Playing into China’s hands in Ladakh - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 6 August 2020

Playing into China’s hands in Ladakh


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 7th Aug 20


In a statement posted on its website, which was withdrawn on Thursday afternoon, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) belatedly admitted what the government has stoutly denied so far: That Chinese troops had “transgressed” the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto Sino-Indian border – in several sectors in May, and that “the present standoff is likely to be prolonged.” That leaves the government with a simple question: Will those responsible be called to account?


India has never been hot on accountability for national security lapses. After the 1962 drubbing at the hands of China that killed 3,250 Indian soldiers, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru tried to shield his defence minister, VK Krishna Menon. After the Kargil conflict in 1999, when 522 Indian soldiers gave up their lives to evict Pakistani troops who had infiltrated across the Line of Control (LoC), a single brigadier was held responsible for intelligence and operational lapses that surely originated several levels above that unfortunate scapegoat. So it may be unrealistic to expect accountability for a situation that the government has acknowledged three months late, and through clenched teeth. Hope of accountability lies only in reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has quietly made his displeasure clear at the handling of matters by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat. More visible actions, such as sackings or transfers, have been avoided since those might constitute a public acceptance of mismanagement.


However, it is worth recounting events as they played out over the last four months in Eastern Ladakh. In mid-April, Indian satellite imagery detected, and signals and human intelligence corroborated, a Chinese military exercise across the LAC involving thousands of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops. In normal circumstances, the Indian Army too would have already moved a couple of reserve brigades (each with about 2,500 soldiers) to the LAC, ostensibly for “training” and “operational alert”, but equally to deter China from taking advantage of the springtime thaw and crossing over high-altitude passes on the LAC into Indian territory. However, someone had decided – and this fateful decision could only have come from New Delhi – that Covid-19 was a greater threat than the PLA. The traditional move of reserve formations to Ladakh had been called off this year, leaving the field clear for the PLA.


According to insider reports, intelligence gathering, especially of satellite intelligence left much to be desired, with planners having to fall back on commercial satellite imagery. Within the Defence Intelligence Agency – a tri-services organisation directly under the CDS – there was no cross verification of satellite imagery obtained from various sources and of signal intercepts. There were equal failures in intelligence analysis. In the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), which functions under the NSA, there was little coordination between military technical intelligence and that obtained by the four civilian agencies: the National Technical Research Organisation, the Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing and the Ministry of Home Affairs through the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Although the NSCS received a steady flow of intelligence from mid-April onwards, it failed to assess the PLA’s intentions to cross the LAC on multiple fronts.


Even so, the picture should have become clear on May 5, when an outnumbered Indian patrol was roughed up by hundreds of Chinese soldiers at Patrolling Point 14 on the Indian side of the LAC in the Galwan valley. Simultaneously, PLA intrusions were detected in the Hot Springs sector. Yet, the NSA confined his reaction to a pro-forma protest phone call to Beijing.


Over the following days, intelligence warnings poured in about likely Chinese intrusions across the LAC, from the Depsang Plain in Northern Ladakh to Naku La in Sikkim. Yet, on May 9, the government appeared to have been taken by surprise when Chinese soldiers crossed the settled international boundary at Naku La, Sikkim. The CDS and NSA reportedly told the PM that the transgressions were isolated incidents that would resolve themselves. This complacency continued through May 12, when two PLA helicopters chased an Indian chopper carrying a commanding general across the Pangong Tso lake.


The crisis was acknowledged only on May 17/18th, when a PLA horde crossed eight kilometres into Indian territory on the north bank of Pangong Tso, and badly beat up and hospitalized 72 Indian soldiers. Planning finally began in earnest at the 14 Corps headquarters in Leh, with one senior officer describing the mood thus: “It was Kargil redux; everyone was like, is this really happening?”


Four days later, on May 22, army chief, General MM Naravane visited Leh. On May 24, orders were passed for reinforcements to Eastern Ladakh. Almost three weeks had elapsed since the first clash at Galwan. But even now, party spokespersons, establishment-friendly generals and the memorably named “godi media” continued insisting on TV debates and op-ed pieces that all was well.


While Indian reinforcements moved up to Ladakh, the NSA, the foreign minister and India’s ambassador in Beijing engaged the Chinese in talks. Beijing’s stance was clear: India was the aggressor and New Delhi had revealed that last August, when Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that Aksai Chin belonged to India. Beijing had not hidden its ire then: Besides voicing strong objections, Chinese troops had crossed the LAC at Pangong on September 11, 2019 and beaten up 10 Indian soldiers and damaged three Indian patrol boats.


