Military Stalemate at LAC

Sub Title : Political will needed to resolve the LAC imbroglio

Issues Details : Vol 14 Issue 4 Sep – Oct 2020

Author : Maj Gen Ashwani Dewan, AVSM

Page No. : 20

Category : Geostrategy

: October 6, 2020

A brief write up by an officer who commanded a detachment of AMX-13 tanks at those icy heights to stall the Chinese offensive in 1962, on PLA’s intent during the current transgression. Gen Dewan opines that a political solution will resolve the present military stalemate

As an officer who commanded a squadron of tanks(AMX-13) in Chushul in 1962 to check PLAs advance in the sector, and having served in the area later as Lt Colonel, I am delighted at the Indian Army’s initiative and tenacity in Ladakh Sector. China has started the blame game against India for intrusions across LAC. The facts speak otherwise- it is China who altered the LAC substantially during the Sino-India Conflict 1962 by capturing areas to give depth to their strategic road Kashgar-Lhasa (highway 219) which passes through Aksai Chin. PLA’s push also secures Karakoram Pass which provides an alternative to Khunjerab Pass for CPEC.

Going back in time, Mr Nehru always maintained that Aksai Chin, an area of approx 38,000 sq km, has been part of Ladakh historically. It may be pertinent to mention at this stage that Zhou Enlai during his visit to India in mid 1962 had proposed a peace deal asking her to forfeit its claim to Aksai Chin while China would give up its claim on NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) in return. This was politically unacceptable then and would remain so no matter which Government is in power as it is against the stated policy and public sentiment of not ‘giving up an ‘inch of territory’. India’s intransigence thus led to China’s increasing hostility towards India and military action seemed plausible.

Nehru, on the contrary, launched a forward posture policy in 1961, much against the considered opinion of the then GOC-in-C Western Command, by sending patrols to interfere with this road which led to skirmishes with Chinese troops in first half of 1962. This triggered the Sino-India War in 1962. The rest is history.

The recent Indo -China 5 Point Agreement is like ‘old wine in a new bottle’. Words like ‘Disengage’ ‘and’ CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) are meaningless. China cannot be trusted to implement them. However, in keeping with the spirit of this Agreement, should they pull out troops which are concentrated at present close to the LAC as a confidence building measure, it must be remembered that they have the capability of fast build up because of its well-developed infrastructure. We do not. Our Chief, Gen Naravane being fully seized of this asymmetry in infrastructure, has taken a bold action to build up during July and August close to LAC, a Division plus, perhaps more, along with a Regiment of T90 tanks and a Mechanised Battalion (BMP2) in Depsang plains and also reoccupied heights dominating Spanggur gap from which the Chinese withdrew to their pre-war positions when they declared unilateral ceasefire on 21 Nov 1962. This posture is unlikely to change even during winter months. We are, therefore, looking at an LoC like situation in one of the toughest battle grounds on the planet.

The questions that arises thereafter is – would our forward build up lead to a short and swift war? Highly unlikely, as India is well prepared and, unlike 1962 will also have full support of the Indian Air Force. Logistically, we have already displayed our capability and resolve.

So why did China resort to ad lib intrusion across LAC (which has stopped after India’s recent forward build up)? And what is the way forward?

For the moment, I would like to say that all forward looking countries try to resolve their border problems for the larger good of economic progress. The Indian public will understand that we cannot take back Aksai Chin militarily as future wars will be fought under the nuclear backdrop which limits conventional threshold. One possible way forward is to convert the LAC to an International Border in Ladakh in return for China giving up claim on Arunachal Pradesh. But do we have the political will and a bold leader to implement it! I would like to believe that we do.