'We would have faced many more Galwans had Indian troops not reacted and retaliated the way they did.'
"The Chinese realised that the tactics they used in Galwan won't work. It has come at a cost to them," says Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd) PVSM, AVSM, SM, former director general, military operations.
General Bhatia was commissioned into the Parachute Regiment. He commanded a corps at the Line of Actual Control in Sikkim and an infantry division on the Line of Control.
"We have to watch the Chinese and tackle their aggressive behaviour on the LAC. We have to be prepared for a multi-domain, multi-dimensional, aggression and assertiveness from China," General Bhatia tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih.
The first of a two-part interview:
There was a recent report saying that the Chinese had to withdraw and circulate the troops because they were unable to cope with the adverse weather conditions in Ladakh.
Why do you think our soldiers are better equipped to deal with the wintry situation than the Chinese?
There are multiple reasons: Our soldiers also come from all over India, including the coastal areas. Over the years, our troops have been deployed on the Indo-China border, as well as the Line of Control and Siachen Glacier.
Our units are turned over across these areas and hence have gained experience and confidence contrary to Chinese troops.
The People's Liberation Army has very limited operational deployment along the border. They are accustomed to living in well-equipped barracks in the military areas from where they move to the Line of Actual Control by road and go back.
Our troops are deployed right along the LAC. They are adaptable, flexible and battle hardened. This experience is what pulls us through.
We have the experience and confidence which the Chinese lack.
Our troops do a two-year tenure in high altitude areas and are only posted back in that terrain after six years in the first tenure.
Soldiers do multiple tenures after 10 years. They are pulled out, and then the go back only after six years of the first 10 years.
The army chief has said that de-escalation is only possible with full disengagement. Do you think a complete disengagement is possible within the next six months?
The processes basically comprises disengagement, de-escalation and de-induction. De-induction is the third stage which means all troops have to go back as in April 2020.
No one can give a timeline of six months or a year. When you deal with the Chinese it is a game of patience. In Sumdorong Chu [in Arunachal Pradesh] it took six-and-a-half years to gain status quo ante.
We have achieved disengagement at Pangong Tso. The other four friction areas still remain to be resolved.
At Galwan, the PLA had laid an ambush and used non traditional weapons. We would have had to face many more Galwans had Indian troops not reacted and retaliated the way they did.
The reaction of Indian troops has avoided many Galwans of the future - and this has contributed to the fragile peace, tranquility and equilibrium that has prevailed on the LAC after Galwan.
The Chinese realised that the tactics they used in Galwan won't work. It has come at a cost to them. It has hurt them.
In your opinion, what will it take for disengagement to occur since the Chinese seem so obdurate in their stand in Ladakh?
They have a strategic intent and we have to understand that intent.
We have to watch the Chinese and tackle their aggressive behaviour on the LAC. We have to be prepared for a multi-domain, multi-dimensional, aggression and assertiveness from China.
The situation on the LAC will continue like this for some time. But we will have the Chinese also coming in at us in other domains which are not so visible.
For example, the cyber domain and people are already talking about Coronavirus being a part of warfare, though it is too far-fetched.
Basically, the Chinese sensitivity and strategic anxiety lies in the Indian Ocean because 80% of the oil passes from there. So, we have to see the big picture and not look at disengagement at the four friction points being the end result.
We have to meet and mitigate China's aggression in all domains to make sure that the disengagement occurs.
At the moment, the stalemate continues in eastern Ladakh. Fortunately, it has not escalated either horizontally or vertically in any other sector, or in weaponry or build-up.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com