New Delhi: As winter grips eastern Ladakh, the government has asked the Army, Navy and the Air Force to stay alert and firm, and ruled out any possibility of a premature withdrawal from the Kailash ranges on the southern bank of Pangong Tso where India has the upper hand over China.
Top government sources told ThePrint that right at the beginning of the tensions in May, the armed forces were directed to be prepared for any eventuality. They also said the stand-off could last longer than anticipated and the situation was expected to simmer even if a temporary disengagement took place.
The sources also said China has been taken aback by India’s determined response to its aggression, which was done to establish Beijing’s global standing as a superpower against the US, and also respond to India’s fast-paced border infrastructure development.
The sources said while India is not looking at any escalation with China, the Chinese have found that “India is no pushover”. They added that New Delhi will be firm in all fields besides defence, even as it seeks friendly relations with Beijing.
“Shaurya and saiyam (courage and restraint) is the message given to the armed forces and everyone else in the government — ‘courage’ to take on the Chinese aggression, and ‘restraint’ in speaking out on the issue,” a source said.
The source added that this was the message given out to everyone in the government when the tensions first surfaced.
“To be frank, the Chinese military is bigger. But then China has now learnt that the Indian military is no pushover. We don’t want to escalate tensions, but if something is forced on us, Indian forces will throw punches as well. It will not be one-sided,” the source said. “We have asked the military to stay firm and be alert. They have shown extreme courage in quickly responding to the situation.”
How long will stand-off last?
Asked how long the Ladakh stand-off could last, sources admitted it would be longer than initially anticipated.
“Two things were very clear from May itself. The development had the possibility of turning into a limited war kind of situation, and could last longer through the winter as India responded militarily,” the source cited above said, adding that the Galwan Valley clash was a sign of how things on the ground can change quickly.
While sources refused to give any specific timeline for a resolution, they did say tensions could continue to simmer at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) even if a temporary disengagement takes place.
Asked if the Army had committed a mistake by failing to anticipate and prevent the Chinese aggression in May itself, the source said the focus should be on how the forces responded eventually.
“Even when two experienced wrestlers are fighting, one might commit a mistake. But the focus should be on actions after that. Indian forces have responded very strongly and have refused to back down,” the source said.
The source said Indian forces have shown huge capability, giving the example of the Galwan Valley clash and of the Army’s action on the night of 29-30 August, when troops outflanked the Chinese and raced to the dominating heights of the Kailash range.
“The response was swift and fierce. Yes, we lost our men in Galwan, but not before sending a chilling message to the Chinese that they too will bear casualties. The Chinese have not accepted their casualties in public, but we are aware. Even in August, the Chinese were taken by surprise by India’s swift actions,” the source said.
Sources said there will be no premature withdrawal from the Kailash range, which China is keen on.
“When it was realised that China had no intention of stepping back, the Army was asked to come up with a plan to ensure that India has something to negotiate with. About seven or eight places were identified along the LAC where India could gain the upper hand. And hence, premature withdrawal from the southern bank (of Pangong Tso) is out of the question,” a source said.
Asked what India is negotiating for, the source said the 14 Corps Commander is the person heading the negotiations, and the specifics will not be discussed in public. But the source did say that India’s ultimate goal is to restore status quo ante.
‘The weak cannot enforce peace’
Sources said the government has promised the armed forces that all their requirements will be met.
“We have given special financial powers for the services, including for capital purchases. Every single immediate demand of the forces is being put on priority and is being cleared at speed,” a source said.
The source said that peace cannot be enforced by the weak. “We have to have a strong defence which can act as a deterrent. One needs a strong military and power to enforce peace. And this is why modernisation of the armed forces is a priority,” the source said, adding that the armed forces have already gone in for large procurement of various necessary items.
“Modernisation of our armed forces has been slow over the years. It will take another four years or so for the modernisation process to show its results. A lot is being done, and a lot more needs to be done,” the source said.