Author : Vikram Sood

Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Jun 26, 2020
The Galwan narrative

Personal diplomacy has its uses as an icebreaker and a trendsetter for the future.

But for this to be achieved in the long term, both sides should have a reason to succeed and adequate mechanisms that function smoothly. In the case of India and China, there was no intention for President of China Xi Jinping to want to succeed unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Xi was and is only interested in acquiring absolute power. There is no other reason for what has happened over the recent weeks in Ladakh. Xi earlier came to Ahmedabad and deeply embarrassed his host by sending his troops to Chumar while he sat on the swing pretending bonhomie with his Indian counterpart. The intruders remained there throughout and even beyond the visit. Modi did not flinch, however much this incident would have angered him and embarrassed the government. This was the Atithi Devo Bhavo (the guest is god) syndrome being used by Indians on a man who did not believe in such niceties. The muted reaction probably gave the Chinese the feeling that, as before, India would be pliant. Consequently, Doklam happened in 2017. However, this time, Modi did not blink. Nevertheless, India continued with the Wuhan and Mamalappuram dialogues, this was the best exhibition of intent - of desiring normal relationships in the larger Asian continent.

Instead, China clearly escalated the provocation in May this year. In Galwan, as in similar incidents in the past, the eagerness and glee with which sections of our strategists and intellectuals have believed the worst about India and this government was worrying. This alacrity to accept negativity being spread by the enemy is counter-productive, as this attitude reflects an irrational criticism for the serving dispensation in New Delhi. This is worrying because it indicates a desire to make peace with the enemy, giving the other side more space in our public narrative on a critical national security matter. At least the opposition by and large stood behind the government except sadly for the leading opposition party.

A few aspects emerge from what has happened in Galwan and across the entire length of the LAC, along with Chinese activities in Nepal and Bangladesh. The string of pearls analogy applies here. The narrative that China will give space to India in Asia is extinct. We will have to revisit our quaint narratives of following a principled foreign policy and our desire for strategic autonomy. The only principle is national interest and the narrative will have to revolve around this without any sentimentality.

The Chinese spread the fear of the unknown when they shielded the Covid-19 (Wuhan virus) threat from the world. China sees India as a prospective rival and an impediment in the region given India’s attitude towards BRI and CPEC, which goes though territory that belongs to India. There is no point trying to find out why China did this now. The underlying reason is the Chinese attitude towards India has remained unchanged since 1949 and our hope that they will change their postures has also not diminished for some unknown reason. It is one thing to believe in peace and think it is possible and then limit overall security and psychological preparedness. It is realistic to desire peace and simultaneously prepare for other contingencies, physically and mentally. China let itself loose on the Wuhan virus, as records show that nearly 7 million travellers left the region in January for travel within and out of China before travel was restricted, it has provoked Japan, pressured Taiwan, encroached into South China Sea China amongst others, exhibiting new levels of irresponsible international behavior.

The latest update is also that military level talks have made headway. It will be quite some time before any direct political talks will take place. This gives time to assess the short term and long-term futures. In the short term, it is prudent to expect Pakistan to try and take advantage of the situation, and with the onset of summer, there can be heightened terrorism in Kashmir. Galwan may not be the last foray by the Chinese. Smarting under the setback, they will try to strike back somewhere else because 2020 is not 1967 when not many got to know that the Chinese had suffered a defeat at Nathu La. Today the entire world knows what happened in Ladakh, and China will want to save face.

In the long term, we need to accept that Pakistan and China will not change. Assess your choices and capabilities for the long haul, not base the entire judgment on one or two military battles. The confrontation is far more long term and we must prepare for the future bearing this in mind. None of the honey and sugar Track-2 dialogues will yield any results. The Pakistan military is not interested, and such ploys are meant to buy time and lull the gullible ones. It is far more real to accept that we are in a two-front war scenario, and prepare accordingly for the long haul that is to come. This two-front war became apparent in 1963 when Pakistan ceded Shaksgam, a part of then Jammu and Kashmir it had illegally occupied, to China. In that sense, this two front war has been on for nearly 60 years already. Pakistan then took China’s help to construct a Pakistan-China highway through Gilgit and Baltistan. They deliberately named it the Karakorum Highway whereas the pass was at Khunjerab, and Karakorum Pass was in erstwhile northern Jammu & Kashmir (now under the UT of Ladakh). New Delhi lodged protests but no one cared.

Preparing militarily, economically, and psychologically is of utmost importance. Lulls can be deceptive and intentionally created as the enemy regroups. Numerically, and in terms of quantities of equipment, the Chinese PLA would be packing much more but not all of it would be usable in the Himalayan terrain and a force such as the Indian Air Force would in fact hold an advantage. Much is made out by the Chinese about the preparedness of their forces, but the last battles they fought were in Vietnam. The PLA did not come out too well from these engagements meant to teach the Vietnamese a lesson. As it happened, the Vietnamese gave the PLA a bloody nose and the PLA retreated, having learnt a few lessons instead. Historically, the Chinese could never defeat the Japanese in any of their military engagements of the 19th century and this is one of China’s main grouses against Japan. It took the Allies and their armed might to help Chiang Kai-shek defeat the Japanese in China during the Second World War. The PLA’s main prowess is in brutally subduing Tibetans and Uighurs to the extent of even trying to change demographic patterns for the future. Apart from 1962, which was a major setback as India was caught ill prepared and ill advised, the Indian Army’s record in wars against Pakistan is impeccable, its counter-terror ability is better than most professional armed forces. It would be prudent if the political opposition did not mix military and political issues.

Undoubtedly, India’s security establishment will sit down to do a SWOT analysis for the future. It will factor in China’s stealth systems - be it the probabilities of biological warfare that some believe what the Wuhan virus was, or cyber warfare by letting lose its hackers to cripple Indian systems. These are two activities that China can strike, cause immense damage, and adhere to its principle of trying to win without waging an actual war. Our own intentions and capabilities must match these new realities. This is an effort that cannot be sporadic or haphazard. It may be worthwhile to examine whether we can give China grief on Tibet if it chooses to give us grief in Kashmir or Ladakh. China cannot expect to use Pakistan as a foil and India does not have a counterfoil, and we should give up our historical hesitations.

Intelligence and military capabilities must synchronize. Modern day intelligence requirements, however, extend beyond simple military calculations. Security today is a much wider term. Our capabilities and intentions will help create a new narrative for ourselves and a more balanced political system, where institutions such as the political opposition learn that the days of entitled politics is over, and this approach on non-negotiable national security issues will serve India better. India must plan now and not flinch.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood is Advisor at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Sood is the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — India’s foreign intelligence agency. ...

Read More +