Let’s admit that there is a situation in eastern Ladakh and it’s quite tense. This tension is palpable to the troops stationed there and the army commanders monitoring it; the rest of the stress is in media.
The nation as such is unaware of the anxieties wrapped in complexities characterising the episode that is now in its third year-running, because of the remoteness of the geography and also because of China factor.
This should have been a matter of serious reflection and voicing of desire for adequate strategies to neutralise the threat on the borders in the sensitive region.
Again it is a matter of perception that how the nation views China. The public is not fed with the theatrics about China by know-all TV channels and social media, they discreetly differentiate between what is to be talked about and what all should be kept off eyes of the public.
That puts gravity of the situation in eastern Ladakh in background, and there is no attempt to have even a rear view mirror image of the tensions in the region and its geopolitical implications.
China, as many would agree, is not like any other nation in the world. Its importance in the global affairs cannot be undermined, and that’s the reason the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) in Tokyo, was inferred as an alliance against China to protect the interests of Indo-Pacific region against the designs of China to expand its influence through diplomacy and the military might.
That demands different response when it comes to dealing with Beijing. The Indian diplomacy prowess has started working in its own way to deal with a unique situation in eastern Ladakh, alongside the military deployment and logistic support needed for the deployment in the Himalayan territory.
Is this the situation that India would be satisfied with as a fait accompli? No, not at all. The Chinese troops, we are told, would be made to restore status quo ante of pre-April 2020 position. Is that a long call? Yes, of course it is, as China is not just adamant in not relenting from the current position, it is demanding something more – to unilaterally alter the status of the Line of Actual Control, a border that runs through rivers, rocks and undefined sandstones.
This is unacceptable. How can one country be allowed to change the border at its own will, against the very idea of mutual agreement and maintenance of peace on the borderline. This is violation of the international law.
The Indian Army Chief Gen. Manoj Pande understood genre of the Chinese strategy as he underscored, “China wants to keep the boundary issue alive.” This is both drawn from his knowledge and experience of the complexities involved in the tense standoff in eastern Ladakh.
It is also his sense of prescience which would help India to devise its counter strategy to check what Beijing wants to happen. Chinese ambitions are known and these need to be checked.
The containment has to be different from what was perceived and propagated by the great American diplomat George F Kennan to contain the communist influence in Europe and elsewhere. The relevance of this theory is past time, because it is 2022 when China is much more than a Communist country, it is an economic giant, which has many countries, most of them non-Communist, under its influence because of its economic might and skillful use of its population and technology.
India is “ vishvguru” in its own right. It cannot become pawn of the west to contain China, and on its own it will have to find its own way of doing things, diplomatically and militarily without allowing the standoff situation to deteriorate.
True as it is on this day of 2022 – India has moved on from 1962 when it lost the war to China and conceded a lot of territory of geostrategic importance. But the opportunities missed in between this period are quite scary.
China clocked the 2022 timeline much before the pages on calendar turned to the current year- it organised logistics, communications and preparedness for such long standoffs. It created world class infrastructure and connectivity, while India was sleepwalking.
India woke up to the need for better border connectivity in the recent years only. Some of the projects that were left mid-way or abandoned because of the disinterest or other occupations of the governments were completed in the past five to seven years.
This sight of the roads reaching close to the LAC and aggressive work on roads, bridges and tunnels in the border areas made China uncomfortable.
That made it uncomfortable as it knew that matching infrastructure and communications on the Indian side would end all its advantages in the timeline and geography.
In fact, that is what made China to create a situation wherein it could establish optics of its supremacy, making India to go in for counter measures and opt for dialogue to end the standoff and to address the larger issue of settling the boundaries once and for all.
By any stretch of imagination, it is not a happy situation for India. More than 60,000 troops deployed in the Himalayan heights, maintaining 24x7 vigil without knowing what would happen next with what consequence.
The Indian troops are also watching how China is constructing bridges across Pangong Tso, a strategic advance, which it claims is in its area.
The Indian position is well articulated by the ministry of external affairs spokesperson that these are Indian territories under Chinese occupation.
The Chinese activities are being monitored. This is a zigzagging the issue or, in other words, a seesaw optic in history. The history needs to be retrieved. How ?
How it will be done cannot be forecast, because forecasting is a risky business. It is a military situation overlapped with diplomatic orientation, and it cannot be resolved unless there are necessary tools with India.
These tools gain extra importance as India has time and again ruled American or any other third country intervention in the resolution of this military crisis, which was linked to the expansionist tendencies of China in league with what it is doing in South China sea and contested islands with Japan.
India needs to send a message of its firmness in eastern Ladakh with a lot of assertion and at the same time with extreme caution.
This is important not only for its own domestic reasons and strategic needs but also for the international community. The Indian diplomats know that what message international community is drawing from this Himalayan standoff.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.