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'China may resort to new types of warfare'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: February 11, 2022 09:42 IST
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'War will take place in the realms beyond the border.'

IMAGE: Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel celebrating Republic Day at 15,000 feet in minus 35 degrees Celsius temperature in icy Ladakh, January 26, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

"The social contract of the Chinese Communist party with the people of China will be severely damaged if there is a border war and if there are 1,000-2,000 casualties," says former Ladakh Corps Commander Lieutenant General Rakesh Sharma (retd).

"Therefore, China may resort to new types of warfare to put pressure on India and seek their political aims without overt war fighting."

Lieutenant General Sharma commanded the Fire and Fury Corps in Ladakh responsible for Kargil, the Siachen Glacier and Eastern Ladakh -- facing both Pakistan and China.

The general served the Indian Army for nearly forty years and has had vast experience in Jammu and Kashmir, the North East and India's western border.

General Rakesh Sharma spoke to Rediff.com's Archana Masih about the situation on the Line of Actual Control. The first of a two-part interview:

 

A year after the process of disengagement began to address the two-year Ladakh standoff, how do you assess the 14 rounds of military talks and the situation on the LAC?

The 14 rounds of talks have resulted in a temporary moratorium on patrolling, or the creation of 'buffer zones' in a number of places.

These buffers have prevented fisticuffs and scuffles between the troops which used to happen earlier, especially in Eastern Ladakh.

India suffered 20 casualties in the Galwan confrontation in June 2020. Eight to nine months later, China said they lost four men and now the Australian media has reported 38 plus PLA casualties.

It was apparent to the Chinese that such confrontations were hurting their troops. They did not want another Galwan and hence the creation of a buffer zones from Bottleneck [Depsang Plains] to Gogra to Pangong Tso, Kailash Heights and the ongoing discussions over Patrolling Point 15 in Hot Springs.

The Chinese have pushed for buffer zones extending from two kilometres to eight kilometres in various ingress areas in order to avoid future scuffles.

Therefore, this has resulted in a different methodology of managing the Line of Actual Control compared to two years ago.

For example, the Chinese have brought in 3-4 divisions from Sinkiang into Tibet. The PLA have made large number of small camps in the Aksai Chin area and along the LAC.

Some camps that existed pre-2020 have been enlarged. Additional heliports and airfields have come up along the LAC.

One must also hasten to add the 627 'model villages' set up by China on the LAC.

All this changes the character of the border in many forms. There is a transformation of the infrastructure being developed by the Chinese in Tibet and also along the LAC.

The impression one gathers is that the Chinese will insist on the buffer zones as a permanent feature, and not a temporary measure as was the intent behind the disengagement process.

I say so because the Chinese now view the territorial dispute with India as an issue of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Chinese would be unwilling to engage in further discussions on areas where buffer zones have been established. After they set up villages in these areas, their presence will become even more permanent in nature.

The new Chinese land and border law that came into effect last month will pose another fresh challenge to India.

All these factors have deepened India's distrust for China. India will ensure that China does not make any more ingresses, like it has done in Bhutan and Nepal by constructing villages inside their territory.

Hence, India has re-postured in the course of one year not only in deployment, but also to prevent China from 'salami slicing' and occupying additional areas.

That has brought a difference in the thought process of managing the Line of Actual Control than what existed two years ago.

It also brings tensions due to proximity of location of the two forces on either side.

Is it China's design to maintain its post-April 2020 presence at various points in Ladakh and not go back to the pre-April 2020 status quo ante?

What the Chinese will do, only the Chinese know.

It is not related to India's infrastructure development, but this is a geopolitical game.

China ambitions have been on display in the South China Sea; they are putting pressure on Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands.

China had to put the border with India on rest in some form so that their ambitions of becoming a global power or its dream of 'national rejuvenation' comes through.

On whether they will return to pre-April 2020 positions or not is anybody's guess. But the fact of the matter is that the military talks at the border is related to one or two points, like PP 15 or Demchok Nala.

It is not substantively discussing the issue of the entire Line of Actual Control which is incurably flawed. It was neither delineated nor demarcated.

With that thought process, I think the Chinese are seemingly unwilling to progress further on the military talks. Hereafter, the withdrawal of Chinese forces and any movement forward on delineation and demarcation of the boundary dispute has to be taken up at a politico-diplomatic level.

The larger boundary issue is not on the table at the military level. It has to happen between Beijing and Delhi.

IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Moscow, September 10, 2020. Photograph: China Daily/Reuters

Do you feel maybe our generals are too straightforward to deal with the Chinese and it's time to hand it over to the diplomats and perhaps the highest leadership in both countries?

That's a leading question. I would say that the military talks had great advantage and have done an immense amount of hard work.

Militaries tend to talk straight because they talk about hard facts -- physical features on the ground. Each round of talks has extended beyond 10-12 hours.

Diplomatic talks must go parallelly because they have their own efficacy and advantage.

Meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on the India-China border issue between the two foreign ministries must continue simultaneously and raise it up to the levels of political discussions to bring about an advantage.

The foreign ministers of the two countries have met a couple of times at different fora.

I will put military and diplomatic/political talks into separate baskets altogether, but they have to go on simultaneously.

IMAGE: Indian Army personnel patrol the border with China in heavy snow in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, February 7, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

There was a recent picture of our soldiers patrolling in the snow in Chamoli, Uttarakhand. Do you feel China wants to open multiple fronts on the LAC and keep the entire stretch from Arunachal to Ladakh live?

Again, whether the Chinese wish to do so or not is up to the Chinese -- on our part, we have to be prepared.

We cannot lower our guard in areas of Barahoti, Parvati Kund in Uttarakhand or Naku La in Sikkim or Jampheri ridge close to Doklam or areas of the Northeast.

It changes India's posture on the LAC compared to two years ago. It puts a taxing responsibility on the forces in difficult areas where they are deployed throughout the year including in the winters.

With China's belligerence and expansionism, we cannot take risks along the entire northern frontier.

IMAGE: Central Army commander Lieutenant General Yogendra Dimri (in red beret) reviews the operational preparedness and training of our troops in super high altitude areas. Photograph: ANI Photo

What impact will a long standoff with China have on India's larger military strategy?

Modern warfare has changed dramatically and we have to prepare ourselves for the future.

The Chinese understand that Indians are masters of territorial warfare at the borders. Our troops are experienced and pioneers of high altitude warfare.

The PLA troops find the weather and terrain tough.

The Chinese have changed their culture and adopted modern tools of warfare, ie, electronic, cyber, space, projectile warfare, missiles etc.

I assure you that our troops at the border are very hardy and will withstand the tough conditions. We have to prepare for future warfare where the kinetic use of force will be limited and warfare will take place in the realms beyond the border.

Authoritarian regimes like China are careful of their domestic image. That is why they concealed the Galwan casualties. They hid their casualties even in the 1962 war and it came to be known only in 1994 that they lost 600-700 men.

The social contract of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) with the people of China will be damaged if there is a border war and if there are 1,000-2,000 casualties. Therefore, they may resort to new types of warfare to put pressure on India and seek their political aims without overt warfighting.

We have to also prepare for those realms and domains of warfighting.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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