I write these words with a great deal of sorrow. Sadness at the thought of no less than twenty young men, men of promise and true to their oath wilfully sacrificed at the altar of some nebulous belief that the Chinese would once in a while play by the rules. A forlorn hope if there ever was one!
My desolation at the loss of so many Jawans is mixed with a great deal of anger. Both emotions are shared by the rest of the country. My angst gives rise to a number of questions chief among them being – why did our soldiers go to confront the Chinese unarmed? I know there’s a protocol dating back to 1996 whereby the two sides have agreed to exercise restraint and not open fire.
But this wasn’t patrolling. Colonel Santosh Babu’s battalion, 16 Bihar and the rest of 81 Mountain Brigade were manning frontline defences. It is now certain that the Colonel and his party were lured into a trap through a ruse. The clash wasn’t the result of a momentary lapse of control or triggered by a grave provocation.
It was a pre-mediated trap laid by the wily Chinese bent upon creating a critical situation. Under orders and acting in good faith the unsuspecting Indian soldiers walked right into it.
It’s not as if Indian soldiers remained unarmed and defenceless al this while. They never took chances. It’s an absolute truism that Indian soldiers, unlike our gullible politicians never trusted the Chinese. With good reason – there’s a long history of betrayals stretching all the way back to the mid-50s.
Unofficially, our soldiers were always prepared. Machine-carbines, pistols, grenades even bayonets and Khukris were always surreptitiously carried within voluminous clothing. The Jawans had the confidence that they could take on the ruthless Chinese any time. The very specific orders to remain totally unarmed in the Galwan Valley stand-off must’ve come from very high up the chain of command.
What intelligence inputs were available and more importantly disseminated to the troops on the ground regarding Chinese intentions and whether they were armed or not? Were any unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) deployed to gather information about the Chinese deployment in the area?
This was an all-important force multiplier since a small force of unarmed soldiers was to check whether the Chinese had indeed withdrawn from a disputed point. Inadequate budget and the notorious defence procurement process have meant that the planned network-centric warfare is pretty elementary.
Did the political hierarchy’s bid to project a hunky-dory situation put unnecessary, added weight on local commanders to throw caution to the winds? In such situations it is not unknown for South Block’s impatience to result in troops paying the ultimate price.
Our higher commanders in this instance and commanders at the level of brigade and battalion have been interacting with their counterparts regularly. How difficult would it have been to estimate their intentions?
The unprecedented Chinese troop build-up and vigorous information warfare offensive should’ve warned us that they were likely to stage an incident. Warnings had been imparted by certain knowledgeable China-watchers and analysts.
These were not only given the go-bye but these worthies acting out of a sense of patriotism themselves became the targets of an unethical campaign of calumny.
One aspect of the clash particularly worries me. The govt’s spin doctors have put out that many of our Jawans died because the extremely low temperature exacerbated their injuries or because of hypothermia after falling into the Galwan river.
Was no provision made for medical treatment beyond first-aid in the field or evacuation of casualties to base hospitals? Certainly, something to ponder over and take the necessary remedial measures. What was the force level deployed in the area? It strikes me as curious that elements of three infantry battalions and two artillery regiments should’ve been involved yet the Chinese seem to have out-numbered them.
Lastly, why were we in denial for so long? Why the constant, repugnant effort to placate the intractable Chinese? For example, the defence minister’s very first statement made a month after the intrusions started to the effect that ‘the Chinese had come in sizeable numbers along (rather than across) the Line of Actual Control. It could only have served but to embolden Chinese belligerence.
Immediate Options in Ladakh
The ground situation in Ladakh currently is that the Chinese have created an incident to humiliate India and are in occupation of three tracts of our land with an area of approximately 40-60 km. These are in the Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and the Fingers Area across the Pangong Tso lake.
The encroachment in the Galwan River Valley sitting as the Chinese now are on commanding heights is a very dangerous development. They can now dominate the strategically important Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi road in the manner that the Pakistanis sought to do with the Srinagar-Leh highway in 1999.
What options are available to us for immediate operations to restore the status quo and evict the Chinese? First, let us consider the force that we have available to us for defensive and offensive purposes in Ladakh.
XIV (Fire and Fury) Corps is responsible for the whole of Ladakh region including both northern fronts encompassing the areas along the Line of Control in Dras-Kargil and the Actual Ground Position along the Saltoro Range in Siachen both facing Pakistani forces. Immediately available to the formation for defensive operations on the front towards China is the now full strength 3 Infantry (Trishul) Division.
There are any number of trained formations available from within both Northern Command and Army HQ reserves to reinforce XIV Corps. They will take some time however to arrive and acclimatize.
On the PLA (Chinese) side, the commander, Xinjiang Military Region has three+ combined-arms brigades consisting of straight-leg infantry, armour and mechanized infantry supported by artillery and air elements including armed helicopters.
An air mobile mechanized brigade was shown very visibly to have been airlifted from central China into Hotan and Ngari Gunsa airbases with great fanfare between 4th and 6th of June. The undue publicity was obviously intended to create a psychological effect on the Indians.
Most combat-ready elements of two Group Armies under Western Theatre Command are at operational readiness. They may have already staged forward from Chongqing and Xinin to operate in support of the Tibet Military District.
A formidable force if we disregard the PLA’s lack of combat experience, effect on it of the one-child norm, poor morale and education and low wages. All these factors result in poor human resources. The man behind the PLA gun does not seem to be the best.
We can exercise any of three options: block any further advance with defensive positions and wait (leading to negotiations), launch a limited offensive to oust the intruders or use our offensive capability to occupy Chinese territory and swap that for territory that we lost to them.
We do have a sizeable offensive capability with the potential for inducting reserve formations leading to an enhanced, formidable force level.
The defensive, blocking option might not appear very attractive but could be viable if coupled with psyops and incursions by special forces to cause attrition and enhance disruption. Occupying Chinese enclaves and posing a threat to their vulnerable lines of communication and logistics would have the effect of bringing the Chinese speedily to the negotiating table.
Once again, I must strongly reiterate the need to discard a purely or largely defensive mindset. Nothing upsets Beijing as much as losing territory, personnel and being subjected to persistent and visible attrition. Even the threat of offensive action upsets them.
For far too long have we allowed ourselves to be influenced by the 1962 syndrome. It’s high time we learnt to stand up for ourselves. In other words, finish raising the first mountain strike corps and start raising the second.
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