Most defence and security analysts in India and world over have been attributing conflicting motives to China’s aggressive action in Eastern Ladakh. There are varying theories from the imminence of war to diversionary tactics to draw away world attention, more particularly the United States of America (USA), from Taiwan and the East China Sea.
Confusion has been deliberately created by China through a simultaneous action on two fronts, namely, India in the West and Taiwan on the East. Therefore, it has been cleverly able to mask its real motive in Eastern Ladakh.
China knows that a war with India, even if it gets some success, would not gain it much dividends. In fact, it would lose in its drive to be a Global leader by 2049. It would also hurt its ‘One China Policy’, which aims to assimilate Taiwan with mainland China. What more, the world will become wary of its expansionist designs and thus raise doubts on its much hyped One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme.
Some analysts think that China had been able to surprise Indian intelligence agencies. It is not so. It seems India had noticed such large scale movement and concentration of Chinese troops. But Russia had misled Indian agencies to say that it was a normal Chinese annual training exercise of troops. Maybe China had so informed Russia.
However after the Galwan action of 15 June 2020, Russia got alerted and told China that it would not support China on any aggression against India. It had, thus, scuttled China’s offensive plans, if any. Russia had probably told China that it did not want a Sino-Indo war.
No wonder Indian Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh, had gone to Moscow twice, once in June 2020 and then in September 2020. This was assurance to India that it can tackle China on its own.
The Chinese real motive in Eastern Ladakh was very well masked but it had a very limited scope. Precisely speaking, it is a security insurance of Pakistan’s impending action in Gilgit-Baltistan. Therefore Chinese troops would keep Indian troops occupied till Pakistan has done what it wants to be done in Gilgit-Baltistan.
What is it? On Chinese insistence, Pakistan is going to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as the ‘Fifth Province’ of Pakistan. It will be done after 15 November 2020. This is the day when assembly elections will be held in Gilgit-Pakistan. Therefore, any disengagement in Eastern Ladakh, would only take place after 15 November 2020 or even later, subject to Indian reaction.
It is a known fact that India lays claim over Gilgit-Baltistan. After revocation of Articles 370 and 35 A, India had declared that POK, also, would be taken back from Pakistan shortly. It must be noted that India had kept 24 seats for J&K assembly vacant for 73 years for this purpose only.
China and Pakistan are worried that India might try to annex it by force before November elections. This was also the primary objective of ‘Operation Trident’ in the winters of 1986-87. However, it fizzled out because of intervention of the young Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.
China, since inception of CPEC in 2015, has been pressuring Pakistan to fully integrate Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistani polity. Pakistan was avoiding this because there was a general view that it would dilute Pakistan’s claim over POK.
It was considered in Pakistan that as and when a plebiscite was held in Kashmir, under the United Nations aegis, 15 lakhs votes of Gilgit Pakistan would play an important role. This had prevented Pakistan from its integration with the mainland.
Though it may be noted that, under the secret but unwritten clause of Shimla agreement, it was agreed by both India and Pakistan to accept Line of Control as International Border between India and Pakistan.
This is why then PM of Pakistan, ZA Bhutto had de-linked Gilgit-Baltistan from Azad Kashmir and brought it directly under the federal government Control and named it as Federally Controlled Northern Areas (FCNA). Interesting to note that India did not protest and nor it had lodged a complaint against this.
"The importance of Gilgit Baltistan is linked to CPEC. Khunzerab pass at the border of Xinjiang province of China and Gilgit Baltistan is the strategically important location."
The importance of Gilgit Baltistan is linked to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Khunzerab pass at the border of Xinjiang province of China and Gilgit Baltistan is the strategically important location.
It is through this pass that Karakoram Highway (KKH) runs for a distance of 3,000 km from Kashgar in Xinjiang to the warm water port of Gwadar in Balochistan province of Pakistan. Gwadar is on the Persian Gulf, which China wants to develop as a trading port for its trade with the rest of the world. Part of KKH runs through Gilgit-Baltistan, which is vehemently claimed by India.
