Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

A day after the meeting between the External Affairs Ministers of India and China, the experts who went deep diving into the official statements of the two, to draw meaning, have not struck upon anything to write home about. Some are now trying to read the body languages of the two ministers during the ten-second photo-op with the Russian Foreign Minister. Until something significant trickles from their efforts, one might take a re-look at the antecedents of the Galwan Valley faceoff and the Pangong Tso standoff. On a dispassionate glance at the incidents in the rear-view mirror, one might just get inclined to draw a conclusion which, might be viewed with mixed emotions… and that inference is:

“Sino-Indian border issue is too serious an affair to be left to a single agency––political leadership, diplomatic corps or the military––to resolve.”

Beyond any doubt, the synergy of the trio has helped India hold the dragon at bay… until now.

The present situation can be summarised thus: India has a tactical military advantage in the Ladakh region––Indian Army will exploit that edge, if a need arises. While China is weighing and considering its options, India is consolidating its position––troops are getting more acclimatised and are stocking up to address the developing situation. China cannot possibly challenge Indian positions in the Ladakh region. If it opens another front elsewhere––say, Sikkim or Arunanchal, where its gains might be iffy––probably Indian troops would en-cash the advantage around Pangong Tso.

A China that now considers itself a world power second only to the US is less likely to eat a humble pie by accepting ‘status quo ante’ (for whatever it means), or by unconditionally withdrawing. A ‘publicised’ setback in Ladakh will affect China’s reputation and stakes elsewhere––Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and of course, in the sea on its south (some people call it South China Sea‘).

Imponderables are far too many to be summarised here. The time is running out. Suffice it to say that in due course winter will set in and it will become more difficult for Beijing to maintain its forces in the region than Delhi. Dragon is doomed if it accepts India’s terms for peace; it is doomed if it doesn’t. That perhaps is the reason for practically nothing coming out of the meeting between the ministers.

Can India help the dragon wriggle out of a situation it is responsible for creating?

Perhaps Sun Tzu’s Art of War can throw up an answer for India:

“When you surround an enemy [adversary], leave an outlet free…. The object is to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair. For you should not press a desperate foe too hard.”

~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter VII, Manoeuvring

Although not physically surrounded, Beijing’s dilemma in Ladakh is damning––to fight or to find a face saving way out of the imbroglio. While, the Indian Army is holding the fort, can the dragon be nudged into a diplomatic escape hatch from which it can emerge with a smile?

Is Mr Jaishankar listening?

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Chinese incursion into the Galwan Valley earlier this year was but a-matter-of-routine. Nothing new, that’s something China had been doing for decades––entering Indian territory; sometimes withdrawing, but occasionally occupying pockets, and presenting them as ‘disputed areas’ at subsequent talks.

Salami slicing!

India’s response to that provocation surprised the world to no end. Among other options, a tough stance was the least expected, because until then people had judged India on the basis of its meek response to similar incidents in the past. The response dazed even the Indian public who had been in some kind of unspoken or grudgingly spoken awe of the dragon ever since the 1962 debacle.

India’s reaction was a Black Swan Event––unprecedented in its nature, spectacular in its impact. Now, military pundits and strategists are scratching their heads analysing, explaining and justifying the behaviour. The outcomes and the spinoffs of the transaction have been meaningful, and many. Importantly, it has raised the bar on the quality of India’s retaliation to Chinese military adventurism. That India will be even more assertive in such situations in the future is the new ‘expected’ norm. China will do well to take this change into account in its future calculations.

The talks at the diplomatic and the military levels to de-escalate tensions and to restore peace in the region have not made much headway. There is a definite dearth of points of convergence and trust has been conspicuously absent from the scene. A word about the complexity of the Sino-Indian border issue would be in order. Decades of diplomatic foot-dragging have complicated the already complex matter. Now, to resolve the issue appears to be as difficult as untangling a plateful of spaghetti or unscrambling an egg. Both, China and India have taken rigid stances and are unwilling to relent. It is anybody’s guess that the prevailing uneasy calm will end either in peace or will escalate into greater hostility. There’s however, an ominous tilt towards the possibility of the latter. Presently, both sides are trying hard to be in a situation wherein they can negotiate from a position of greater strength.

Meanwhile, General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Defence Staff of India has declared that India is prepared for a military option, if the talks fail. In making such a provocative statement, the General might have only carried out the orders of the political leadership, because ‘good’ Indian generals do not normally air provocative views against a neighbour unless we are already at war. So, let the General roar and let the countrymen rest assured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will give a clarion call through his ‘Man ki Baat‘ when the time is ripe. Period.

In a recently recorded video message, Mr Pravin Sawhney, Editor, Force Magazine dissects General Rawat’s words and iterates that unless backed by military power, warnings mean little; he’s so right on that count. He goes on to project India’s extreme vulnerabilities and concludes that it would take at least six months to prove the General’s claim of preparedness. After eulogising China for its varied capabilities––conventional warfare, cyber warfare, anti satellite (ASAT) capabilities, artificial intelligence capability, the capability to disrupt communication networks of India, its nexus with Pakistan et al.––he concludes that a war between China and India, if it were to take place, would be like the First Gulf War between the US and Iraq respectively, implying that India would be routed technologically even before the troops engage in land battle. At the end of a 20 plus-minute video in which he paints a dismal picture of India’s war preparedness and petrifies Indian viewers, he urges that the clip be circulated. For me, a replay of the video led to the distillation of the man’s suggestion, which to my mind conditioned by years of rigorous military life sounded somewhat like this:

“SURRENDER TO CHINA WITHOUT FIRING A BULLET!”

Echo of that implied suggestion so ‘F-O-R-C-E-fully’ made by Mr Pravin Sawhney rings menacingly in the mind until long after one turns off the video. Another look exposes the sense of insecurity of the presenter and the shallowness of his arguments. The naysayer and the pessimist in him, finds India’s faults and deficiencies well nigh infinite. If only he could realise, China is not the US; India, not Iraq. Unwarranted anxieties of the timid will only prove to be countervailing factors in India’s efforts to deal with that country. That said, there is good reason to listen carefully to the meaningful signals, if any, in the cacophony of deafening alarm bells that the paranoid Mr Sawhney rings.

Introspection!

Today, when India and China are at daggers drawn, the chunks of information on military capabilities of the two countries that are available in the open domain, rather ‘fed’ to the public, could be quite inaccurate. Under the circumstances, a SWOT analysis could go awry; it could be an exercise in futility. Therefore, more prudent and fruitful approach to deal with the darned dragon at this moment would be to focus on exploiting all available means and resources to bolster the existing military capacity and capabilities. Therein is the genesis of this five-part blog post––this part being the Preface. The posts that follow will discuss issues related to boosting military manpower, bolstering border infrastructure and military capability, refining military thinking on the use of nuclear weapons and the idea of mustering external influence to bear on the adversary and more.

Following posts in this series are now available:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?