'The military advantage the Indian Army had gained by the Special Frontier Force occupying the heights of the Rezang La-Rechin La ridge on the Kailash Range is lost without the PLA withdrawing to east of the Khurnak Fort line.'
In an interview with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal, conducted weeks after People's Liberation Army troops occupied Indian territory in Ladakh, national security expert Dr Bharat Karnad had said this:
So what does he make of the disengagement of Indian Army and People's Liberation Army troops from their positions in the Pangong Tso area in Eastern Ladakh?
This is what Dr Karnad -- emeritus professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research and someone who helped draft India's nuclear policy -- had to say when Rashme asked him about the disengagement and what it means for the India-China stand-off in Ladakh:
Do you see the ongoing military disengagement in Ladakh between the Indian and Chinese troops as having helped the Chinese consolidate on the gains they have made in Ladakh in 2020?
The military advantage the Indian army had gained by the Special Frontier Force occupying the heights of the Rezang La-Rechin La ridge on the Kailash Range is lost without the PLA withdrawing to east of the Khurnak Fort line –- where the Indian claims lie, rather than only some distance from Finger 8 on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake to the Sirijap Plain.
And the Chinese continue to obstruct Indian patrols seeking legitimately to access Indian territory northwest-wards of the Y-Junction that they continue to block.
Having achieved success at the negotiating table in getting Indian troops to climb down from the Kailash range hilltops, and India to accept Finger 3 as the limit of its army's presence in the Pangong area (forsaking, in the process, Indian claims over the entire swathe of land stretching from Finger 4, past the Sirijap Plain, to way east of the Khurnak line and then, as expected, stalling the 10th round of talks that occurred a couple of days back at the corps commander-level talks when it came to discussing the steps to lift the blockade and allow Indian patrols to Hot Springs, Gogra and other points northwestwards.
And because the Chinese are big on symbolism, it may be noted, the PLA have fielded its so-called 'southern Xinjiang military district' head Major General Liu Lin, junior in rank to Lieutenant General P K Menon, commander of the XIV Corps at these border talks.
Having recognised the rank-asymmetry -- meaning the PLA had assigned less importance to realising peace then the Indian side did after the first such meeting last year when the then Leh-based Corps Lieutenant Gen Harinder Singh officiated, the Indian Army should have immediately followed up the next time around by sending Liu's equivalent -- some major general, any major general, from that formation.
Losing out thus in both symbolic and substantive terms, how is any of this a success for India?
I am going to quote from a recent article of yours which stated 'New Delhi's desperation has led to a peace process of impermanent but linked des-escalations, which Beijing may convert into opportunity for annexing territory in small parcels'.
Can you elaborate on this given that several defence analysts believe China is already sitting on over 60 square kilometres of Indian land taken in 2020 while the fate of the land taken in the Depsang plains is hanging in the air.
Depending on how scrupulously one tabulates exactly how much Indian territory has been ceded, lost, or simply eased out of Indian control by the inattentiveness and laxity of Indian forces -- the army and the ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) -- over the years compounded by the la-di-dah attitude of the Indian government to such loss, the actual territorial gains to China may be quite considerable over the 3,400 km length of the Line of Actual Control.
So 60 sq kms here, 1,000 sq km there (in Depsang) could only be the proverbial tip of the iceberg!
Up to last year, India was patrolling all eight Fingers on northern shore of the Pangong lake as these were on the Indian side. Today this has been reduced to the area between Fingers one to three.
The astonishing thing is the Indian Army stopped contending for the land east of Finger 8 for many years until now when the army has effective control only up to Finger 3.
In effect, the Sirijap-Khurnak expanse has been permitted to slip into China's lap without so much as a squeak from Delhi!
India and its army seems to have no answer for this Chinese policy of creeping territorial aggrandisement.
It is believed that this disengagement and the ones to follow after subsequent talks is taking us to the 2013 line. Do you think that is so? Then how are we going to see any kind of status quo ante at all in Ladakh?
I fear that the manner in which India has accepted the process of, and the conditions for, the mutual 'verifiable' pullback by the forces, the Indian government may be preparing to accept the expansive Chinese claim line articulated by Premier Zhou En Lai in his November 7, 1959 letter which Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru roundly rejected.
This Chinese line was to protect the Tibet-Xinjiang Highway the PLA had completed by 1957, which cut through the northern part of Indian Aksai Chin, with a territorial buffer.