China-India border tiff & Modi’s Nehru predicament


Iqbal Khan
INDIAN strategist Pravin Sawhney tweeted after All
Parties Conference convened by Prime Minister
Modi: “19 June marks landmark day in India’s military history when PLA won both battle & war without firing a shot. My congratulations to China on its well planned and executed strategy leading to its stunning and deserved victory. Long live India-China friendship. Jai Hind.” Modi told a lie to his political colleagues during an online all parties’ conference on 19 June. He chose Ostrichic posturing to deny Chinese incursion into Indian territory. If India maintains that Line of Actual Control (LAC) is de facto border between China and India, at least in Ladakh area, then Chinese are deep inside Indian territory. Though from Chinese perspective they are still well inside Chinese Claim Line (CCL). Has India abdicated its claim with regard to LAC without fighting? Apparently yes.
Wake up Narendra Modi! It’s War Stupid! And yes, everyone knows you do not have the option to fight a war against China—not even against Pakistan. The US leadership (bipartisan) is biting their nails for having invested so heavily on India for doing heavy lifting in their task—China containment. War against China was not an option for Nehru either, in 1962. According to Shekhar Gupta “Nehru took a decision (“I have told my army to throw out the Chinese”) that might have looked brave, but was divorced from reality. History has judged him harshly. Not as a brave, tough leader who “died” fighting, as politically and physically, he never recovered from that decision. He will forever be seen as a weakling who went to war against his conviction”.
In 1962, China was not a nuclear power, and linear battle was called war. Today, Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) can activate land, space, cyber, air, missiles, electro magnetic spectrum even in limited war. The politics and strategic, philosophical and ideological thought Modi and his ideological and political parents, RSS and BJP, have constructed is founded on not being like Nehru. In 2020, Modi has many advantages. The opposition is weak, parliament is no threat and the armed forces are in an enormously better state, despite PLA’s modernisation. The pressure on Modi is to respond immediately, in anger, and exasperation just to be seen to be doing something, as Nehru did. Dilemma is “How to show fellow Indians and the world that you [Modi] are not Nehru of 1962, without doing precisely what Nehru did under pressure in that fateful year”.
He [Modi], however, shares one weakness with Nehru: “A larger than life public image, and a thin skin. That is what Xi has seen as an exposed flank”. From Chumar to Doklam to Pulwama, the Chinese have noticed how vital a factor “face” is for Modi in his domestic politics. There is a compulsion to look hard, decisive, risk-taking, start something and then conclude it in a way you can claim victory. There is no easy option to achieve that against China. Remember how embarrassing Pakistan’s response to Balakot was. China has the capability of algorithmic multi-domain and cross-domain war. Indian military leadership has not even started conceptualizing this kind of war. They are not yet able to come out of mesmerising illusions of conceptually stale war fighting strategy—Hybrid Warfare. With China would bring India another crushing defeat, in exchange for paltry American aid and ego massaging; and nothing is free as long as Trump is in the White House.
International community is in a wait and sees mood. Modi rejected President Donald Trump’s mediation offer. Then Russia came in the game and invited the two Foreign Ministers for a meeting, but this trilateral meeting scheduled for June 22, could not materialise. This will delay disengagement of troops on ground. PLA is in its permanent habitat in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), hence it will not be affected, Indian Army formations inducted from outside to beef Ladakh based forces will have problems. Indian Army is in low morale and is in no mood to fight. It has transported Bofors Artillery with its Israeli Copper tipped shells. Without realising that there are no corresponding targets for it. Indian Air Force is not fit for war, its performance in Pulwama-Balakot episode with Pakistan brought it humiliation. And India Navy is no factor, one does not expect Indian aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to come to combat zone.
Indian Army’s professional proficiency was found lacking during recent ambush type mission. A contingent of 35 men along with their Commanding Officer crossed over to Chinese area during night, ostensibly to evict Chinese from some of the tactically important features. In hand to hand fight that ensued, India expeditioners suffered heavy casualties. Alongside 22 deaths including the commanding officer, ten combatants were taken prisoner. Prisoners have since been released and Indian media is mourning the slain combaters. Episode of unarmed yet deadly combat has triggered an interesting debate in India military circles as to: Why did contingent go “Unarmed” to Chinese side to tell them to vacate area? As per military drill personnel should have carried arms. In all probability, political leadership had made clear to Indian Army that it did not want escalation. Azaan Javaid in his June 20 piece for The Print, titled: “Ladakh, scenic Himalayan desert at the centre of most fierce India-China conflict in 53 yrs”, reported that: “When the United Nations Security Council held a discussion on Kashmir on 16 August last year…Security officials began to discuss how the diplomatic tussle would translate or manifest on the ground. The speculations ended with death of 20 Indian soldiers, including a Colonel”.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.