce Chinese boundary claims.

This legislation has come after the 13th round of military talks were unsuccessful in getting the PLA to withdraw especially from Hot Springs PP 15.
Does this indicate that negotiations are going to be tougher with the Chinese now on and achieving status quo ante April 2020 is a greater challenge?

The statements put out by both countries after the 13th round of military talks were indicative that the negotiating positions of the two sides are very far apart with both sides blaming each other for the failure of the talks.

It is clear that the PLA is unwilling to restore the status quo ante of April 2020 and India will have to weigh its options based on this premise.

Any breakthrough will now have to come at the political/diplomatic level.

IMAGE: The Indian Army's Shatrujeet Brigade conducts an airborne exercise along the northern borders in Eastern Ladakh to validate its Rapid Response Capabilities. Photograph: ANI Photo

There have been incidents in Tawang and Barahoti. The Tawang sector is also seeing an increase in patrolling and visits by senior PLA officers. Are we going to see more friction points and transgressions across the Eastern, Western and Central sectors with China?

Any tension that extends for such a long period of time in one part of the LAC will ultimately impact the complete border.

Patrols will be in larger strength, there will be greater assertiveness, and there is a likelihood of patrol clashes because trust has broken down.

In such an environment, it is inevitable that there will be greater military activity by both sides along the LAC.

Is the LAC getting 'more live'? What should we be prepared for in the second winter during the standoff?

I think there is no doubt that the LAC is more live than before. With agreements and protocols that guided the conduct of both armies having broken down, thousands of additional soldiers are now deployed facing each other.

India is not going to back down on its demands and so we are in for a protracted period of stalemate.

As far as the winter is concerned, the Indian Army would be adequately prepared for any challenge that may arise.

There was poking and prodding for 8 years on the border before the 1962 War. Are we headed for a short war with China?

I don't think anybody can answer this question with a great deal of assurance. It is clear that both countries do not want to go to war with each other.

However, with a live LAC, greater aggressiveness, and mutual distrust on both sides, there is a danger of localised incidents like the one that happened at Galwan.

This has the potential of sparking off a larger conflict.

IMAGE: An Indian Air Force helicopter flies over the mountains in Ladakh. Photograph: ANI Photo

Nine soldiers lost lives against terrorists in Poonch-Rajouri in recent days. There has also been a surge of civilian killings. What do you see as the reason for both these security challenges?

The killing of civilians, particularly of non-locals and minorities, poses an enormous challenge and has numerous implications.

The aim of the terrorists is to create a climate of fear and they are picking on soft targets.

In my view, the resistance to this has to come from Kashmir's civil society which must come out openly against the civilian killings because the whole society gets demonised by the acts of a few.

On the encounter in Poonch area, it is a reality that sometimes setbacks will happen.

Good army units learn to deal with this. The terrorist group appears to be well trained and armed, but I have no doubt that they will eventually be killed.

How do you assess the security situation in Kashmir?

The security situation in Kashmir, barring a few recent incidents, is largely under control. The two areas that we should watch out for are the psychological impact of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan and infiltration from Pakistan.

Seeing the success of the Taliban, terrorist groups in Kashmir could step up their recruitment and become emboldened to increase their attacks.

In recent times, infiltration also appears to have increased. These trends need to be closely tracked.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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