A recent call from Saurabh Kumar, our ex-ambassador who consistently gives us rare and valuable insights into Chinese thinking set me thinking. We spoke of many things including the situation in POK. I told him that I had written an article about it in Sep 2019 wherein I had highlighted that military options into POK were the least preferred. I re-read the article. As I read it, a lot of strategic haze lifted and a new perspective emerged on the Sino-Indian logjam.
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) greeting Union Home Minister Amit Shah (L) after the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill and Resolution to revoke Article 370 was passed by the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi on 6 August 2019.
Ever since the intrusions in eastern Ladakh, we have always been wondering as to why China did what it did. What was the Chinese ‘aim’? A lot of views and reasons were put forth. None have really gelled. There is no consensus or clarity on the issue. However, one thing has always been clear. The ‘aim’ was political. The timing was opportunist when India was badly hit by the Chinese virus. Throughout, PLA deployments were non-tactical most of the time, in prim straight lines. Chinese non-tactical military deployments always conveyed a political message. It was always clear to everyone that whatever happened at Eastern Ladakh was not an enhanced military reaction to the Pangong Tso faceoff on 05 May 2020. The overall Chinese aggression parleys at the initial Corps commanders’ meets, and the pre-planned ambush at Galwan had a larger objective. In all this, there was almost complete media silence in China. It was being massively underplayed by China. On the other hand, coverage in India was minute to minute through an imaginative and vocal media and micro knowledgeable ‘China Specialists’. While the military coverage was one-sided – Indian. The political signal was one-sided and subtly overt— Chinese. We could not decipher the political signal. I had also written that ‘Abrogation of Article 370 and reorganisation of the erstwhile state of J&K could have meant many things for many people. For China, it was the cat in its pigeon coop’. I was not wrong. In fact it was more than that. However, I analysed the whole issue looking Eastwards only. I should have looked both East and West. Let me do so now.
The key to Chinese behaviour lies in the Abrogation of Article 370. The act of Parliament was a massive political strike. Though considered and argued as an issue internal to India, and whether our polity understood it or not (more likely not) the abrogation contained three parts. The first part was about changing the status of the erstwhile state of J&K. In one stroke, the state of J&K was transmuted from being disputed territory to undisputed territory sovereign to India. Pakistan hyperventilated by condemning the scrapping of Article 370 in no uncertain terms as also downgrading diplomatic ties, cancelling trade and communication links. Pakistan and its venerated Army were rendered helpless and reduced to hand wringing on the sidelines. They remain there. The second part was about Aksai Chin and China. Initial Chinese reaction and statements were only Ladakh-centric. It termed the change in status of Ladakh as “unacceptable”. The third part was that abrogation of Article 370 was the reorganisation of J&K which resulted in a cartographic change and signalled effect intent to reclaim POK. The key lies in understanding the third part. If I were a Chinese (who think in the long term), I would be very worried.
On Sep 19, just after a month after the abrogation of Article 370, the Defence Minister of India stated “discussion can only take place about Pak-occupied Kashmir”. The then COAS said words to the effect that the Indian Army was ready to retrieve Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and make it a part of India on a cue from the Government. Very clearly, political and military intent was being conveyed internationally that India was planning to retake POK. While a lot of it was rhetoric, the implications for the Chinese and Pakistanis were grave even if they materialised partially. More than the military, it was the political intent that was problematic to the Chinese. The CCP and Xi Jinping are a breed that constantly thinks politically. The Chinese knew that the current government in India was fully capable of initiating action to retake POK. They were clear that Pakistan and its finances were going down the chute. The ‘Deep State’ was in a fix and marginalised by India. In such a situation what if POK including Gilgit Baltistan go into political turmoil? What if one of them or both were to be taken over by India in some manner in the future? That would herald the collapse of many Sino Pak equations. The CPEC and BRI would sink. Superpower dreams would recede permanently. Worst of all India would have direct access to Xinjiang! Trouble in Xinjiang was to be avoided at all costs. Handling such a situation would be beyond Pakistan. All or some of this was feasible even if POK went into turmoil and was not annexed by India. Further, India could get access to Afghanistan through a direct or a hybrid approach. That would be just straight into the Wakhan Corridor! In turn, it meant three things. Firstly, India would have become a dominant player in Afghanistan and along with it would come the USA with its flag. Secondly. Another entry point into Xinjiang would have opened up. Thirdly any Indian interference in Afghanistan where China was eyeing minerals and had already invested in a copper mine would have severe ramifications. There was too much at stake politically for China.