With diplomatic engagement faltering, senior army commanders from both sides met on June 6 to discuss disengagement at Galwan. The Chinese proposed “mutual disengagement” and creating “buffer zones” – a formula that favours the aggressor since it is based on the status quo, rather than on the status quo ante. Through these discussions, the CDS and NSA remained passive, apparently still hoping that the Chinese would relent and return. Only on June 15, when Chinese soldiers ambushed and killed 20 Indian soldiers who had gone to the LAC to verify disengagement, did the situation’s seriousness dawn on our security elites. 


Even then, the government continued to obfuscate. On June 19, the foreign minister downplayed the intrusions while briefing an all-party meeting. The defence minister denied any intelligence failure. At the end, in a nationally televised statement, the prime minister denied any Chinese intrusions in Galwan. Insiders say it was on the advice of NSA and CDS. By many accounts, the PM has lost faith in the NSA and the CDS for over a month now, preferring the advice of political and intelligence officials who have so far proven correct in their assessments.


If the Chinese continue refusing to pull back in Depsang and Pangong Tso, as seems likely, and stick to the disengagement positions in Galwan and Hot Springs, they would have forcibly created a new LAC, with India having lost several hundred square kilometres of territory. Were New Delhi to acquiesce in this humiliation, it would not just be a blow to national prestige but also set the tone for a subservient relationship with Beijing, along with its cat’s paw, Pakistan. That will be unacceptable to the Indian people. It must also be unacceptable to the government.


  1. Only a people with centuries of slavery and foreign rule like Indians can accept such humiliation and capture of territory.

    1. No it is true.. We Indians need to accept that our non violent culture & centuries of subjugation have made us softer than many aggressive nations like Pakistan & China. We need to learn from Israel. Simple attitude "No one can Mess with us. We are ready to pay the price". We did it with Pakistan. Now same attitude shld b our National Security Policy. Each & every Indian must be given this National Security Policy.

    2. Matters of national security were never on the agenda of our RAMBO PM.They have mandate to implement Triple talak, abolish 370,cow vigilantism,Lynching of minorities, Hindu rashtra ,Ram temple and so on.PM himself proudly declared some days back,that his government in six years, has successfully implemented 44 issues mentioned in their poll promises.

      Please do not forget,that Mr.PM is a RSS sewyam sewak ,who is bounded to implement RSS philosophy of India. No matter, he has taken oath of constitution of Republic of India,Oaths and affidavits are for dustbins, for them,as was in Dec. 1992.

      So.Modiji do care "two hoots" for the constitution and people of India.He knowns, they are slaves and will obey and worship as is told ,as he is reincarnation of the supreme GOD. It is being thrusted forcefully,in the mind of Hindu's that Modi is here to liberate them.

      Now,PM in six years of his misrule,has destroyed the Indianized fabric ,which took many centuries to take the nation in global reckoning. He is hellbent to put a "sale"tag on everything agonizingly created from 1947 onwards.Unfortunately,this includes the "Bharat Mata" too.

  2. The people are continue to be in denial mode then and now .The every part of Govt was busy in maligning the people who are Informing them the real picture.So sad that both military/political leadership failed when time was to stand up against china.The sequence of event you elaborate are the same you informed them repeatedly .

  3. Any sign of an Indian attack China has positioned sufficient reserve forces which can be deployed from Tibet within 72 Hours
    DBO and Hot Springs are vulnerable and will be the first to be cut off.
    A small part of the offensive will be Chinese bringing up their tanks on amphibious boats,down the lake capturing more territory.
    If the fighting continues for ten days more the Nabura valley will be cut off.
    The main battle will be in Indus Valley and Ladakh range where the main Indian formation is in E Ladakh,
    here a second PLA attack via Demchok can be stopped.
    But China might be content to have the new LAC here, and offer a cease fire and dig in along this line
    It will then take considerably more than four Indian Divisions as the attacking force to regain lost territory.
    These Indian divisions need to be supplied, the logistics line is very long the roads might not be open due the weather or bombing.
    So what have we learned?

