Most of us perceive Pakistan as the country's implacable enemy and a source of everlasting stand-off. In all our imaginations, be it Bollywood, cricket or electoral campaigns, taking on Pakistan and making it bite the dust has been a bravery worthy of respect. Indians had not held such extreme sentiments for China despite the humiliation of losing the 1962 War. But by deceit China tried to capture Ladakh taking advantage of complacency and Corona Pandemic.
Having seen India alarmed by the Wuhan Virus pandemic and its inability to even transport migrant labourers to their homes from their places of work, China thought this was the ideal time to walk over Ladakh. Despite our unflinching trust in ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ syndrome and routine vigil on the LAC, she beat us in the battle of wits in Ladakh. Nation should be grateful to the Indian Army (Galwan Tigers) who showed them the grit of the Indian nation. Ironically sacrifices of Galwan were not pursued to a logical conclusion. An opportunity was lost to attack and push the PLA back to April 2020 positions.
It would have been a big success because of the anger and anguish in the army. Conversely the Chinese were indirectly helped for face saving by us instead of teaching them a lesson and showing our wavering resolve to the world. Turning their defeat into their victory by our failure to act in time and take advantage of fleeting opportunities has not gone down well with the armed forces.
The Disengagement process in Ladakh, despite all the media and diplomatic hype, is in the eyes of storm. Premier Modi has been virtually impervious to criticism on issues of national security. But, as of now, he is under severe attack from his domestic political critics and opposition parties because of PLA transgression.
And there is public anger against China and a dominant feeling that China has to be stopped before it succeeds in changing the status-quo on the India-China boundary. Having denied any ingress, he is certainly un-nerved on the Ladakh stand-off. Who can prevent a showdown! Is it the political leadership or the diplomats? Both are trying simultaneously. Should the efforts fail, armed forces, as always, is the last and the lasting hope.
With the China threat becoming real than virtual, additional Army Divisions and Air Force Squadrons were inducted into Ladakh Sector. Besides boosting LAC defences, Indian Navy moved into the Indian Ocean and even South China Sea. The Air Force added 5 Rafale fighters besides many other air warfare machines in its inventory. Defence purchases were accelerated.
The visit of the prime minister and defence minister to forward areas of Ladakh meant that top political and military leadership was not willing to accept Chinese action on the LAC. No less than the status quo ante has been made clear to China. What is at stake is the principle that not an inch of Indian territory is negotiable which by extension also means that all the illegally held areas by China and Pakistan are also not negotiable. Hence if the disengagement doesn’t happen, there will be a war.
When and where, is for the military strategists to decide. Suffice to say that time is ripe when China is a global eyesore. Without sounding alarmist, my hunch is that the India-China War is imminent. It may be fought on the battle-grounds of Gilgit-Baltistan because it is our land where China has plonked PLA illegally. Signals of military option by CDS, though sounded alarmist, is a reality in the Indian sub-continent to check the Dragon spewing its venom in the Himalayas and Indian Ocean. As I understand, China is eyeing at G-B while India is bogged down in Pandemic and economic slow-down.
Takeover of G-B from Pakistan is being worked out as 7000 Sq Kms Shaksgam Valley of Baltistan, North of Karakoram, earlier given by Pakistan to China in 1963. This may be because of our continuous propaganda of liberating G-B from Pak illegal occupation soon. Such assertions from top political and military leadership have rattled both Pakistan and China.
Otherwise also China has many sinister designs in mineral rich G-B. More than an army Division of PLA is already plonked there since long for security of CPEC manpower. It has been reinforced after the Galwan incident. Pak and Chinese fighter aircrafts have been positioned at Skardu Airfield to ward off any Indian attack.
Chinese complicity in the spread of the dreaded Pandemic with Wuhan virus, affecting the US worst, has isolated China universally. American Super Power factor comes into play against China at the moment. History is repeating. Hitler challenged British and France, two great powers of the world. Similarly Xi Jinping has challenged America and India, one super power and the other a great power.
Consequently, America deployed its Warships in the South China Sea challenging Chinese fleet. Xi is bound to meet the same fate as Hitler. History is repeating is becoming more clear. During the cold war there were two superpowers. USSR entered Afghanistan in 1979 to enter the warm waters of Arabian Sea through Afghanistan. America got an opportunity. It used Pakistan and within 10 years demolished USSR and became an exclusive super power. China is doing the same through Pakistan.
CPEC gives it land access to the Persian Gulf. Once China takes over G-B fully, India can forget its retrieval. If China enters the Gulf, it can threaten the West's dependence on energy supply from the Gulf. Hence there is an opportunity for America and India to demolish China and scuttle its dreams of unchallenged superpower. I think both Indian and American are smart enough to scuttle Chinese dreams. That is doable by blocking China in the Himalayas and Indo-Pacific.
That can be easily done by Indo-US strategic partnership for Naval dominance of international waters and Indian military action in the Himalayas. The World knows China has never fought an all out war whereas India has a history of wars and conquests. Indian Army is a professional army whereas the majority of the PLA is conscripted. India knows that defeat of China in the Himalayas is near certain but exercising restraint to wage a war because of obvious reasons. China also knows that any misadventure in the Himalayas will be a reverse of 1962 walk over.
That is why standoffs will be longer. Lot has been said about Xi Jinping’s nemesis. Indian resolve to checkmate China in the Himalayas & Indian Ocean and American resolve in the South China Sea is also clearer. Apart from Indian military strength, other global and regional factors go in favour of India in scuttling Chinese salami-slicing of our territory. They are:
- Tibetans are fighting for freedom under the leadership of Dalai Lama and now fighting against PLA in the Himalayas under the leadership of Modi. Capture of Spanggur Spur by 7 Vikas (SFF) and taking 45 PLA prisoners (unconfirmed) is an example of joint Indo-Tibetan revenge against China. Liberation of Tibet movement, anticipated after India and US abandon one China policy, will be Xi’s another nemesis
- Baltis are being exploited and discriminated against by Pakistan. They are being denied basic human rights. They are agitating on a daily basis against PLA presence in G-B which is engineering cultural, linguistic and demographic changes by forced matrimonial alliances. They are also fighting for liberation from Pakistan
- Baloch are fighting against CPEC through Balochistan and for liberation from Pakistan
- There is internal unrest in China and Hong Kong is also restive
- Taiwan is directly confronting China in its periphery
- Australia and Japan are also leading a regional charge against China.
- Vietnam & Philippines are fed up with persistent Chinese Naval manoeuvres in their territorial waters
- Diplomatically and financially Pakistan is at its lowest ebb
- QUAD is also ganging up strongly against China
Here is the time and opportunity to exploit these fault lines. Let illegally held Gilgit-Baltistan be our chosen battleground in the Himalayas before it is lost like Shaksgam. The US can decide on its own. As is stated, ‘time and tide wait for none’. India and America should not miss, once a while, such an opportunity.
(Col JP Singh (Retd) was commissioned in 4 Bihar on 13th June, 1971 from the IMA, Dehradun. He served in the Poonch sector during the 71 war, and has since held several prestigious appointments. Views expressed by the author are personal and do not necessarily reflect the view of Mission Victory India)