India’s Pre-emptive moves at Pangong Tso and What Should Be Our Next Steps

Indian Border troops and Chinese troops at Nathu La (Image Courtesy: Brookings)

For two days now, the news cycles have been abuzz about the happenings of the midnight of 31 Aug 2020, when unlike the pre-emptive move of two days back earlier to the chagrin of the Communist China’s People’s LIberation Army (PLA), Indian military pushed in battalions of Special Forces to take over strategic points on the southern bank of the Pangong Tso. This extremely erudite move has literally defanged the PLA’s capabilities to throw a surprise or even use their traditional swarming tactics which need an element of surprise to succeed. While this is not the first time that India has dared to stare back the PLA behemoth in its eye, there are reasons to be cautiously jubilant.

Lessons Learnt from Operation Falcon Applied Truly Well

While experts like Nitin Gokhale will certainly contribute much more to the discourse with their enriched and accurate ground reporting, it would be very important to point out that India has surprised the Chinese through this tactical move to no end. This is perhaps a fitting tribute to the sagacity of the erstwhile Indian Army Chief General Krinshnaswamy Sundarji. In 1986, a much underestimated India had once again thwarted Chinese ambitions of capturing strategic positions along the Sumdorong Chu and Namka Chu streams by airlifting forces to take up positions on Hathung La ridge overlooking Sumdorong Chu along with three other key mountain features. Communist China, bewildered by Operation Falcon, threatened the same kind of bluster as the one being delivered these days about the PLA’s supposed superiority.

The standoff even as it lasted for more than a year, compelled the Chinese to talk peace, eventually leading to the famed Rajiv Gandhi-Li Peng meet in 1988. Interestingly, it was at the same time, India had decided to convert Arunachal, which was a centrally administered territory till then, into a full-fledged state. Similarities to this can be seen in the move to change the status of the Ladakh-Gilgit-Baltistan-Kargil region as well, with it being made a Union Territory that enables the Central government to keep its military guard up. Just as then, the Communist Chinese regime had called the move illegal and even threated repercussions. Clearly, the military and the civilian establishments have learnt their lessons well from the Operation’s success.

Enter the Vikasi – a Nightmare Scenario for Chinese Communist Party

One of the smartest moves that was undertaken place as part of the special force pre-emptive deployment has been the use of Vikas Battalion or the Special Frontier Forces. Raised in the immediate aftermath of the 1962 Sino-India war, it was a covert outfit which recruits primarily Tibetans and falls under the purview of the Cabinet Secretariat. The units that comprise the SFF are known as Vikas battalions. The use of a Tibetan heavy battalion is not just a physical but also a psychological attack on the Communist regime for a host of reasons. It essentially threatens to shred the One China claim of the Communists to pieces, as the visual of Tibetans facing the Chinese embarrasses them to no end. Parsing through the statement of Hua Chunying, one of the spokespersons for the Communist regime’s Foreign Ministry, to Reuters on the question of the Tibetan origin soldier who died in the exercise, one observes the frustration and worry about it behind the words.

You were talking about whether there are Tibetans-in-exile in Indian troops. I’m not aware of that, perhaps you can ask your colleague in India to ask the Indian side….. We need to think about the Tibetan issue, and the ins and outs and role of the United States. China’s position is very clear. We oppose any country, of course that includes India, to provide any facilitation or venue to forces advocating Tibet independence. As to the relationship between Tibetans in-exile and in Indian troops, I am also very curious. If you could get more information with your report, I would appreciate that.”

What scares them is the fact that unlike the other provinces, Tibet is the one that has seen the most unrest. Coupled with the on-going agitation in Inner Mongolia on the abolition of the official education in Mongolian language and the never-ending protests in Hong Kong against the trampling of democratic values and illegal imposition of the National Security Law and the Communist regime is witnessing what it perceives a slide into anarchy under President Xi Jinping. News of the Tibetan soldiers dying has the potential to become a rallying point for ethnic Tibetans within the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Qinghai to protest and maybe even rebel, as many twitter users have also remarked. Having the Tibetan government-in-exile into the picture and the presence of the Dalai Lama will certainly come in handy when it comes to continued pressure, and may prove to be Xi’s undoing, as he faces challenges from within in a major way.

Looking Ahead – China Should Not be Given a Lifeline

Given the past precedents, it is obvious that Communist China will try to reach out eventually after a few months of more bluster to reach some kind of amicable settlement. China was globally isolated post the Tiananmen Square fiasco, and India gave it a lifeline of sorts by accepting to have some kind of peace and trade deal. However, the similarities between then and now should be seen in some context to take the next step.

At that time, it was the Narasimha Rao government that reached out to the Chinese Communist regime in 1993 and signed deals including military ones. Ironically, the Chinese themselves decided to violate it recently in Galwan valley. This was a strategic mistake, for it let other countries to come forth and start dealing with the Communist regime that had killed ten thousand of its own citizens who were demonstrating for democracy. This time around too, China stands globally isolated, thanks to its absolutely irresponsible behaviour on the COVID-19 pandemic. Using this as a pretext of feeling cornered, it is engaging in bluster to the point of firing missiles into the South China Sea and engaging with India militarily in the Himalayas.

The Communist regime would have collapsed had it not received any acceptability then. This time too, the chances of the evil regime falling remain high, given the inefficacy that people have openly started to talk of President Xi. An open letter to President Xi that called him a ‘big nothing’ and lambasted his handling of the COVID pandemic among other failures has been much popular among the Chinese people. The National Security Law application in Hong Kong also highlights the fear they have of ethnic Chinese rallying behind Hong Kong protestors, even as allegations of China enacting the law because of a bankrupt foreign currency reserve, something vehemently denied. It is therefore wise to question the need to talk at the highest levels and give any kind of legitimacy to the Communist regime from outside, especially at this juncture when the party is burning bridges with possibly every country, even if there are offers to talk. 

Given the tough position that countries like the United States, Japan, Australia, VietNam and the European Union increasingly are taking with the Communist regime of China, it would be adversarial to India’s real interests in giving any legitimacy to this thoroughly corrupt and discredited system. If there were a word of advice that could be put from this end, it would simply be this – ignore, ignore, and ignore the present Communist regime of China. Biding time till the regime change happens or at least President Xi is put out of the way by the Party is our best bet for a medium-term solution. The 1993 consensus died in Galwan valley; however, the new consensus should certainly not be allowed to come up on the shoulder-like ridges of Pangong Tso.


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