Lessons of disengagement - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 8 July 2020

Lessons of disengagement

China should not be allowed to get away with its strategy of "two steps forward, one step back"

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th July 20

The simultaneous announcement by New Delhi and Beijing of a decision to reduce military confrontation along the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh is to be welcomed. This came after several rounds of talks ― military-level, between the two foreign ministers, and finally, between the Special Representatives on the Boundary Question of both the countries. The disengagement of troops, whenever that is completed, will hopefully de-escalate tensions, avert a prolonged impasse, and allow both sides to return to the relative peace that had been nurtured through a series of confidence-building agreements negotiated since 1993. Neither of the two Asian giants can afford prolonged hostility.

While the precise terms of disengagement, negotiated between the two sides’ military commanders and special representatives, have been kept secret, it must be ensure that China does not get away with its well-established strategy of two steps forward, one step back. The de-escalation agreement clearly does not restore the status quo ante of April, before the LAC was effectively redrawn by the occupation of several patches of Indian territory by Chinese soldiers. A fair and honourable settlement should see both sides pulling back to the positions they held in April before China violated the LAC, but that is not what is happening. Instead, Chinese troops, who had entered into Indian-controlled territory at multiple points, are pulling back in some sectors such as Galwan, whereas they continue holding onto the areas they occupied near the Pangong Tso lake and the Depsang plain. Furthermore, the “buffer zones” that are created to keep the two armies apart should be carved equally from Indian-claimed and China-claimed territory.

The implications of this are not difficult to see. China will have effectively redrawn the LAC by retaining chunks of Indian territory it has encroached upon, especially around Depsang and Pangong Tso. Many of the Indian Army’s traditional patrolling points — including Finger 8 near Pangong Tso and PP14 in Galwan — may no longer be accessible. That means there would be new limits on Indian patrolling, with the Army no longer able to patrol up to India’s traditional LAC claim. But it is a developing situation and a final judgment must wait on events. For now, however, China’s strategy of creating new facts on the ground and negotiating from that position seems to be working again.

Some of this was perhaps inevitable, once a Covid-19-preoccupied India was caught unawares by China. There is even some solace to be obtained from the international support that India was offered and from New Delhi’s decision to handle the crisis itself rather than accepting assistance from others. Even so, it is crucial to learn from this experience. The most important is to restore defence spending to a level that builds credible conventional deterrence capability against India’s adversaries, since a nuclear deterrent is hardly usable in eventualities such as small border conflicts. New Delhi wrongly assumed the country faced no serious threats to its territorial integrity, apparently because of its reliance on personalised diplomacy. In fact, the country’s sovereignty and safety are heavily dependent on the battle readiness and alertness of its security forces. Any shortfall in that is an invitation to precisely such situations as India now faces.


  1. Finally, it seems you have something nice to say about the government.But, invoking the 1993 agreement to restore "relative peace" is a sign of weakness.All these Congress era one sided "agreements" should be thrown into the waste bin.

  2. So far do you see any pull back on the indian side that has resulted in India losing territory?

  3. In a hope that your writing will shift blame on modi government , you sacrificed truth to defend one lie after another. Too bad, all you lost was your credibility and turned your old uniform into a toilet paper for pakistanis and chinese. Feel only pity for you ajai

  4. No lesson to be learned from you. You have tarnished your image in public, policymakers and military circles as an agent of opposition party with well exposed agenda. This position of your may make you quick bucks but you will go down as a sold out army man to vested anti-India interests.

  5. India is negotitating from a point of weakness, and with perception mangement in mind. Above all it's enemy knows what her domestic compulsions are. China will impose a solution under the guise of negotiated settlement.

  6. Gentlemen, pl understand what is meant to be conveyed by a Col,we have been trapped in our own game of self believing goodie,goodie theatrics, nobody in the world, except china, understands the psyche of the nation before dealing with it, with each nation their means of winning over varies, their focus & efforts are determined to achieve their stated goals & vision come what may & with this escapism that the world displays it won't be long before China achieves its goal of being the 'middle kingdom ' & why not, they deserve it for all the determination & focus they have shown for their Nation.

  7. Grt wrk mr shukla, people lyk u are ray of hope in such times. I quote)" bujdilon ke ishq mein shaidaan(mad) mujhe kyon kar diya, is namard(impotent) desh mein paida m[jhe kyon kar diya. Stand for truth.

  8. It is a pity to see so many comments here casting aspersions on Ajai Shukla's motives instead of addressing the topic he is writing about. His writing is objective, backed up with supporting material and corroborated by other experienced commentators with impeccable credentials. Even if he may have been occasionally wrong (I am not saying that he was) with some of his conclusions, it is vital that professionally experienced commentators have their say in order that the public forms an understanding of the issues and exercises enlightened judgment. Questioning government actions objectively is a sign of a mature society, not a treasonous activity! Those questioning his credentials are extremely uncomfortable with anyone questioning their favored political dispensation. This obsession with internal politics shows lack of maturity and a stunted mindset.... the same sort of attitude that led to Indians becoming enslaved by the colonial powers in the 18th century.


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