India must insist on delineation and demarcation of the LAC in Ladakh – P.R. Kumar

Line of Actual Control in Ladakh and Eastern Ladakh (Aksai Chin).

Lt Gen P R Kumar, PVSM, AVSM, VSM Col Comdt Army Avn.Given China’s repeated perfidy, deceit and deception along the LAC, and blatant violations of all protocols year after year, even a reversion to the status quo ante of April 2020 should not be acceptable, and our soldiers and commanders may baulk at the idea. … The most workable solution is for India and the Armed Forces to insist on delineation and demarcation of the LAC with China. – Lt. Gen. P.R. Kumar

Where does the India-China boundary issue begin? Colloquially, the terms boundary and border are used interchangeably; a boundary is a line between two states that marks the limits of sovereign jurisdiction. In other words, a boundary is a line agreed upon by both states and normally delineated on maps and demarcated on the ground by both states. A border, on the other hand, is a zone between two states, nations, or civilisations. It is frequently also an area where people, nations, and cultures intermingle and are in contact with one another.

Three distinct steps are involved in boundary-making. The first step is to have an overall political understanding of the basic boundary alignment. This step is referred to as ‘allocation’. The second is to translate this general understanding to lines on a map and this process is called ‘delineation’. The third and final step is to transpose the lines drawn on a map to physical markers on the ground. This step is called ‘demarcation’.

Quite clearly, therefore, a boundary settlement is not a simple drawing of lines on a map or a demarcation on the ground. It is a significant political act. The principle of uti possidetis Juris enshrined in international jurisprudence was invariably followed when it came to settling boundary claims. This principle states that whenever a state becomes independent, it automatically inherits colonial boundaries and that any effort to occupy or violate state territory after it became independent would be considered ineffective and of no legal consequence. This principle was recognised by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as legally valid in the Burkina-Faso v Mali (1986) case. Further, if a state acquires knowledge of an act which it considers internationally illegal, and in violation, and nevertheless does not protest; this attitude implies a renunciation of such rights, provided that a protest would have been necessary to preserve a claim. This appears the only logical reason that Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai rejected Jawaharlal Nehru’s offer of taking the boundary issue to the ICJ outrightly, as conveyed in his letter of January 1, 1963.

Standoff at the LAC in East Ladakh

The Chinese have occupied Indian territory (our perception of the LAC) in at least two strategically important locations, viz Depsang Plains and Area Fingers North of Pangong Tso lake. India and especially our Army has bewildered and shocked China with her resolve, bravery and professionalism. On the night of June 14-15, 2020, our tactical acumen and physical bravery at Galwan set the stage, and firmly conveyed to China that ‘it was not business as usual of continued soft salami-slicing’, and repeat doses frequently. The Army followed it up by occupying pivotal defensive positions on the night of August 29-30, astride the Kailash range in the Southern Bank of Pangong Tso in the Chushul Sector on own side of the LAC, making the Chinese deployment on the Northern bank vulnerable, and pre-empting any further adventurism by them in the strategically important Chushul sub-sector.

Chinese deception strategy: Keep talking

Concurrently, while all the action was happening on the ground, the Chinese, as is their practice of subterfuge, continued engaging in talks at the military, bureaucratic, diplomatic and political level with their Indian counterparts. There is absolutely no ambiguity on the following aspects regarding the LAC:

1. China has unambiguously violated all Peace and Tranquility Agreements and CBMs (confidence-building measures) and changed the status quo on the ground. Chinese troop positions at the beginning of April 2020 and mid-May 2020 simply gives the game away unequivocally.

2. After so many years of ‘salami-slicing’ and inching forward along the LAC, it just cannot be ‘business as usual’, as repeatedly clarified by our External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Belligerent actions along the LAC cannot be de-linked from other matters like economic cooperation, trade, etc.

3. There is a complete breakdown of trust as far as the Indian Armed Forces are concerned. China has repeatedly spoken with a forked tongue—it talks one language while simultaneously acting contrary to its assurances.

4. The outstanding act of valour displayed by our troops at Galwan, and our operational initiative of pre-empting the Chinese and occupying decisive and dominating heights on the Southern Banks of Pangong Tso on the night of August 29-30, 2020, have handed over the initiative to the Army and India and provided the leverage for our diplomats and political hierarchy to speak from a position of strength.

5. Our soldiers on the ground should not be expected to adhere to the existing protocols any more. The rules of engagement have changed, and needs to be revisited forcefully (already done and orders passed by Army HQ).

6. Even as I write, the five-point agreement signed by the two Foreign Ministers is being re-interpreted to suit Chinese interests (Chinese Foreign Ministry, media).

7. The Indian Armed Forces are fully prepared to hunker down and spend the winter in the harsh, desolate environment of Ladakh, and face all challenges thrown at them and take the fight to the adversary if necessitated.

China has crossed Indian Red Lines: Even status quo ante to April 2020 not enough

How can our Army trust the Chinese on any future agreement like pull-back, or maintain the current status quo, create buffer zones (talk in some circles) and the ilk? It also comes with tremendous challenges for implementation on the ground on such a long LAC even within East Ladakh, by our commanders and troops on the ground. There is a lot of talk in open channels on the way forward. There is also a deep worry especially amongst the veteran community and defence experts, that gains ‘made on the ground’ should not be frittered away at the altar of quick peace, establishing stability, for political expediency, especially in view of significantly important upcoming elections, and agree to a compromise solution on the ground.

