Strategic Expert Dr Bharat Karnad has been warning against the Chinese incursion and occupation of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh for several weeks now. In an exclusive interview to Rashme Sehgal, Karnad speaks on the standoff.
Excerpts from the interview:
Late Lt Col Santosh Babu’s father B Upender told the media that in the last exchange he had with his son who was posted in Ladakh, Lt Col Babu said there was a wide gulf between the reality on the ground and the news that were being fed to the country? What do you believe he was referring to?
Well, obviously, what’s happening at the front is quite different from the line taken by the government spokespersons who tend to give the best possible spin on events.
Why has China taken the decision to make this unprecedented incursion in eastern Ladakh and why is the Galwan Valley region so important for them?
In the main, to pre-empt India fro musing the newly constructed road connecting Leh and Depsang with the Karakorum Pass to interdict traffic on the Chinese Karakorum Highway and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Indian road primarily serves to supply the Indian army’s Bana Post on the Siachen Glacier.
Is this an attempt by China to boost its own image which has nosedived following the spread of the COVID virus? There are also some rumours that the Chinese President Xi JinPing initiated the exercise because he was facing internal problems within his country. Is this correct?
Both these factors may have prompted Xito order a more aggressive PLA stance in eastern Ladakh. But there’s another reason – to show up India to its neighbours (Pakistan, Nepal) as a weak and vacillating power with whom they can take liberties.
Army sources claim that Lt Col Babu and his troops had met Chinese troops as part of the de-escalation process. But there were around one hundred Chinese soldiers who had taken position and they came up suddenly and attacked the Indian soldiers. Apparently while this scuffle was taking place, a landslide also occurred with troops from both sides falling into the freezing water of Galwan river, increasing the number of casualties.
This may be the probable scenario as it unfolded.
Armed forces personnel are also claiming that Indian intelligence agencies gave them no prior warning of the build up of Chinese fighter bombers, air defence radar, rocket jammers,etc.
This simply cannot be true. The New Delhi-based DIPAC (Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre) that must have picked up the Chinese build-up on the Galwan very early – as early as eight months ago, and would have passed on their assessments to RAW, IB PMO and Military Intelligence in the Defence Ministry. If there was a problem then it must have occurred at the stage when this satellite-derived intel is conveyed to the forward units by the army.
They also claim this information was relayed to the Russian Intelligence in the hope that Russians would exert some pressure on the Chinese. How far is this perception correct?
It is possible, but it is unlikely Moscow would be inclined to pick the Modi government’s chestnuts out of the fire.
Was PM Modi kept in the dark about the Chinese incursion as is being claimed by some government sources?
No. He was in the loop from the beginning.
Is this present incursion linked to the changing of the status of Ladakh to UT and to the abrogation of Article 370?
That’s what the Chinese government spokesman said in Beijing.
Do you see any possibility of this incursion escalating into a war? Are we in a position to win back the positions we had occupied earlier?
Limited war, yes. But not because the Modi government is not desperate to avoid it. We can vacate the Galwan area of the Chinese presence but it will be an arduous military operation and the Indian army will have to show real fortitude.
India was building a strike corps for high altitude fighting in the Himalayas. The idea got abandoned because of lack of funds?
It was abandoned when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley couldn’t find the Rs 64,000 crores to fund the raising of the 17 Corps tasked for offensives in the mountains. The money was, however, found and the Corps raising back on track after the 2017 Dok la confrontation.
Several rivers emanate from the Aksai Chin region and obviously this is an area that the Chinese do not want India to consolidate in.
Yes, China wants to control all the water and river sources on the extended Tibetan plateau; India’s military presence in the contested regions complicates the achievement of that strategic objective.
(Bharat Karnad is Emeritus Professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and author, most recently, of ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition. His ‘Security Wise’ blog is at www.bharatkarnad.com)