Turn to Aksai Chin. India was doing the ‘Salami Slicing’ trick on China out of the Chinese playbook! In one stroke, abrogation of Article 370 stoked and renewed, India’s claim on Aksai Chin and violated the status-quo through an act of the Parliament! All previous Sino-Indian agreements fell under a political cloud. India reiterated, that China was in illegal occupation of the area just as the nine-dash line did to the South China Sea. To this, add the fact that the Darbuk- Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldy road was nearing completion. India was raising a Mountain Strike Corps! From a Chinese (long term) viewpoint all these directly threatened the CPEC and the sensitive area of Xinjiang surrounded by the Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan.
If the issue was allowed to fester, India could have access to Xinjiang and Tibet through multiple points. China would have been forced to look inwards with potential instability in Tibet and Xinjiang. India could have started playing a global and regional role which was totally unacceptable to China. Then there would also be the major issue of loss of face and superpower dream recession. Take all these issues into consideration and one realises that China had to do something. What could it do? It could go to war against India and teach it a lesson. That could be too costly politically and risky militarily since the outcomes were unpredictable. It could warn India militarily and put it in place through a calibrated action. India had to be finessed so that it could never think beyond the LAC. If India was tied down to the LAC and if some gain of territory was also achieved, then the larger danger would have receded while putting India at a permanent disadvantage and showing it up as a weak nation. The rest would be history.
A year after the Galwan incident, it will be prudent to assess where we are headed. Very clearly, the Ladakh intrusions by the Chinese have limited the political potential and effect of abrogation of Article 370. It put paid to further Indian thought of progressing towards Gilgit, Baltistan, or POK. It has forced and focused discussion on the LAC instead of Aksai Chin. To that extent, the Chinese plot has been successful. However, what China did not count on was what happened at Galwan. It forced the nation to react. The national reaction surprised the Chinese. Further the Kailash Range operations upset their apple cart totally. China had to cede ground humiliatingly from the North Bank of Pangong Tso under international glare. They are now holding on to marginal gains at Gogra and Depsang for what they feel as ascendancy over India. Overall, it is now well analysed that the strange Sino-Indian military confrontation has ended in a stalemate. It will remain so given the enhanced troop levels on both sides. However, a strategic opportunity has opened up for India.
Let us look at it from another viewpoint. The Chinese have been fixed at Eastern Ladakh. They are now looking at permanent deployment there. They have been forced to deploy considerable troops in Xinjiang and Tibet. That is fine as we are matching them and the situation is stable for the present. In the West, Pakistan has weakened further considerably in the past year. The USA is withdrawing from Afghanistan. There is not only a vacuum emerging there but the situation is descending inexorably into chaos. Pakistan is slowly being forced to commit itself fully there. It has no choice. China must also start looking there. It is time to start creating conditions politically for retaking POK as envisaged earlier. POK is the centre of gravity of the China-India-Pakistan triangle. Let us feed into the Sino-Pak fears here and make them come true.
What does it involve? It involves creating political conditions in POK so that the people want to re-join India. Most of the spadework of sowing dissent in POK has already been done by Pakistan. The people of POK have never been so dissatisfied with Pakistan as now. That has to be built upon. In order for that to happen, we need internal strength. The government must generate bipartisan political support for any move in that direction. Further, the issue will not resolve in a hurry. It will take time and will be a long haul. That is what we need to start preparing for. That is what Liddel Hart postulated in his classic “Strategy of Indirect Approach”
PS: Some of you might think that all this farfetched and a figment of my fertile imagination. Fine! However, do not forget that we are dealing with the Chinese. Also, life is always not so simple that one can get away by thinking straight.
Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on www.gunnersshot.com
On 19 September, just a month after the abrogation of Article 370, the Defence Minister of India stated that “discussion can only take place about Pak-occupied Kashmir”. The then COAS said that the Indian Army was ready to retrieve Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and make it a part of India. Very clearly, political and military intent was being conveyed internationally that India was planning to retake POK. While a lot of it was rhetoric, the implications for the Chinese and Pakistanis were grave even if they materialised partially. More than the military, it was the political intent that was problematic to the Chinese.
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AIR MARSHAL SURAJ KUMAR JHA ASSUMES CHARGE AS AIR OFFICER IN CHARGE PERSONNEL
Air Marshal Suraj Kumar Jha has assumed the appointment of Air Officer in Charge Personnel at Air HQ. The Air Marshal was commissioned in the Fighter stream of IAF on 08 June 1984. In a career spanning 37 years, the Air Officer has flown over 2900 hours, including operational flying on a wide variety of fighter aircraft in the inventory of IAF.
During his career, the Air Officer has held numerous important appointments. He was the Commanding Officer of a front-line fighter squadron and has also commanded a premier fighter base. As an Air Vice Marshal, he held the coveted appointments of Air Officer Commanding Advance Headquarters, Commandant of College of Air Warfare, Assistant Chief of Integrated Defence Staff at Head Quarter IDS and Joint Secretary (Air) at the newly established Department of Military Affairs under Ministry of Defence. As an Air Marshal prior to taking over the present appointment, he was Deputy Chief of the Air Staff at Air HQ. The Air Marshal is an alumnus of Defence Services Staff College Wellington. In recognition of his service, the Air Marshal was awarded Mention-in-Despatches in 1999 for Kargil Ops and Ati Vishisht Seva Medal in 2021.
INS KHANJAR MAKES MAIDEN VISIT TO GOPALPUR PORT
Indian Naval Ship Khanjar becomes the first Indian Navy ship to call at the heritage coastal port of Gopalpur in Odisha. The two-day visit which concluded on Monday was organised as part of Aazadi ka Amrit Mahotsav as well as Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Independence and the 50th anniversary of the 1971 War. The maiden visit of the Naval Ship was aimed at enhancing ties and spreading awareness with the local populace on aspects of coastal security and maritime operations.
During the visit, ship’s officers interacted with Port Officials and discussed aspects related to berthing facilities for OTR of Naval ships and security overview of port infrastructure. The ship’s team also undertook a cleanup drive at Gopalpur beach and tree plantation in the port premises. In addition, books and dry provisions were distributed to Samarth Orthopedically Handicapped Welfare Association, at Chatrapur in Ganjam district.
SWARNIM VIJAY VARSH VICTORY FLAME RECEIVED BY ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR COMMAND
The Victory Flame of Swarnim Vijay Varsh, commemorating the 50th anniversary of India’s victory in the 1971 war, was received by Commanding Officer, 231 Transit Camp, Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) Col Gyan Pandey on behalf of ANC in Chennai. The Victory Flame, after covering 3,000 km on the mainland, is scheduled to travel 700 nm (1300 km) in the sea onboard the Indian Naval Ship Sumedha and reach Port Blair. On reaching Port Blair, the Flame will be received by the Lieutenant Governor, A&N Islands, Admiral (Retd) DK Joshi who would then hand it over to Commander-in-Chief, Andaman and Nicobar Command (CINCAN) Lieutenant General Ajai Singh for the conduct of commemorative activities under the aegis of ANC.
