The military stand off with China in Ladakh was a bilateral issue and the armed forced and the Indian government responded to the situation in an appropriate manner, senior BKP leader Ram Madhav Friday said.
“As a military and as a government, we responded to the immediate challenge in an appropriate manner. We stood ground firmly and engaged proactively at diplomatic level. We did this at the time of Doklam too and are doing it now too,” Madhav said.
He was speaking during a panel discussion on ‘Sabre Rattling in Ladakh’ pertaining to the India-China military stand off on the opening day of the three-day Military Literature Festival here.
Madhav said that an important aspect of the stand off with China was that India has limited it as a bilateral dispute. “This is a very important thing. Many countries have been trying to sell us weapons and trying that India will join some alliance. We have not allowed ourselves to be drifted towards any country’s camp,” he said.
Stating that you cannot choose your neighbours and you have to learn to live with them, the senior BJP leader said that a very strong economy and along with a very strong technology is what is staring India in the name of China today. “While on the borders we need to maintain bilateralism, we need to build a strong coalition globally. We have to ensure that the rising of China is peaceful and the region remains inclusive,” he said.
Madhav said that the time tested concept of bilaterism is needed to be used while dealing with any border issue be it China, Pakistan, or the recent development with Nepal or in future. “We have always said we will handle it bilaterally. We have learnt in past seven decades how to handle…There is power asymmetry (with China) but we feel that bilateral principal should not be given up on border issues,” he said.
He maintained that India’s security challenges lie to the west of its geography while economic opportunity lies in east. “The new growing arc from Pakistan to Turkey is a security challenge while in Indo-Pacific there is big economic opportunity,” he said.
Moderating the discussion, former GOC-in-C Northern Command, Lt Gen DS Hooda (retd) said that unprecedented violence had been seen in eastern Ladakh. “It was also a surprise to us why PLA was doing this at a time when whole world was facing Covid-19. There was no trigger. The result of uncertainty of PLA’s actions was that our initial response was to underplay the situation and try to resolve it diplomatically. Unfortunately, Galwan happened a month later,” he said.
Former Northern and Central Army Commander, Lt Gen HS Panag (retd) said that overtly the confrontations are focussed on 1959 claim line of China in Ladakh and areas of different perceptions but these are, in his view, hardly any reasons to break peace.
“Strategically all the territory that China required was secured by it in mid 1950s when it seized most of Aksai Chin and made the highway. It does not require anymore territory as far as its strategic interests are concerned. The border dispute has been used by China to assert its hegemony over India and undermine its regional and international status,” he said.
Lt Gen Panag said that the immediate trigger for Chinese aggression in Ladakh was the fast developing border infrastructure, particularly the road to Daulat Beg Oldie and lateral roads leading to LAC, particularly lower half of Depsang planes, Galwan valley, Hot Springs and Pangong Tso.
“China wants to undermine strong leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was seen as international competitor to Xi Jinping. The short term aim is to neutralise developing threat to Aksai Chin and having made its 1959 claim line permanent. Having achieved strategic surprise, it was prepared for limited war. It wanted to capture area upto Galwan-Shyok area junction, hold area upto Kongka La. The distance from northern most part of of Pangong to Kongka La is 100 kms. So the intrusion in Pangong ensures this whole territory can be usruped in case of war,” he said.
Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd) opined that the Chinese have ensured a deadlock in Ladakh to gain time to build its infrastructure there and strengthen its air defence grid as it faced a credible threat from the IAF. “Is the deadlock genuine or is it to gain time? Both sides have strengthened their defences but is there more to it? I feel it has something to do with the asymmetry in air power that exists. The stonewalling that is happening is to get time during which China is trying to neutralise the advantage that IAF has through close air support and battlefield air interdiction. Inferior training status of their aircrew, distances between their airfields which are not mutually supported are some of the reasons,” he said.
He said once the Chinese get their infrastructure in place in a year’s time, the sabre rattling will start again.
GOC-in-C, Army Training Command, Lt Gen Raj Shukla said China will be biggest economy in the world in 10 years and business as usual to deal with them will not do. He gave a historic background of India-China relations dating several hundred years and how Chinese used military force to affect domestic Indian politics.
“Our tactical responses have been mostly good… in 10 years when China becomes number one negotiations will be tough… It is time we realise that we have a superpower on our northern borders,” he said.
Lt Gen Shukla said there has been a complete overhaul of Professional Military Education (PME) in PLA to emulate best global practices. “India could well face a geostrategic squeeze. We need to brace up and act now… We need to develop a stronger and cold blooded strategic response,” he said.
He added that Indian Army was also re-visiting PME and presently it is looking at overhauling the syllabus from National Defence Academy (NDA) to National Defence College (NDC).
Commenting that China is a “crafty competitor”, He said that India needs to embrace its Kautilyan concept of ‘Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed’.
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