(Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed are that of the writer’s)
By Lieutenant Colonel Manoj K. Channan
Post June 15/16 clash this year, China and India have reviewed and played up their ‘Perception Management’. The lull in the activities had seen some Indian soldiers in Chinese captivity being released, as per media reports.
Social Media handles have upped the ante and circulated a release of a Chinese Colonel by 3 Medium Regiment. As per the same Social Media handles, we have Indian soldiers held captive by the Chinese. The Government of India must do well to quell such rumours and state facts.
The Line of Actual Control (LAC) management is currently under the mandate of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). India’s Minister of External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar exonerated himself and his ministry of that responsibility by a tweet to a non-consequential political leader.
The MEA has a China Study Group, which formulates the policy on LAC. This responsibility needs to be assigned to the Ministry of Defence. The multiple responsibility and accountability have played into the hands of China and the Chinese Chequers.
In the early Nineties, Indian and Chinese patrols (Border Guards) exchanged gifts; reported in the daily situational reports. The strict Command and Control, and drills, were laid out later.
Intelligence reports are generated by multiple agencies such as the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Indian Army, the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the state Intelligence Wings, so on and so forth. These inputs are coordinated by Local Intelligence Agency at Leh; moderated by R&AW station head.
The events leading to the LAC and PLA belligerence can be attributed to the Doklam incident and the Indian response in 2017. In spite of the Indian actions, China built up a road and its infrastructure in the Doklam area.
The local jingoism drowned out the long term plans of the Chinese. India has been sharing maps with the Chinese on the perceived LAC. The Chinese have never reciprocated. Their perception of the LAC changes in the Chinese Communist Party politburo in Beijing.
Xi Jinping is the new leader, who wants to leapfrog China as the most powerful nation globally. Reports of Donald J. Trump having reached out to the Chinese for his re-election is disturbing, as is the recent article of the Ivy League Universities having been beneficiaries of the Chinese doles.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian nation clapped, banged utensils, and lit candles, and used the armed forces air resources to shower flowers, the military bands played to others’ tunes, and not to forget the navy paraded their ships. This displayed a clear lack of focus of the Indian government on the Chinese build up. To sum up, the Chinese crawled up and so did the Chinese Coronavirus.
Some realities have to brought out. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are well inside India’s perceived LAC. The clash on night of June 15/16 took place approximately 12.5 km on the side of the India-perceived LAC.
There are incidents of coercion on both sides that took place away from the media glare. The intelligence in this beleaguered landscape is limited to the local migrant population, who used to please their masters on either side.
The HUMINT (Human Intelligence) is poor and probably the National Security Adviser (NSA) can advise the country on SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) and TECHINT (Technical Intelligence).
After all the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) was raised to augment the HUMINT of R&AW along with the IB’s. Did our Intelligence community go wrong in their assessments on China and its military intentions?
Reportedly, in 2002, a decision was taken to not patrol certain areas due to lack of resources and a Limit of Patrol (LOP) was demarcated well inside our side of the LAC. This had led to approximately 900 square kilo metres of the Indian side of the LAC not being closely monitored by physical domination. Reportedly, the Chinese have developed infrastructure in that 900 sq.km. Why was this decision taken and who suggested it?
Some discussions among a closed group of senior military veterans has churned up points as food for thought.
I quote: “I feel that time is correct to have an examining committee, something like what the United States of America has, where they put the person responsible before a committee to examine the handling of situation.
“Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hauled up for the setback due to the attack on the American embassy in Libya. Every dimension and act was questioned and analysed by the committee, comprising of Democrats and Republicans.
“Since India’s independence, we have been having our debacles and shortcomings at all levels, and the humble soldier pays with his life. These are intelligence, political and military leadership failures in 1962, 1965, Operation Blue Star of 1984, Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka in 1987, Operation Vijay during Kargil incursions of 1999, and the Chinese intrusions in 2020.
“Governance failures have emerged in Jammu and Kashmir, Northeastern states and the Red Corridor of Maoists in India. No one has ever been held accountable for these failures in a democracy, which should have matured in over 70 years.
“Heads should have rolled, be it politicians, bureaucrats, intelligence sleuths, military officer or anyone else. Former Union minister Suresh Kalmadi was sacked for corruption and mishandling of the Commonwealth Games. Then, why not people responsible for acts, which lead to situations of national importance?
“Governance in India and the elections are a matter of managing perceptions. Quite often, leaders are declared by their adherents as too big to fail and that is, when brushing under the carpet or in today’s world, spin and disinformation step in.
“You are already seeing that happen. Rule of law and expectations of national character determine transparency and strict decisions. Till mid-sixties conscience did play a role. Then Indian Army chief General P. N. Thapar resigned on his own. Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as Minister for Railways after a major train accident. British Generals and Ministers had set a precedent in United Kingdom by resigning after disasters due to their decisions, conscience telling them the action they must take, things ‘done and not done’.
“Did we have a British conscience of behaviour till the mid-sixties and gradually a Mughal consciousness took over? Are we South Asians now without a conscience?” Unquote.
Will the Judiciary and media pursue with the government issues of concern or the ‘Chalta Hai‘ (It is okay) attitude brush it under the carpet? Let an independent inquiry be held and those responsible be tried and punished by the Fast Track Courts. All their assets and bank accounts be attached with the government and they should be named and shamed.
On all matters related to the defence of India, an all-party committee headed by the Prime Minister of India should be taking all decisions. The Chief of Defence Staff, armed forces chiefs, Directors General of the Border Security Force (BSF), ITBP, Defence Intelligence Agency, Director of the IB and Secretary of the R&AW should be presenting their views to this committee.
This is the sort of composition of a committee that should be meeting at the time of a national security crisis on a daily basis and take decisions in a more peaceful, national unity environment. This committee should also meet once every week when no crisis is brewing.
The Border Guards should be one unified force with locals of the region forming the majority part of the organisation. They will be familiar with the terrain and local language. Those enrolled need not be rotated every two or three years, ensuring continuity and accountability in the given the area of responsibility.
The training and ethos have to be aggressive. The ‘Rules of Engagement; have to be clear: Shoot first and ask questions later. This organisation should be an off-shoot of the Indian Army. Ladakh Scouts and such military units need to be created in the various sub-sectors. These personnel should man the defences and in times of war, take on the rear area security, as well as man the reserve positions.
Due to the years of neglect, India’s focus on putting up a defence is at a low priority and this has resulted in the nibbling away of our land by the neighbours. For ease of understanding, let me cite an example. It is akin to rats eating away the food grains in a Food Corporation of India storage facility, not noticed immediately, but when checked, it is a loss in quantity as well as unfit for human consumption.
Lastly, the entire veteran community, if required, will come and fight. Remember they too took the ‘Chetwode Oath‘.
(The writer is a retired Indian Army officer and currently works in the Indian corporate sector)