Considering the geostrategic developments even the most ‘loyal’ scholars and veterans have come around to say while there is no immediate threat, an India-China conflict within a decade is inevitable.
By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd.)
Speaking to media on June 22, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat said after the faceoff with Indian forces in Galwan Valley and other locations, the China’s PLA has realised that needs better training and preparation. He said, “Their soldiers mainly come from the civilian street. They are enlisted for a short duration. They don’t have much experience of fighting in these kinds of areas and operating in this kind of terrain.”
Post the Galwan clash, China has raised the Special Tibetan Army Unit (STAU) and a militia ‘Mimang Cheton’ (MC) comprising Tibetan youth. The first set of STAU and MC have been deployed in the Chumbi Valley and other locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). PLA ensured Tibetan monks “blessed” them to ensure their loyalty. STAU and MC will likely be expanded. The CCTV recently showed over 4,000 youth joining in the New Recruit Brigade of Tibet Military Area Command. How many of them are Tibetans is not known? China could also recruit Nepalese youth in future.
The issue of PLA casualties has been amply flogged but we must examine why China surprised us last year despite PLA building a new road five-km short of Galwan. When Rawat as Army Chief talked of two-front war, he could have ensured at least occupation of Galwan heights and Y-Junction in Depsang rather than focusing on issues like curtailing canteen services, income tax of disabled veterans and making defence land available for sale. Moreover, PLA should have been thrown out from Galwan in continuation of the Galwan clash considering the treacherous manner in which PLA attacked Colonel Santosh Babu and his party.
Rawat’s comment of PLA soldiers “enlisted for a short duration” needs to be compared with the pennywise pound foolish scheme of introducing ‘Tour of Duty’ in the Army; what will be the competence of such individuals and why are we doing this? He may content as Secretary Directorate of Military Affairs (DMA), which is a comedown for a four-star General, but joining the politico-bureaucratic chorus of not one-inch territory lost despite PLA intrusions doesn’t befit his appointment and uniform.
Chinese preparations for continued aggression against India and Bhutan beyond existing intrusions and building new villages on Indian and Bhutanese territories are ominous. It is not mere rotation of PLA troops in Eastern Ladakh making the intrusions permanent but also: developing permanent infrastructure and logistic bases; deployment of advance weaponry and weapon platforms, long-range strike capability; unmanned platforms, trials of stealth fighter aircraft close to LAC; exercises with troops, and; continued cyber attacks.
For the politico-military dispensation China would unlikely go beyond territorial salami-slicing in addition to other forms of hybrid warfare but not conventional conflict. But we fail to acknowledge subjugation of India is essential to China’s dream of world domination. China has built a strategic highway to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan and is replicating the same through Myanmar. But it wants similar access through India. A tightened embrace with Russia and America’s self-inflicted rout from Afghanistan providing China strategic influence over Af-Pak, Iran and Central Asia will enhance its aggressiveness.
The continuing stalemate in Eastern Ladakh may not be of much consequence at the political level with more focus on state elections next year in seven states especially Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in addition to the issue of providing full statehood to J&K. The bureaucracy is sanguine even if there is any conflict New Delhi will not be hit – hence they are safe. But considering the geostrategic developments even the most ‘loyal’ scholars and veterans have come around to say while there is no immediate threat, an India-China conflict within a decade is inevitable. This is soothing to the policy makers but naïve. Why would China lose its advantage over India in terms of border infrastructure and technologically better equipped military? Why would it wait for organizations like Quad to bond and pose collective threat?
The latest message from Beijing states China’s last year actions were against India’s “land grab”; Beijing conveniently capitalised on the Union Home Minister’s statement in Parliament about Aksai Chin knowing fully well it was political rhetoric and Defence Minister inaugurating Colonel Chewang Rinchen Bridge in October 2019 under media glare. Indian governments fail to understand that power flows from the barrel from the gun. Other measures are not important but isn’t this why we are running around making contacts with Taliban which should have happened more than half a decade back.
In his speech on June 22, External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar urged the UN Security Council to press for a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan to ensure immediate reduction in violence and protection of civilian lives. But how does UNSC achieve what Americans could not do in two-decades? Similarly, the talk of a UN Force in Afghanistan has little meaning. If this was feasible the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) would have recommended this long ago and UN would have worked on the required mechanism.
In appointing CDS, government tasked General Rawat to organise Theatre Commands within his five years tenure though the US, China and Germany took many years to do so deliberately and methodically. Rawat has been proposing extending age of retirement of military personnel and changes to their salaries and pensions, which the staff should be doing in conjunction the Services. Here it may be noted that in July 2019 Prime Minister Modi announced Rs. 3,000 monthly pension for three crore shopkeepers and traders who never retire and always make profit in their profession.
The CDS is Advisor to Defence Minister, not Prime Minister as should have been the case but Rawat could impress upon the Defence Minister need to build ‘hard power’ in short time. The publicity of India having doubled its forex reserves in seven years to USD605 billion indicates we have the finances to do so. Neither the 20-point Ministry of Defence (MoD) reforms nor adhoc imports and worse still ‘leasing’ will make us a military power worth reckoning. A cue can be taken how General Charles de Gaulle transformed France from a weak to strong military power in short time after becoming President of France.
Additionally, while government plans to open 100 new Sainik Schools, the civilian-defence employees need to be combatised for better integration, especially when they are five-times more expensive than their uniformed counterparts. In December 2017, Rawat as Army Chief expressed alarm over politicisation of the Army. This followed publication of the study ‘Psychological Aspects of Counter-Insurgency Operations’ in the Armed Forces Medical Journal stating that 91.5 per cent officers and 61.4 per cent non-commissioned officers and soldiers engaged in counter-insurgency operations cited disgust for corrupt polity as a major reason for the slumping morale. Rawat needs to take a call on which way politicisation of the military has progressed since then and its consequences.
It would be prudent to prepare for the next conflict with China in real earnest, not through fabled narratives in media. Chinese aggression last year coincided with the Wuhan Virus attack. As per Director AIIMS, third round of the pandemic is coming in October. The 1962 Sino-Indian War was fought in October-November. We should not have illusions of no conflict in winters and must stand up to China. If Vietnam did so in 1979 why are we pussyfooting? Finally, unless we are a strong military power no one will respect us in the manner India deserves.
-Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd.) is a veteran of Indian Army. The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in