  4. Superb. One of the very few honest and knowledgable persons

  5. Thank you for sharing great content published on post.


  6. The Chinese are aware from previous encounters that they don't even have to deny trespassing into Indian territory - our own 56" Leaders will do it first. To admit of infiltration that you can, and have done, nothing about, is bad for National Ego, and worse for politics. Better to concentrate on Ram Mandir - that's where the votes are! The soldiers that are killed due to this negligence and unconcern, are immaterial as they are not connected to persons of money or to politicians; they are dispensable! Has it ever been different since independence?

  7. So at the end of the day , it looks like some one or two star in the DIA will be made the fall guy and life would then hopefully, for those at the top, be business as usual. You must relentlessly continue your expose of the cockups - this country cant afford another 1962.

  8. due to ban of chinese products and corona virus lockdown, i who belongs to business community want to tell you all that situation is way worse then it is shown. many of small business owners are bankrupt. we need to make our ties strong with other countries in trade and defense. we need strong allies more than ever cause our neighborhood is full of snakes and dragon is feeding them all so sooner or later we must be ready to deal with too.

  9. Scary stuff if true. And if true it's better that we reduce our military budget to 22 billion dollars a year so that we are still competitive against Pakistan and India can officially accept Chinese superiority. What a sad state of affairs??

  10. The CDS ,as a military man unlike the NSA, must have been clearly aware all along of the exact ground sit & extant of PLA intrusions,deployment & occupation of Indian territory across the LAC ,so how & why did he support PM,s televised declaration of denial of any chinese intrusions. Apparently he was a party in misleading the PM in making this untrue statement to the nation, & if so,he must be held accountable. There is no place for a sychophant to be head of our Armed Forces.

  11. A very well articulated and an upfront account of crisis at LAC, that was allowed by the complacency of all responsible. Accountability can only be instituted by those who have clean cupboards.

  12. It seems you have deliberately refrained from eloborating and disclosing the " SOMEONE" who forbade our forces to go for annual exercises , in the name of Covid 19.
    you have also refrained, though uncharacteristically , from explaining the mystery behind PM Modi's silence on this issue.
    Looks like the Country's self respect has been brutalized to the extent , never imagined by any of us. what is the way forward now. the least the Govt should do immediately , is to sack both of these confirmed Jokers CDS and NSA.
    There are several disquiting reports that Govt is not in a position to sack NSA , as he knows much more.
    The situation has become so sad that I feel like retrieving an old TV serial " CHANDRAKANTA" and watch these characters as playing n doing "AIYYARI" .

  13. NSR says ---

    " The traditional move of reserve formations to Ladakh had been called off this year, leaving the field clear for the PLA. "

    In 1999, they black topped 8 km road in Pangong Tso lake area when India withdrew troops from there and deployed in Kargil...
    In 2017,, china stalemated India and sitting pretty on the occupied lands...
    In 2020, the big bully, criminal and evil and depraved chinese are occupying large portions of Indian lands ... that is what bullies do...

    Your assessment is same as my assessment and I get trolled for writing my comments critical of serving politicians and armed forces...

    First of all there is a monumental failure of intelligence...
    Second, the political class never prepared armed forces to respond immediately to the evolving situations... so they are afraid of upsetting the government ministers.. so they play nice...

    When was the last time, India stood up to china... 1967 Nathu La and Cho La by General Sagat Singh...
    It was a great victory because army responded swiftly without waiting for incompetent politicians...

    India must act or else it will become an existential crisis ... that is what I was writing everywhere...

    1. India challenged China in 1986-1987 in 4 Corps area by airlifting troops in a short time and threatening China .The speed of the response through Operation ChequerBoard amazed China and it back tracked swiftly.

  14. Too much time worshipping cows - too little time on national security

  15. Thank you Ajay Shukla for a clear and lucid piece

  16. So Mr Shukla aaoko NSA bana dain.....I am calling you mister Shukla bcoz you don't deserve to be called as Col......I am sure No Indian army Col will refer his Martyred Jawans as killed....Thodi to sharam kar le bhai....our papa is guarding this nation so that clown like you can spk anything about them....shame on you

    1. Insted of being thankful to
      Col Sukhla for highlighting
      and appreciating and getting educated on actual grand realities your mindset , intelligence people are many in our country Grow up man before
      everything Is overfor all of us

    2. Ref: Ball licking sycophant of 8th Aug, referring to our "Papa". Don't know what background you come from, but most of us had a Papa that cared for and loved us.

