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December 5, 2020

The Chhattisgarh

Beyond The Region

PM Modi’s silence on LAC stand-off is benefiting China. India must change its script

The situation along the Line of Actual Control took a dramatic turn after the rather disappointing and inconclusive Lieutenant General-level talks as indicated by the Ministry of External Affairs, held at Chushul on 6 June. At 4:52pm on 9 June, news wire ANI, which is almost always the first one to put out news citing government sources, tweeted: “India and China disengage at multiple points in Eastern Ladakh. Troops and infantry combat vehicles moved back by 2.5 km by People’s Liberation Army in Galwan area, Patrolling Point 15 and Hot Springs area. India has also moved some of its troops back: Top Govt sources to ANI.”

In sharp contrast to the press release put out by the MEA Monday, ANI attributes the disengagement to the Lieutenant General-level talks. On 7 June, the MEA sources had said, “This will be a long haul and small steps need to be taken to resolve the situation.”

Briefing by “top Indian Army sources”
Apparently, “top Army sources” briefed journalists or gave a handout Tuesday based on the outcomes of the Corps Commander’s level meeting. Grapevine says that the “top source” is one of the military commanders at the very top in Delhi. Since, it appears to be the first government/military brief, albeit unofficial and deniable, on the situation, it is pertinent to highlight the details:

After the Corps Commanders’-level meeting on Saturday, both sides have “retreated a bit” – a rather unusual way of describing a military disengagement.
Five areas of conflict have been identified – Patrolling Points 14,15 (Galwan River) and 17 (Hot Springs), north bank of Pangong Tso and Chushul. Chushul had so far not been mentioned in public domain.
Within the next 10 days, a number of meetings of lower commanders are planned at four points. All hot lines are active.
Corps Commander-level meetings might become an annual/ biannual feature.
There has been no intelligence failure as demonstrated by the quick and strong response of the Army.
Army Headquarters is fully satisfied with the performance of the Army and Corps Commander.
PLA was matched in terms of men and machines and Indian Army is prepared for “long and permanent deployment”, if China does not retreat.
The core issue is the undecided LAC. Until that is resolved these episodic issues will continue.
The sources emphasised that the major issue currently is not just the frontline retreating but the build up that has taken place in the rear. China has deployed fighter bombers, rocket forces, air defence radars, jammers etc. at the LAC and a few km from the LAC. India will continue to carry out major build-up until China withdraws its own.
On Wednesday, the Chinese foreign minister spokesperson Hu Chunying said, “Recently, the diplomatic and military channels of China and India held effective communication on the situation along the border and reached positive consensus.”

In a sharp contrast, other reports give an exactly opposite view and indicate that the Chinese approach was belligerent and uncompromising.

The initial disengagement is certainly a success for the Narendra Modi government’s military and diplomatic approach and may pave the way to restoration of status quo ante April 2020. However, it also raises disturbing questions about the handling of the national security crisis by the government and the military. Has India been reduced to handling its national security and border incidents through stories peddled by “unknown official sources” leading to unnecessary speculation? Given the Modi government’s deafening silence of the past 6-8 weeks, has this disengagement come at a price? Given that China had seized the initiative, and had the upper-hand, what concessions have been given in terms of territory, deployment of troops and development of border infrastructure?

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