The Victory Flame would be taken to the towns of Port Blair, Mayabunder, Baratang, Diglipur, Hutbay, Car Nicobar and Campbell Bay, wherein it would be hosted by local defence establishments and would be on display for visitors and war veterans. Various events such as interaction with War veterans/Ex-serviceman/War widows, showcasing of the flame through the important streets, culture/entertainment programs, and cycle expeditions are planned at various stations. The flame will also be taken to Landfall Islands, the Northernmost deployment of ANC; Barren Island, India’s only active volcano and Indira Point, the southernmost point of the country. The journey aims to spread the message of India’s victory and the sacrifices of our war heroes to the remotest areas and shores of the country.
In December 1971, the Indian Armed Forces had secured victory over the Pakistan Army, and a new nation ‘Bangladesh’ was created. The victory resulted in the largest military surrender post World War II wherein approximately 93,000 soldiers of the Pakistan Army surrendered to the Indian Army. The ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh’ celebrations began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi lighting the Victory Flame on 16 December 2020. The Victory Flame was lit from the eternal flame of the National War Memorial, signifying the bravery of the soldiers of the war. Since then, the Victory Flame is travelling across the length and breadth of India and a large number of commemorative events are being conducted during its journey.
NAVIES OF INDIA, INDONESIA UNDERTAKE 36TH EDITION OF COORDINATED PATROL
Indian Naval Ship (INS) Saryu, an indigenously built Offshore Patrol Vessel, is undertaking coordinated patrol (CORPAT) with Indonesian Naval Ship KRI Bung Tomo last weekend. The 36th edition of CORPAT between India and Indonesia will also witness the participation of Maritime Patrol Aircraft from both nations. The exercise, being conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ exercise in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, highlights the high degree of mutual trust and confidence, synergy and cooperation between the two friendly navies.
India and Indonesia have been carrying out Coordinated Patrols along the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) twice a year since 2002, to keep this vital part of the Indian Ocean Region safe and secure for commercial shipping, international trade and conduct of legitimate maritime activities. CORPATs help build understanding and interoperability between navies and facilitate the institution of measures to prevent and suppress Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) fishing, drug trafficking, mari-time terrorism, armed robbery and piracy.
As part of the Government of India’s vision of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region), the Indian Navy has been proactively engaging with countries in the Indian Ocean Region to enhance maritime security in the region. India and Indonesia have traditionally enjoyed a close and friendly rela-tionship covering a wide spectrum of activities and interactions, which have strengthened over the years. Maritime interactions have been growing steadily between the two navies with frequent port visits, bilat-eral exercises and training exchanges. The 36th edition of India-Indonesia CORPAT seeks to bolster the maritime cooperation between the two navies and forge strong bonds of friendship across the Indo Pa-cific.
DEFENCE SECRETARY LAUNCHES WEBSITE ON 75TH INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS
The mobile app of the IDC 2021 platform will be launched in the coming days.
India is celebrating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, marking the 75th year of Independence from the foreign rule. The whole country is gripped into a patriotic fervour. To mark this momentous occasion, Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar launched a website on the 75th Independence Day Celebrations 2021 (IDC 2021), https://indianidc2021.mod.gov.in, in New Delhi on Tuesday. It is a platform to connect Indians from the world over to celebrate the National Festival. The mobile app of the IDC 2021 platform will be launched in the coming days. The platform is freely accessible to all and provides updates and information regarding activities centred on the IDC 2021. It encompasses the entire Indian diaspora as if they were a part of the celebrations in person. It is an attempt to engage people of all ages, especially the youth.
For the first time ever, the platform will live stream the Independence Day Celebrations from the majestic Red Fort on 15 August 2021, in Virtual Reality (VR) 360 degree format. People can use this feature with or without VR Gadget. The platform also provides features like a special IDC Radio, Gallery, Interactive filters, E-books on deeds of Gallantry, 50 years of 1971 victory and Blogs on the Freedom Movement, Wars and War Memorials. Netizens can also log on to know the information related to the Independence Day event including minute-to-minute programme, route map, parking details, RSVP and details of other activities. The programme calendar for all initiatives taken by various ministries to mark the occasion is also available on the platform. Around 40 events are being organised across the country by the Armed Forces and various other segments of the Ministry of Defence, including Border Roads Organisation (BRO), National Cadet Corps (NCC) and Indian Coast Guard (ICG). Under the unique web-based RSVP system, a QR code will be affixed on each invitation card which is to be scanned by the invitee using his/her smartphone. On scanning the QR code, a web link will be generated through which the invitee will be directed to the web portal. On the portal, invitees can submit their willingness to attend the function.
