Karan Thapar interviews Ajai Shukla on the strategic and tactical outcomes of China's the border situation - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 29 June 2021

Karan Thapar interviews Ajai Shukla on the strategic and tactical outcomes of China's the border situation

Click on the link below for my interview with Karan Thapar on the border situation as a result of the Chinese intrusions into Ladakh.


Here below is Karan Thapar's own summary of the discussion:

One of India’s best informed Strategic Affairs Editors, who is also a former army officer, says India has moved 4 divisions from the Pakistan border to the Ladakh border with China and agrees that if Pakistan is aggressive this will have left India more vulnerable compared to last year.

Col. Ajai Shukla, the Strategic Affairs Editor of the Business Standard, said prior to the India-China stand-off in Ladakh India had 12 divisions facing China on the Ladakh front and 25 facing Pakistan on the west. This ratio has now changed. Today there are 16 divisions positioned on the Ladakh front compared to 21 on the western front.


Separately, Bloomberg has reported that “all in all” India now has a total of roughly 200,000 troops on the Ladakh front, which the agency says is “an increase of over 40% from last year”.


In a comprehensive 43-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Col. Ajai Shukla speaks about nine tactical and strategic adverse outcomes from India’s point of view of the 15-month old India-China stand-off in Ladakh. Col. Shukla says “the two-front threat that strategists have long regarded as the worst-case military scenario for India is now a reality”. He also identifies two further implications for the Indian Army.


First, the army has had to “pivot to the north, switching its traditional emphasis from the Pakistan border to that with China”. For instance, in December 2020 the operational role of the mechanised 1 Corps was switched from the plains bordering Pakistan to the mountains bordering China. Also, he adds, “Northern command has deployed at least two mountain divisions to block the PLA’s incursions in Ladakh”. He says “another division has switched roles from Pakistan to a new deployment against China on the Himachal and Uttarakhand borders”.


The second implication for the army of the two-front threat is that “this has left the army unbalanced – stretched to the limit with no further reserves at hand.”


Developing on this, Col. Shukla says that, unlike 1965, 1971 and the Kargil War of 1999, when New Delhi could take military action against Pakistan without worrying about China interceding, that’s no longer the case. “Now India would have to factor-in the likelihood of China’s intervention on behalf of Pakistan”. This, he says, has clearly limited India’s options and its capacity to handle Pakistan militarily.


Col. Shukla told The Wire that the new situation on the Ladakh front also has serious implications for India’s defence budget. It will have to be seriously stepped-up and this could result in cutbacks to the country’s maritime ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, which may not be funded so well hereafter, as well as affect the need for greater health spending in the wake of Covid. Col. Shukla points out that already the Indian defence budget has been under pressure for several years. As a share of the overall budget it has fallen from 16-17% to 15-16%. As a share of GDP it has shrunk from 2.3% to 2.1%.


Col. Shukla points out that now, if the army’s leadership decides to boost manpower, to make up for gaps on the western front, within the existing budget, it could put further pressure on the army’s plans for modernization which, in turn, will impact the army’s effectiveness as a fighting force.


In The Wire interview, Col. Shukla identified serious damage to the image of the army as an independent, non-political institution, looked up to by all Indians, as one of nine adverse consequences facing India as a result of the 15-month old India-China stand-off in Ladakh. He said by forcing the Indian army to accept and repeat the Prime Minister’s claim there was no incursion into Indian soil, the army has been politicised giving precedence to “political directives” over “operational imperatives”.


Finally, Col. Shukla says that chances of further disengagement in Depsang, Hot Sprints, Gogra and Galwan are “a non-starter”. He says China has been in possession of these areas for over a year and he says we must now believe this territory “has been lost to China”. To emphasize his point he added it has been “lost by India”.


Col. Shukla estimates that an area of some 600-800 sq. kms. – others put it as high as 1,000 sq. kms. – where Indian soldiers would have regular access and Indian patrols would regularly visit is now unavailable for access and patrol. In other words, a sizeable chunk of territory where India had access it can no longer enter.


The above is a paraphrased precis of Col. Ajai Shukla’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire. Although recounted from memory it’s not inaccurate. There is, however, a lot more in the interview than has been covered by this precis. In the interview Col. Shukla speaks about a total of nine tactical and strategic outcomes of the 15-month India-China stand-off in Ladakh, all of which are adverse to India’s interests. This precis only covers three or four of them. Please see the full interview to find out about the others.


The full interview will also help you understand the breadth and depth of Col. Shukla’s viewpoint and his incredible command over detail and analysis. This interview is rich with detail and examples but always delivered in a simple, easy to understand way."

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