      1. This Papa has not acknowledged any children, so don't get too carried away by allocating 1.35 billion children to him.
      2.This Papa is a congenital liar, (that means he was born that way). From his educational qualifications, to his bra size, to his election promises, everything is a lie.
      3. The country has been hit so badly by Covid because 'Papa' was busy doing everything and anything except preparing the country for this calamity,from 1st Jan to 24th March.That's called 'Dereliction of Duty' The very least punishment for that should be Dismissal. It's moron's like you who don't understand that he is personally responsible for our plight today. He doesn't understand, along with the IAS bureaucracy that Leadership means Kudos for successes and responsibility for failure.
      I could go on and on, but frankly I don't think you or your halfwitted tribe would understand any of it. JAI HIND!

  17. You forget the primary role of ITBP to patrol the border. They report to MHA. Who gave ITBP orders not to patrol during Covid-19? Who? That person is being shielded. National security has become politics. Politics my friend. Denial of intrusion is the best option. You scratch my back I scratch yours between MOD and MHA. Trolling and demonising the messengers is a natural corollary.

  18. Anonymous said...
    "Only a people with centuries of slavery and foreign rule like Indians can accept such humiliation and capture of territory."

    Anonymous - you're a dumb ass.

    First, your premise is incorrect. Though parts of India were ruled by Muslims, it was not slavery. Most importantly, this rule did not result in Indians accepting foreign rule - during Muslim rule, Muslims were fought and defeated by numerous Indian powers, the most recent of which was the Marathas, which ended Mughal dominance on the subcontinent. Further, numerous powers during and after Muslim rule have been defeated by the Indians - the English, the Portuguese, the Dutch - I could go on.

    As the Chinese are now the ones fighting the Indians, in light of your comment about foreign powers invading India, it is relevant to note that though the Mongolian Empire ruled China for hundreds of years, the Indians were the only power to have consistently fought and beat the Mongolian Empire (which fought and defeated nearly everyone else on the plant)


    1. Kumari, you are right, Indians fought off every invading force...but remember, it fought them off as a Muslim empire not Hindu. The Hindus rajas in turn facilitated British expansion in India by giving them trading rights then outright real history...not modi's or RSS propaganda ..

    2. Who beat the mongols and prevented them from over running india?

  19. A great piece. Thank you and keep up your excellent work.

  20. Politicised fauj has added to the crisis. All actions are to protect image of the ruling party.

  21. Refreshingly honest article, Mr. Shukla! Please keep up the good work. India needs honest, probing and trustworthy journalists like you now more than ever. We need good journalists to show the true face of this government, hell-bent on obfuscating the reality, to the public!

  22. The GOI and PM must realise that you can't fool all the people all of the the time.The truth will out and I am sure that the MOD admission was deliberate,to inform the nation what the true picture iz which is being suppressed by the govt.There is no harm in admitting that the PLA has intruded across the LAC and refuses to vacate territory occupied. Such an admission will show maturity in leadership. There are many ways to make Communist China pay v.heavily for its arrogance and aggression using economic and diplomatic measures first,military measures last after due preparation and planning. A greater ban on PRC goods and services,especially in telecom and IT.A ban on all PRC made consumer goods,autos,etc.No investment from the PRC i to India or vice-versa by Indian companies. Use the Tibet and Taiwan cards giving recognition to both ,and downgrading our dpl. status with the PRC. Pres. XI Must feel the resolve of India in punishing it ,suffering the consequences of its monumental mischief against India.

  23. Great article. Does this mean our PM deliberately lied when he said "No one entered Indian territory".

  24. You know Shukla,you are a good script chose wrong profession ...first Army ,where you know what happened and then journalism...where you know what is going to happen...Irrelevant facts strewn with unauthentic graphs,statements taken out of context do make good stroies...Armed Forces and the think tank are not naive Shuklaji...only thing is they can not refute you publicly...had you been such an intelligent patriotic thinker you certainly would have kept yourself away from and not embroiled in ,you very well know what ......

  25. We need to sit and think and transform the suffered setbacks into opportunities. No success is permanent. No defeat is fatal. Prepare and counter-attack is the only way out. We have several options: Intrude into China in several places simultaneously with small units of well armed commandos to destabilize the PLA; Scalp their defense batteries with Rafale in a surprise attack and invoke an accidental go during the training; Replay Sunderji’s tactic in both Ladakh and Arunachal.

  26. Extremely biased piece of reporting akin to a Chinese propaganda piece in SCMP or Global Times... specifically ignoring the spacial & temporal aspects of the battlefield along with erroneous lopsided data of conflict...


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