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'With China, Indian soldiers have a much tougher job'

Last updated on: June 12, 2020 12:47 IST
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'They cannot use firearms.'
'They have to be restrained.'
'It is a game of patience and chess board moves.'
'It is not like India and Pakistan where bullets get fired and people get killed.'

IMAGE: Indian soldiers stand guard at the Zojila Pass on the way to Ladakh. Photograph: PTI Photo

"Every year they will initiate these irritants at various points at our border. They will test our resolve and our preparedness," Nitin A Gokhale, editor-in-chief, StratNews Global, a long-time contributor, author and strategic affairs expert, explains to's Syed Firdaus Ashraf in the second part of a multi-part interview.


Why didn't periodical India-China meetings at border posts avert the current standoff?

There are two different kinds of meetings that happen at border areas.

One is ceremonial meetings like India's Independence Day and Republic Day.

From China's side it is October 1, the founding of the People's Republic of China or the day of the founding of the People's Liberation Army which is on August 1.

This happens routinely and those are ceremonial meetings.

They meet at the border and play games like volleyball, basketball, tug of war et al.

It is a very formal and celebratory meeting.

The second meeting are flag meetings which happens at the brigadier level and major general level, which is one step above brigadier.

Those meetings are specifically called by either side.

If India has something to convey or object to something, they will ask for a meeting after clearing from the higher-ups.

This is a very business kind of meeting where you make formal statements and objections.

That has been happening.

Here when this crisis happened at the Pangong Tso lake, where India noticed they (Chinese troops) were trying to sit at Finger 4 and Finger 8, several meetings happened at the brigadier and major general level.

The worry this time has been that the Chinese have moved or deployed forces on their own side at various places in larger numbers from areas ranging from Sikkim to Ladakh.

This is a 2,000 km distance and therefore India also mobilised some of its forces from the interiors of Ladakh and also showed intent.

If you build, we also build.

If you look at the numbers which are publicly available, the Chinese have 12 divisions on their side, that is 2.30 lakhs soldiers in Tibet.

India has its 2.25 lakhs forces on the ground across the frontier right from Arunachal Pradesh via Sikkim to Uttarakhand to Ladakh.

It is only 5,000 forces less and that can be brought in later.

Near parity exists there.

So it is not that India is weak but because what happens here, it is a vast frontier so there are obviously gaps at places.

There is an old saying in military strategy that one who defends everywhere defends nowhere.

Common people think that each inch of the ground must be protected and defended.

That is a fallacy.

It happens only in movies and in gated communities where you can have compounds.

But in military strategy that does not happen as there are various other things that are important.

In a way, India has also raised the ante and some have called it mirror diplomacy.

If they have brought in two brigades, then India also brought in two brigades.

They have been brought in artillery pieces of guns, India also brought it in.

India has got its full armoured brigade and 150 tanks are in Ladakh.

There is nothing that India hasn't got there.

The only thing is that the Chinese initiate these pinpricks and then question India.

India is a responsible power and a democracy.

We abide by our arrangement and protocols of the border.

If necessary, military leaders say we too can sit in some empty territory in Tibet and then negotiate with the Chinese.

Who knows, this might be happening and therefore the Chinese asked for (a truce) and agreed to talks.

What one understands is that India was patrolling from Finger 4 to Finger 8 point, but now the Chinese are in control there. Is that true?

India used to go there occasionally and not frequently.

There used to be a timetable to go that area.

If you see photographs of the axis to Finger 5 from Finger 4, it is on a single ledge.

It is a mountain ledge, where you walk in and there is no road from the Indian side.

You can only walk in.

The Indian road is only till Finger 3.

They used to go occasionally (between Finger 4 and Finger 8), complete the ritual and come back.

Now nobody knows why the Chinese chose this particular time.

You can speculate whether they wanted India to remain neutral in WHO (World Health Organisation) or whether they are doing it because India is facing a pandemic or whether India is getting closer to the US or whether they want India to remain neutral in the global scenario which is building up against China due to coronavirus.

There can be a hundred reasons.

But yes, they have come and parked themselves in tents.

Earlier, they used to come in their 20s.

Now they are sitting in the 100s.

Maybe, 100 to 200 people are sitting there.

India has not gone there because there will be fisticuffs and jostling as we have seen in some videos (on social media).

Therefore, discussions.

Militarily, sitting between Finger 4 and Finger 8 is such that the Chinese can never sustain themselves in the winter or for such a long time.

They will have to go back at some point of time.

They can keep sitting there and India will keep sitting there staring them in the face, which will achieve nothing.

Militarily, they will not achieve anything in terms of gaining territory or getting control of territory by sitting over there.

Yes, the worry is why the Chinese are doing this at that particular place.

IMAGE: An Indian Army convoy travels towards the Zojilla Pass, Ladakh. Photograph: ANI Photo

Do you foresee a situation where China will withdraw its forces from Finger 8 to Finger 4?

They should.

We made it clear from the Indian side that our only point of discussion is your withdrawal to positions prior to April 1, 2020, in Finger 4 and Finger 8 area.

The rest is not consequential for us at all.

We want you to go back and restore the status quo ante.

Until that does not happen, we will not talk about anything else. No boundary discussion or no other points.

This is what happened at the June 6 (during the lieutenant general-level) talks.

The Indian side concentrated only on that part.

They will have to go back.

It has happened before.

It happened in Depsang in 2013.

It happened in Chumar in September 2014 when Xi Jinping was in India.

This is what Chinese strategy is.

Every year they will initiate these irritants at various points at our border.

They will test our resolve and our preparedness.

They will come at four places and after about 15 days they will say let us talk and withdraw from three places out of four they have intruded in, let us say hypothetically.

They will say we are so reasonable and practical about it.

But their actual intention is something like Finger 4.

They want to stay on there.

India has now caught onto that.

India is now saying forget about the other three intrusions, what you are saying about Nathu La, Galwan or somewhere else in Hot Springs.

We know your intention is Finger 4 and Finger 8 and you better talk about that.

So, it is a game of patience and chess board moves. They do counter-moves.

It is not like India and Pakistan where bullets get fired and people get killed.

Over there you have a clear idea who is coming and who is to be killed and what is your task to be done.

With China, Indian soldiers have a much tougher job as they cannot use firearms.

They have to be restrained.

It is a complicated situation.

Production: Aslam Hunani/

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