China’s Himalayan Waterloo: Inspite of the thaw, India should remain alert


India – China disengagement process should have first commenced from the Depsang Plains side and not from the Pangong Tso complex – as then India looses the Pangong Tso heights leverage for the remaining negotiations. a historical analyses to pin point China’s geostrategic blunder and its’ future trajectory of events needs to be speculated.

Historical miscalculations

Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo in 1815.He lost because of a miscalculation of the adversary’s strength that fought with bravery and resilience to stun and rip the Imperial Guard regiment, which was always used by Napoleon for the final push. This was his last battle before he died. Similarly, the Germans were frozen to death at the gates of Moscow due to the Russian winter. Under the codename Operation “Barbarossa,” Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in the largest German military operation of World War II. It has been quoted, “The shock value of the initial Blitzkrieg was dissipated by the vast distances, logistical difficulties and Soviet troop numbers, all of which caused attritional losses of German forces which could not be sustained.

The autumn Rasputitsa and the onset of the brutal Russian winter brought it to a halt during Operation ‘Typhoon’. Tank and vehicle lubricants froze as temperatures plunged to record lows. Winter clothing supplies were held up in Poland, as fuel and ammunition took priority. If anything symbolises the failure of ‘Barbarossa’ it is the image of inadequately equipped German troops shivering in the snows before Moscow”. Are we seeing a similar play back of China’s failed offensive on the Indo-Tibetan border along the so called Line of Perception or the Line of Actual Control (LAC)?

The current India-China standoff

As of now, we have seen the PLA aggression freezing in the winters of the Himalayas. If China’s surreptious and illegal offensive has failed then it is a repetition of the 1969 Sino-Russia clash along the disputed borrders.The commonality of that aggression on the Soviets had followed the same pattern as that has been seen in the Galwan Valley clash last year in June 2020. There was almost a state of war for seven months. China realised the military strength of the Soviet Union, especially when the Soviet’s used the famous GRAD P Multi Barrel gun in retaliation to the Chinese, who suffered heavy casualties by its high volume of fire. The Chinese soon settled the dispute after seeing the Soviet might. Yet again, in 1979, the Chinese ingresses into Vietnam had suffered heavy casualties. They soon withdrew as a defeated army. A similar situation has now emerged on the LAC with India. Like Napoleon or Hitler, or their skirmish on the Soviet border and also their defeat against Vietnam, the Chinese appear to have again blundered, this time in the Himalayas as their waterloo. They have yet again repeated history and miscalculated the might of the formidable Indian Armed Forces by tinkering along the LAC. Like what the Soviets did or the Vietnamese, the Indians have silenced them and overpowered them both at the Galwan incident and have also shown their Mountain warfare prowess as shown during operations at Pangong Tso South Bank Heights in the Kailash Ranges. This counter-offensive has stunned the PLA and has foreclosed any face saving manoeuvre by the Chinese polity guided by the Communist Party of China. The Army had reportedly occupied Magar and Gurung hills, Richin La and some strategic heights overlooking the PLA camps. The Army showed presence at these five points: Blacktop, HelmetTop, Spangur Gap, Trishul and Hunan/Requin or Renchenla.This foreclosed Chinese ability to hold on at Moldo Garrison in the case of war. The Moldo-Chusul-Leh axis on which armour thrust is possible became impossibility now.

11 February 2021 Negotiations: Need a cautious approach

As far as the on-going negotiations are concerned, the break through on 11 February 2021 is a great victory for India. Mutual pulling back from the North and South Pangong Tso has to be accepted with a rider. It has to be preceded by equal talks of disengement at the Depsang/Galwan area. This is critical because Galwan area is interfering with the Durbuk-Shyok road and thus the maintenance of the strategic Daulat Begh Oldie ((DBO) defences opposite the Karakoram pass. This is also the gate way to the approach to the Siachen defences. This complex has the reach to interfere with the Chinese-Pakistan-Economic –Corridor (CPEC) and thus the relevance of China’s ingress into the Depsang plans and the Galwan Heights. In this tactical area India has no leverage. Let not a similar disaster occur, when India handed over Haji peer Pass on Kashmir’s LOC after suffering many casualties. India has only a few negotiating leverages. The occupation of the South Bank Heights is a master stroke of the Indian army. This bold and professionally executed manoeuvre actually stunned the Chinese leadership. The other leverage is India’s better sustainability in difficult mountainous areas like here.

