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Will Modi go to war with China?

By RASHME SEHGAL
July 20, 2020 10:43 IST
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'By not even acknowledging China's occupation of Indian territory Modi signalled to Beijing that he was not prepared to used forceful means to vacate the Chinese occupation, and that his government was reconciled to this loss of territory and accepted the fait accompli engineered by the PLA.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi interacts with Indian soldiers during his visit to Ladakh, July 3, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo

National security expert Dr Bharat Karnad is the emeritus professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research.

A prolific author, Dr Karnad's most recent book is Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India's Global Ambition. He helped draft India's nuclear policy and authored India's Nuclear Policy and Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security.

Dr Karnad was one of the first security experts to have issued several warnings about the Chinese incursion and occupation of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh.

"Considering how much Prime Minister Modi has invested in his personal relations with Xi, the impression cannot be allowed to go out that the whole India-China relations edifice was built on shifting sand," Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Contributor Rashme Sehgal. The first of a two-part interview:

 

Senior government sources claim Prime Minister Modi is upset with General Bipin Rawat on how the chief of defence staff incorrectly advised him on how to handle the Ladakh crisis.

I am not sure how General Rawat can be faulted for the 'do little, do nothing provocative' advice rendered by him to the prime minister.

After all, it is natural for military advice givers to tack to the leanings of the PM.

And Modi has in various summits and meetings with Xi Jinping shown a distinct tendency to accommodate Beijing.

Modi was also reportedly upset with Leh-based 14 Corps Commander Lieutenant General Harinder Singh for the PLA's deep incursions in eastern Ladakh.

One may hold the Leh Corps commander and the army brass responsible for the deep PLA penetrations into Indian territory, but the PMO cannot be absolved of the responsibility either.

It is hard to imagine that the Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre, controlled by the army-run Defence Intelligence Agency, was not passing on the series of high-resolution satellite photographs detailing the PLA intrusions and build-up in Indian territory since the late summer of 2019 to army headquarters and the PMO.

There is a view among defence experts that the Modi government is making misleading claims about the extent of disengagement along the LAC/
Why should the government be doing this given that today there is satellite imagery to corroborate what is happening on the ground?

That's the point I made several weeks ago in my blog.

Any misleading statements emanating from the government can be confirmed or belied by commercially available satellite imagery.

Hence, it is politically foolhardy to lie to the people.

IMAGE: Indian Army vehicles in Leh, July 15, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo

There are reports that the PLA has refused to withdraw from the Hot Springs area and from Gogra. Is that correct?
Even in Galwan, the buffer zone is being created in Indian territory.

I am not sure about this. Gogra and the Hot Springs areas are where the two governments supposedly agreed to establish 'buffer zones'.

My problem with the buffer zone concept is precisely that they encompass territory claimed by India and the 'no man's land' separating the two sides and, therefore, compromise India's claims on the LAC.

And it leaves this belt of land vulnerable to permanent Chinese absorption.

But newspapers and TV channels are reporting what they are being told by army sources who also qualify this information by stating that the army is spouting the line given to them by the national security adviser's office.
What are your views on this.

Of course, the NSA is in the business of micromanaging the public perceptions of the unfolding events in eastern Ladakh.

Considering how much Prime Minister Modi has invested in his personal relations with Xi, the impression cannot be allowed to go out that the whole India-China relations edifice was built on shifting sand.

IMAGE: An Indian Air Force Apache helicopter flying over the mountains in Ladakh, July 15, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo

Commercial satellite imagery reportedly shows the LAC has shifted 12 to 15 kms in Depsang, 1 km in Galwan, 2 to 4 kms in Gogra and 8 kms in Pangong Lake.
This would be by far the largest loss of territory to China since the 1962 war.
Is this observation correct?

I have been warning since the beginning about the quite considerable loss of territory.

I estimate that China's policy of what I have called incremental annexation has resulted in the loss of some 1,300 sq kms of Indian territory in the new millennium.

Should the buck not stop with NSA Ajit Doval?

Well, yes, because he is supposed to ingest all intel, field reports, military briefings, analyses and recommendations from the China Study Group, et al, and alight on policy options for the PM.

You have said repeatedly that Indian intelligence knew about the Chinese build up for the last one year.
More specifically, intelligence had told the army about Chinese movements in the LAC area, but the army took this to be normal spring time activity.
Would you say this has been an operational lapse by the army?

As I have already said, there's no excuse for XIV Corps Headquarters in Leh or army headquarters in Delhi and for the army misreading imagery intelligence transmitted to the Defence Intelligence Agency by DIPAC.

Is it correct to say that the government had considered the possibility of replacing the Northern Army commander and the corps commander but decided against it.

I don't know about this specific case.

But there's no reason why a corps commander the government judges to be incompetent cannot be replaced mid-operations.

In fact, such replacement should be routinised.

In your June 23 blog you highlight how Article 6 of the 1996 Agreement with China permits the attacked to use infantry weapons in defence.
Why were they not used by Lieutenant Colonel Babu and his men when attacked by the Chinese?

The Article 6 provision was first mentioned by former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General H S Panag.

And hence I argued Babu should have gone prepared on his sortie for a rumble (confrontation with the PLA).

Article 6 permits use of side-arms if attacked by the other party.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Modi with Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist party of China, at their second informal summit in Mahabalipuram, October 11, 2019. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter

What signal did Modi's June 17 statement not mentioning Chinese occupation send to the world and more especially to the Chinese?

By not even acknowledging China's occupation of Indian territory Modi signalled Beijing that:

1. He was not prepared to used forceful means to vacate the Chinese occupation;

2. His government was reconciled to this loss of territory and accepted the fait accompli engineered by the PLA.

Your June 23 blog suggests the Chinese had anticipated that Modi would not fight.
You used the expression 'Modi's inaction in the face of provocation'.
On what basis was this assumption based.

On the basis of Modi's personal relations with Xi and warmer ties with China that he has ballyhooed over the year.

Why were the heights on the eastern shore of the Shyok River facing the Daulat Bed Oldi/Karakoram-Depsang road not secured ten years ago?

This, I have said, is the Indian Army's biggest blunder.

The heights on the eastern bank of the Shyok River should have been secured as soon as the alignment of the DSDBO road was fixed.

It was an elementary precaution to protect a strategic infrastructure asset, it did not take.

Feature Production: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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