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'Chinese aggression has increased post Galwan'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: December 16, 2022 10:03 IST
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'The PLA is under constant watch.'
'There is an escalation matrix. For every degree of escalation, responses are thought of and trained for.'

IMAGE: L-70 air defence guns deployed at the forward location along the Line of Actual Control in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo

"The strength of the Indian Army lies in the fact that even in difficult areas, we have well-placed, well-thought of apparatuses and procedures to know if the Chinese are planning something," says Major General P S Behl [retd], former General Officer Commanding of a division that had an operational role in Arunachal Pradesh.

General Behl has served four operational tenures on the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh.

"Our training, intelligence inputs and good leadership ensures that we are never caught unawares," General Behl tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih in a telephone interview.

 

What are the Chinese hoping to achieve by such kinds of military actions like the one near Yangtse along the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh last week?

It's not about achievement. Firstly, there is a lot of patrolling activity by both sides which takes place routinely.

Secondly, there are disputed areas along the LAC and the area where these clashes took place is one of the recognised disputed areas.

Both sides have a different perception of the LAC. The Chinese dominate the area according to their perception line and would like to come up to that line.

At the same time, our troops have a different perception of the line and if they find that the PLA has come to their perceived line, then that amounts to a transgression.

It is more of a show of force and domination in a particular area -- to show that this is our area and we will come up to this particular line which results in resistance from the opposite side.

There was also an incident in October 2021, wherein apparently the PLA tried to capture a particular peak at 17,000 feet and Indian troops prevented that from happening.

These attempts of dominating areas and showing force all around the LAC will continue and has been happening over a period of time because these are disputed areas.

In all such cases, both sides would like to dominate over such territory in a bid to show that they won't leave the area unguarded... keep the area guarded at all times.

Is it an attempt by the PLA to open a new flashpoint?

No, this is not a new area which has been opened up. It has happened in the past also -- earlier the number of PLA troops coming would be less, but after Galwan, they come in with a little more force. We also do the same when we go across to our perceived line of the LAC.

Is this also an attempt by China to assert their claim on Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh?

This activity would be one of the many other activities to assert their claim. But as I said, it has been happening routinely since many years. It's nothing new. The difference is that the number of troops coming from across has increased post Galwan.

IMAGE: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at the Indian Army's forward post at Bumla along the Line of Actual Control in Tawang, November 15, 2019. Photograph: ANI Photo

Some observers believe this may be the PLA's response to Yudh Abhyas carried out between Indian and US troops in Uttarakhand last month.

That analogy is incorrect and too far fetched. In any case, Yudh Abhyas was not very close to the LAC. It was about 100 odd kilometres inside.

Since you have had your boots on the ground in that area, how difficult is it to monitor the LAC in the Arunachal sector?

It is very difficult and though the terrain is tough, we have mechanisms in place to monitor the LAC.

The strength of the Indian Army lies in the fact that even in difficult areas, we have well-placed, well-thought of apparatuses and procedures so that we come to know if the Chinese are likely to do something.

The PLA is under constant watch. There is an escalation matrix. For every degree of escalation, responses are thought of and trained for.

At most times, the escalation is not sudden and follows an upward spiral that actually helps both sides in their response mechanism.

I am sure that our troops already knew that something was going to happen because they were ready.

You can only be prepared once you know that they are planning some action.

Our training, intelligence inputs and good leadership ensures that we are never caught unawares. Judging by the response of our troops it is evident that they had been warned through various means.

IMAGE: General Bipin Rawat, then chief of defence staff, reviews operational preparedness in Arunachal Pradesh, January 2021.

Can you give us a sense of the difficulties of the terrain in that area?

Since it is at a very high altitude, getting to areas beyond Tawang is a difficult proposition.

It is cold and the terrain is very rugged. Life is tough.

The infrastructure today is much better than what we had earlier.

On the Chinese side, they have roads right up to the LAC at most places. They have better infrastructure which makes reaction time much faster.

But for the last couple of years, there has been a marked improvement in our roads and infrastructure.

Have we fixed the lacunae and neutralised whatever military advantages the PLA may have had decades ago?

I wouldn't say that we have fixed it fully, but we are in the process and there is a lot of emphasis on infrastructure development.

Roads have improved considerably in the entire Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese have the advantage of the Tibetan plateau on their side, while on our side, we have to climb up to reach a particular area at those heights.

Our access is difficult. Notwithstanding, we are fast improving. I will give credit to the commanders on the ground, the Border Roads Organisation and the Government of India for the push.

IMAGE: Then Lieutenant General Manoj Mukund Naravane -- then General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Eastern Command and later the army chief -- reviews operational preparedness in the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh in Tawang, April 27, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo

Does that PLA have the military advantage in this theatre because of its proximity to the theatre command in Tibet?

No. That doesn't matter.

We are also well off as far as our command and control structures are concerned. I would say we are rather good

Are we likely to see more face-offs and clashes after the Ladakh standoff two years ago? How are they resolved and how serious would you rate the current clash?

Firstly, there are Confidence Building Measures which are generally followed in the eastern sector. There is a method which is spelled out about resolving a particular face-off or transgression which takes place. It is adhered to and acknowledged by both sides.

A face-off is when two patrols meet somewhere in between -- we say you go back since you are in my territory and he says, no, you go back, you are in my territory. It all ends well when both sides agree to withdraw.

Interestingly, the Chinese always have an interpreter with them and we also have a Chinese interpreter.

Generally, if a faceoff takes place, it results in a peaceful resolution.

Normally scuffles take place and there is pushing and shoving. But there are times clashes happen because of aggression shown by a particular side -- when they don't want to budge.

It is situation based, not the norm.

As a fallout of Galwan, the aggression has increased on both sides.

IMAGE: Indian army personnel carry out drills at Kibithu close to the Line of Actual Control in Anjaw district, Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: PTI Photo

How serious would you rate the current clash?

I would not read it as being very serious. It has caused injuries on both sides. I read that about six of our soldiers have been evacuated to the Guwahati base hospital and hence it is serious in the degree of the clash.

But as far as the LAC is concerned I would say, it is not so serious. It has happened before and was resolved.

Situations between the two sides are resolved over the hotline -- the commander on our side would have called the commander on their side which is followed by a flag meeting to resolve the issue.

I would say that the mechanisms are in place, but yes, the degree of aggression has slightly increased post Galwan.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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