In fact, the Kailash Ranges are within India and need not be vacated fully. May be we can thin it down. India has to be cautious before vacating any part of this. Let there be a comprehensive package negotiation, encompassing the entire area with withdrawals occurring first in the Depsang Plains complex. Failing this, will then become India’s geo-strategic blunder as China cannot be relied on.

China’s geo-strategic blunder has galvanised Indian defences

China’s 2020 Himalayan offensive along the LAC can be categorised as one of the great blunders of this decade. It has shown the Chinese and the PLA in bad light globally, especially during the bad times of the Covid-19 Pandemic. It has channelized the US attention to Tibet. They have passed a Tibetan Act. It has kicked started and also galvanised the Indian defence establishment towards modernisation and even transformation. The Indian Defence Industry is now towards the goal of self-realisation. Indian defence policy till now was oriented towards the west. They had only maintained only a dissuasive deterrence posture towards China. But now, India has already reset its strategy and re-jigged by reorbating the military deployments towards the China front.

In fact they are well on the way to achieve strategic deterrence against China too. This would involve creating at least two strike Corps against them. Ideally, there would be requirement of creating yet another air mobile/Para drop capable strike corps by 2025-2027.This would checkmate China, as it continues to claim Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. In addition, China’s blatant aggression has also hastened the formation of the QUAD and strengthening of the US-India strategic Partnership with the signing of the four Foundational Agreements, which allows intimate operational synchronisation. The ‘BECA’ allows real time intelligence sharing, which will enhance India’s reach in the ‘Information Domain’, which has become a key element in todays ‘Informationalised Warfare’. Thus holistically, this Chinese blunder of aggression has given India an overall geostrategic benefit and an equal military power capability as compared to the Chinese. This will take away Chines strategic space vis-à-vis India even in the geopolitical arena.

Geopolitical error

Further, this complete debacle by the Chinese now agreeing to pull back to original positions along the LAC has diminished their stature even geopolitically in the eyes of the comity of nations. It has shown that India is strong and has strategic autonomy based on its own inherent strength. It has shown the Chinese error and miscalculation in under estimating India. It is a question of time that India will now rightfully earn a permanent seat in the Security Council. Tibet issue has also been reactivated and the Tibetan refugees have again got hopes of freedom and independence.

Lessons from Chinese defeat and failure

China had mobilised almost 5 PLA divisions equivalent for the surprise initial operations and followed up by yet another 5 more PLA division’s equivalent. That means it had mobilised almost 100,000 troops without any strategic directions and logistics wherewithal. The winters have created a logistics nightmare to far flung troops more than 3000 kms away from the Chinese Mainland.

The Chinese have now agreed to withdrawn to the pre-30th April 2020 positions because the Indian troops stunned them first at Galwan and then by an offensive at the Pangong Tso South Bank Heights. This proved adequately that the PLA has an untrained bunch of soldiers without battle experience and High altitude survival robustness. The Indian troops have shown their mettle and that they are the world’s best mountain warriors like the Austrians showed at the battle of Dolomites during the First World War in 1915.

The way forward

China will continue to consolidate and fortify Tibet as already declared by President Xi Jinping. They are likely to further link up along the CPEC with the Gwadar marine forces so as to create synergy with its brown water navy. However, it is unlikely to touch India or create any border transgression after this experience at least for a decade. However, in spite of this thaw; India will have to remain alert.

 

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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