A calculative incursion

Coping with an aggressive China

A calculative incursion

In the recent few weeks, Chinese incursion in Ladakh sector appears to be a growing assertiveness to use its armed strength to pressure and influence India over the disputed Himalayan region.

China earlier attempted similar incursions in North Sikkim and other parts of eastern sector, but were firmly contested at the tactical level resulting in their timely withdrawal. This time around, a new calculative strategy of incursion backed by a more modern PLA enforcement capability that demonstrates an aggressive nationalistic streak proved to be worrisome.

McMohan Line and the principle of watershed demarcating the boundary between India and China which the British had seized in their final expansionist foray has been the primary cause of perceptional difference. Given the existential situation, the exact boundary may be difficult to ascertain due to the rugged configuration of mountainous terrain.

Moreover, a boundary running along the watershed will always cause friction between two opposing armies. Such an eyeball scenario is not conducive for restoration of peace and tranquility. The Britishers drew the Durand and McMohan Line probably with the Grand Chess Board strategy of keeping this region in a perpetual state of percolating violence. On the contrary, most countries in the world have their international boundaries running along rivers and valley floors, thus lending to greater peace and prosperity, while the armies remain spatially separated.

Chinese strategic intensions and military capability has witnessed fundamental changes that are reverberating in the rise of China as an engine of economic growth, a major military power, a significant voice in regional diplomacy and a proactive power in multi-lateral institutions. Nevertheless, for long China has been engaged at different levels in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and South China Sea. In the last few years, greater pressure aimed at China has been applied by Asean, Indian Ocean Region countries, Nato forces in Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics, all probably aimed at counter encirclement.

Indian military strategy has evolved over the years. Much effort has been applied in converting a dissuasive framework and posture into a robust, dynamic and offensive deterrent capability. Such a broad based philosophy enables our field army to execute relentless offensive and manoeuvre warfare in the mountain sector. With gradual upgradation of infrastructure and enhancement of military capability, Indian forces could embark upon optimal utilization of military power in real time. China understands this capability and merely resorts to a calculative strategy of incursion without crossing red lines.

Indo-US strategic engagement is being viewed cautiously by China. On this occasion, China carefully evaluated strategic responses from USA and other nations linked to this partnership paradigm. A failing Pakistan provides a dim picture to the China-Pakistan alliance. Such an incursion offered a boost to Pakistan, primarily during their election time, and keeps the flame of a second front alive. China would like India to be sucked into an arms race, thereby spending large amounts towards defence and consequent deprivation to equitable growth of national power. India’s search for energy in the South China Sea and strategic interests in Indian Ocean are all irritants in the scheme of Chinese thinking.
Key variables

We must provide clear, intelligible and forward looking analysis to this incursion. There is a dire necessity to contemplate China’s strong army dream and gain a clearer sense of key variables and possible trajectories. How long will China’s disturbing behaviour last? Is it a long term and qualitative shift towards greater assertiveness and arrogance, how should India respond? Will Chinese do another Kargil type limited war? Did this incursion offer new solutions to resolve the boundary dispute? Was it aimed to teach another lesson?

India must respond to China with realist methods by forward deploying a stronger military on the Himalayas and resort to strategic hedging with strengthened alliances and security partnerships around the Chinese periphery. The Chief of Army Staff has done well by recommending to the government a holistic approach incorporating military, diplomatic and other measures to deal with the recent crisis. A rapid mobilization, acclimatization and induction by a sizeable air borne/air transported force into the sector could offer many options.

An operation executed by Special Forces could well terminate such an incursion into a meaningless Chinese exercise. Cutting off supply lines to Chinese troops would be telling. Our occupation of a strategic position elsewhere on the McMohan Line could offer newer opportunities. The art of negotiating strategy stems from the positional advantage of military options exercised on the field. Towards this end, our military is primed for delivering that strategic blow when the green signal is given.

Labelling incursions as localised, and that diplomatic means alone would resolve issues even in the future is flawed. In this instance, Chinese withdrawal from the site of incursion due to sustained dialogue between the two governments is noteworthy. However, history will not pardon a nation that merely seeks a soft option.

Some would argue that such logic and temptation to counter China will only invite an inexorable action-reaction cycle, fueling the already extant security dilemma in Indo-China relations that neither side seeks. A military cast of this nature could be counter productive. Remember, we have limited economic leverages at this moment to entrap China on other fronts. Our sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be sacrificed at all. Therefore, we need to device a more sophisticated and complex military strategy to deal with China.

India should not acquiesce to a narrative of belligerent threat from China any longer. We have grown to be a power worthy of world acclaim. Our military strategy, backed by a versatile operational art of fighting on the mountains and a robust soldier who will sacrifice his life like the brave men of 13 KUMAN at Rezangla led by professional commanders of very high calibre will continue to remain our hallmark. And our strength.
(The writer is a retired deputy chief of the army staff and has devoted a long career span evolving strategies to deal with China.)

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