China thinks that India could jeopardise this CPEC project by capturing this territory. CPEC, though conceived in 2008-9 by then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, but it was signed in 2015, when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
China is investing around $65 billion on this project (initially it was $46 Billion). This is why, in 2011, China had reportedly deployed some 10,000-15,000 troops in Gilgit-Baltistan, for the security of CPEC.
After the abrogation of Article 370 by India and some loud claims of Indian leaders on POK, Pakistan and China got concerned. China has been insisting for long that it should be amalgamated as a fifth province of Pakistan. In fact China had been obliquely asking Pakistani leadership to settle Kashmir with India, making the LC with some modifications, as the IB.
Pakistan has been seriously thinking about it. This is why Pakistan’s dissenting opposition leaders were called by Chief of Pakistan Army, General QJ Bajwa, in the first week of September 2020 and asked them to support this move. It was a secret meeting but the media came to know about it and controversy has risen in Pakistan. It has now been decided that it would be declared a ‘Fifth Province’ after assembly elections on 15 November 2020.
It is in the above context that one would see China’s hesitation of immediate disengaging in Eastern Ladakh. It wants to keep Indian Army occupied in Eastern Ladakh, while Pakistan goes ahead with its plans to integrate Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan as the ‘Fifth Province’.
Therefore all these de-escalation talks and agreements on disengagement are mere eyewash. China is going to engage India in the ‘No War, No Peace’ (NWNP) scenario in the coming winters of 2020-21.
China has large stakes in Gilgit-Baltistan. Not only it is an entry point of CPEC at Khunjerab pass but also an adjoining region of Xinjiang province of China, which is dominated by Uighar Muslims. Should India occupy this region, not only CPEC would be threatened but it can inflame the Uighar Insurgency in Xinjiang province.
What more, it would also threaten G-219 — Tibetan Highway from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Lhasa in Tibet.
"All these de-escalation talks and agreements on disengagement are mere eyewash. China is going to engage India in the ‘No War, No Peace’ scenario in the coming winters."
The Gilgit-Baltistan region is very important to China because of the 3,000 km Karakoram Highway, which is going to be China’s economic life line for trade with the rest of the world. It is a new ‘Silk Route’ of China. Gilgit-Baltistan adjoins Xinjiang region of China and is very significant for China’s battle for global supremacy. At no cost, China would allow Indian dream of re-taking Gilgit Baltistan.
China needs water resources of Gilgit-Baltistan for its microchip industry. Earlier China imported this from Taiwan but it has been now stopped. Therefore it wants to start manufacturing of microchips in Xinjiang , which adjoins Gilgit- Baltistan. And microchip production needs water extensively.
In view of the needs of its microchip industry, China has also agreed to finance and build Diamer-Bhasha Dam. It is located on the Indus River in northern Pakistan between Kohistan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Diamer district in Gilgit Baltistan. The dam will have a gross storage capacity of 8.1 Million Acre Feet (MAF) and power generation capacity of 4,500 MW. it will be constructed at a cost of over ₹ 1400 Billion Pakistani rupees.
In view of these facts, China would continue to engage Indian army in Eastern Ladakh till Pakistan consolidates itself in Gilgit Baltistan. Reports are also indicating that Pakistan had recently moved 20,000 troops to this region . Therefore Chinese action in Eastern Ladakh is to allow Pakistan to dig in and consolidate in Gilgit Baltistan , so as to secure the future of CPEC .
Therefore drama of disengagement talks would carry on to keep Indian planners busy with Eastern Ladakh, while Pakistan goes ahead in making Gilgit-Baltistan not only the fifth province but also secure from any Indian adventure in the near future.
Ironically, this was also the purpose of the secret clause of Shimla agreement; What India has, India keeps and what Pakistan has, Pakistan keeps. A 1949 Ceasefire Line (CFL) solution to Kashmir dispute.
(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran of the ’71 War & has served extensively in various counter insurgency environments across the country.
He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert and a regular contributor at the 'Fauji India' magazine, ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected])
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')