Speaking on the occasion, Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar said, the platform aims to imbibe the culture of togetherness among the masses so that they can celebrate this landmark occasion and unite under the common identity of being Indians. He shed light on the number of activities planned in the run-up to IDC 2021, including all women mountaineering expedition at Mount Manirang, 75 medical camps being organised by BRO and statue cleaning activities to be carried by NCC cadets at 75 places across the country. Dr Ajay Kumar added that people will soon be able to pay online tribute to the fallen heroes at the National War Memorial (NWM) in New Delhi. Interactive kiosks are being set up at NWM where people can pay homage to the brave hearts through digital means, he stated. The Defence Secretary also said that motivational talks with gallantry awardees or their next-to-kin and Veer Naris are also being organised as part of the IDC 2021. The details of the events are available on the website.
VICE ADMIRAL GHORMADE ASSUMES CHARGE AS VICE CHIEF OF THE NAVAL STAFF
Vice Admiral SN Ghormade, AVSM, NM has assumed charge as the Vice Chief of Naval Staff from Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC at a formal ceremony held at South Block, New Delhi. Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar is retired after glorious service of 39 years.
Vice Admiral SN Ghormade is an alumni of the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, Naval Staff College at the United States Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, and the Naval War College, Mumbai. The Flag Officer was commissioned in the Indian Navy on 1st Jan 1984 and is a Navigation and Direction specialist. The Flag Officer has had extensive operational tenures onboard frontline warships of the Indian Navy. During his career spanning over 37 years, he has been through a myriad of operational and staff appointments. His important operational appointments include Commands of Guided Missile Frigate INS Brahmaputra, Submarine Rescue Vessel INS Nireekshak, and Minesweeper INS Alleppey, and Second-in-Command of Guided Missile Frigate INS Ganga. INS Nireekshak was awarded the Unit Citation for the first time during his command.
His important staff appointments ashore include Assistant Chief of Personnel (Human Resources Development), Principal Director of Personnel, Director Naval Plans and Joint Director Naval Plans at Naval Headquarters as separate assignments, Director (Military Affairs) at the Ministry of External Affairs (Disarmament & International Security Affairs), Local Workup Team (West), and Instructor at the Navigation Direction School and the National Defence Academy. The officer also held the coveted appointments of Flag Officer Commanding Karnataka Naval Area and Flag Officer Commanding Maharashtra Naval Area. In the rank of Vice Admiral he has held the challenging and coveted appointments of Director General Naval Operations, Chief of Staff Eastern Naval Command and Controller Personnel Services. The Flag Officer was holding the tri-service appointment of Deputy Chief (Operations & Training) at Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff prior taking over the present appointment as Vice Chief of the Naval Staff at IHQ MoD(N).The Flag officer was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal on 26th Jan 17 and Nausena Medal in 2007 by the President of India, and Commendation by the Chief of the Naval Staff in 2000.
He has succeeded Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar who retires after more than 39 years of illustrious service. During his tenure as VCNS, the Navy saw an increase in budget allocation with 100% utilisation of allocated budget with impetus on capital acquisition. He proactively pushed for adopting ‘AtmaNirbhar Bharat’ Mission with Navy allocating more than 2/3rd of capital procurement from indigenous sources, 39 out of 41 ships and submarines for Indian Navy are being constructed in Indian Shipyards. The first ever procurement case under the Strategic Partnership Model for Project 75(I) was successfully progressed for issuance of RFP during his tenure. Many other instances of technological advancements, capability enhancements and research and development projects with DRDO and DPSU were progressed during his illustrious tenure.
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