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Ladakh standoff shows China intends to keep boundary issue alive, says Army Chief Gen Pande

Pande said that through the dialogue between the Corps Commanders from the two sides, “many friction areas have been resolved after talking to each other.”

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |
Updated: May 10, 2022 10:49:26 am
Army Chief Manoj Pande said that “over the last couple of years we have taken the decision to rebalance and reorient our forces to deal with the situation in eastern Ladakh.” (Express File Photo By Amit Mehra)

Even as the two countries are involved in discussions to find a resolution to the over two-year long standoff in eastern Ladakh, the entire episode seems to point that China does not have the intent to find an early resolution to the overall boundary question, Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande said on Monday.

In his first formal media interaction, Pande said that when it comes to China, “The basic issue remains the resolution of the borders.” He was talking in context of the larger question of the unsettled 3488-km long boundary between the two countries.

“What we see is that China’s intent has been to keep the boundary issue alive,” Pande said, who took over as the new Army Chief on May 1. “What we need is a whole of nation approach” to address the issue in its entirely. “In the military domain, this is to prevent and counter any attempt to alter the status quo at the LAC (Line of Actual Control),” he said.

Speaking about the standoff in eastern Ladakh, he expressed hope that resolution for the balance friction points will be found through dialogue. Pande said that through the dialogue between the Corps Commanders from the two sides, “many friction areas have been resolved after talking to each other.” Regarding the balance areas, where disengagement has not yet happened—including Hot Springs, Depsang Plains and Demchok—Pande said, “they can only be resolved through dialogue” and added, “it is good that we are talking to and engaging with each other.”

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“Our troops continue to hold important positions along the LAC. He said the guidance for the troops is to “have a firm and resolute” posture to “prevent any efforts to alter the status quo.” The Army’s “aim and intention, as far as the situation is concerned, is to restore the status quo ante prior to April 2020.” He said the “aim is also to re-establish trust and tranquillity on both sides.”

However, he added, “it cannot be a one-way affair. Efforts should be made from both the sides.”

Pande said that “over the last couple of years we have taken the decision to rebalance and reorient our forces to deal with the situation in eastern Ladakh.” Even as there is a “re-appraisal and re-assessment of our preparedness,” he said, adding, “we have a robust posture on the LAC” and “adequate forces to deal with all contingencies”.

Regarding the induction of new technology all along the northern border, Pande said, the “focus has been on upgrading our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities” and to build infrastructure to support the logistics. “Induction and incorporation of new technology in these areas is a part of the ongoing process of capability development in eastern Ladakh and along the entire northern border.”

He called the resolution of situation on the border with China one of the top challenges in front of him as the Army Chief. The second “imperative” he said, is the “efforts for modernisation, transformation and restructuring of the Army.”

“As we go along we will have to continue to remain prepared for the entire spectrum of conflict,” he said, “from conventional to grey-zone and non-conventional conflict.” The Army will continue to modernise itself, based on the “analysis of the capability voids based on the threat perception.” He stated that for operational preparedness, the Army “constantly reviews the threat’.

Through capability development, the “end state” it to have an Indian Army “as a modern, combat-ready, optimally structured” force which is, “capable of winning wares across the entire spectrum of conflict.”

Asked about the lessons learned from the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, Pande said, there were several “important lessons”. “The foremost is that relevance of conventional war still remains. We are seeing many platforms – artillery guns, air defence guns, rockets, missiles and tanks being employed in this war in one way or the other. It also tells us that wars need not be necessarily be short and swift. It could prolong in a manner the current conflict is.”

The second important lesson, he said, would be “for us to try and be self-reliant in terms of weapons, armaments, equipment and spares from outside. We are dependent on certain weapon systems especially in the area of air defence, rockets, missiles and certain tanks from Russia and Ukraine.” He reiterated that “increasing self-reliance and decreasing our dependence on outside sources is an important lesson.” He said that the Army is working under the government’s Aatmanibhar campaign.

But regarding the “immediate impact is concerned” he highlighted, “the supply chain of certain spares and ammunition has got impacted to some extent, but we have adequate stocks to last for a reasonable period of time.” Pande said, “we are also looking at certain alternate mitigation measures, identifying alternate sources from friendly foreign countries. In the long term, this is also an opportunity for the private industry to step up production and meet the requirements.”

He mentioned “non-contact or non-kinetic warfare” as another important issue, adding that the “lesson has come out loud and clear” that in the cyber and information domains, “we have seen the battle of narratives has been used to gain advantage over the adversary. We need to increasingly focus on the new domains of warfare, focus on capability development.”

Talking about the impact of the war on India, Pande said that “in addition to immediate impact” he said, “more importantly the emerging geopolitical order is something we will have to monitor very closely in terms of realignment, in terms of new alliances.” That, he added, “is something which will perhaps be much clearly once the conflict ends. We have to also watch out for the stance and position of our adversaries.”

Another important aspect was that “attention from our immediate areas of interest, Afghanistan and Indo-Pacific does not get diverted to what is happening in the Russia-Ukraine war. These are the issues we need to keep monitoring and evolve our responses at the national level.”

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