Given China’s repeated perfidy, deceit and deception along the LAC, and blatant violations of all protocols year after year, even a reversion to the status quo ante of April 2020 should not be acceptable, and our soldiers and commanders may baulk at the idea. Withdrawing from the Kailash Range heights is NOT RECOMMENDED at any cost, as it has strategic ramifications, and occupation by the Chinese in future by stealth, will have grave consequences, and very costly to retake. The option of reviewing and coming up with fresh protocols/agreements does not provide any level of confidence that they will be adhered to by the Chinese.

Recommended workable solution for long-term peace and stability

First and foremost, the political policymakers (PM, CCS, NSA), diplomats, bureaucrats and most importantly the senior military commanders (CDS and the tri-services Chiefs) MUST be on the same page and reach a consensus on the best ‘way ahead’, which does not compromise on India’s sovereignty and aspirations. To my mind, the most workable solution is for India and the Armed Forces to insist on delineation and demarcation of the LAC with China. While achieving it is challenging, it is the best option to provide at least temporary peace and stability and a fillip and direction to the permanent resolution of the India-China boundary issue. – Daily-O, 16 September 2020

Lt. Gen. P.R. Kumar (Retd) is the former Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), Indian Army and commentator on strategic security issues.


One Response

  1. Winnie-the-Pooh

    Could a 2020 war with India restore Xi’s shaky position in China – Rajesh M. Parikh – The Indian Express – 15 Sept. 2020

    In September 1962, Jawaharlal Nehru was asked by a reporter about minor Chinese incursions into Indian territory during a stopover from London after attending the 12th Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference. He responded that he had instructed his army to throw out the Chinese. The ill-prepared and sparsely distributed Army tried to do just that but in a few days, the Chinese had crushingly advanced into our territory within reach of New Delhi. Then, mysteriously, they retreated for reasons that are not unequivocally clear 58 years later. The prevalent theory is that the Chinese were not interested in our barren land. They just wanted to chastise a globe-trotting Prime Minister who had been making arrogant and somewhat exaggerated statements about India’s capabilities. Besides, they may have needed a distraction from monumental domestic economic and political crises.

    Time for self-disclosure. I am a neuropsychiatrist, not a political analyst. Far smarter and more accomplished individuals are in influential positions in New Delhi. I do, however, plead guilty to off-duty analyses of human behaviour and as my family and friends would testify, am occasionally right. Nine months ago, I began to co-author a book on the coronavirus before a single case had come to India and predicted then that the US and India would have the largest number of cases in the world. That the world’s most powerful and richest country, with the best medical facilities and by far the greatest number of Nobel Laureates would succumb to a tiny virus, seemed an absurd and risky prediction. Nonetheless, we took our chances. A couple of months later when our national tally of corona cases stood at 84 and it was believed that in a few days we would win the war against the virus, we predicted the opposite. We cautioned that we would have the largest number of cases in the world. While that remains to be seen, we hope as we often have in the past few months, that we are wrong. Meanwhile, over 25 other predictions we made about the pandemic have borne out. This newspaper recently ran an analysis about how the war against the virus was as good as lost. We pray that the virus will withdraw as mysteriously as the Chinese army in 1962 and that the Chinese will not outsmart us as the virus has.

    Arguably, the four greatest generals in recent history—Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon and Rommel—repeatedly indulged in painstakingly patient deceptions. In the summer of 362 BC, Alexander calmly waited over a month on the inhospitable bank of the Jhelum. He was biding time against Porus’s large army with the most powerful battle tanks of the time, war elephants. Now and then, he needled them a little and withdrew. Porus’s troops grew more confident and got lulled into a sense of security. One rainy night, while sending a small force across from where he had camped, his main army crossed a monsoon swollen river to outmanoeuvre Porus from the rear. The Battle of the Hydaspes (as the Jhelum was then known) continues to be studied by military strategists across the world.

    Today, a China 10 times more powerful than us in economic and military might than in 1962, is needling us. They have not just singled us out for aggressive posturing. Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea have all seen crowing displays of might. Analysts argue that these may come to nought and are driven solely by domestic concerns. At least three factions in China jostle for power—the military, the politburo and within it, Chairman Xi Jinping and his enemies. In the years preceding the Sino-Chinese war, Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward had been a complete disaster with 40-50 million starvation deaths. His position was in danger and he barely hung in during the 10th Plenum of the Party’s 8th Central Committee in September 1962. A month later, total victory in the war with India reinforced his power in China. Could a 2020 war with India attempt to restore Xi’s shaky position? After all, everyone adores a war-winning leader (Indira Gandhi was unfettered Durga after the Bangladesh war).

    Having conducted themselves disgracefully during the early days of the pandemic, the Chinese have brilliantly outmanoeuvred the virus. For us, the worst of the pandemic is yet to come in loss of lives and livelihoods. We aren’t even thinking of the second wave of the pandemic. As we have pointed out in our book, the influenza pandemic of a 100 years ago, which killed almost 100 million people (equivalent to 425 million deaths today) had three waves, of which the first, was the smallest.

    In 1962, the Chinese overwhelmed our ill-equipped frontier posts in successively large waves of troops. For many decades, our soldiers would have recurrent dreams of wave upon wave of Chinese overwhelming them. What nightmares await our troops this fall and winter? Is Arunachal Pradesh the real target? Let us hope that the bureaucrats of South Block have all the answers and that their phones have not been hacked by the Chinese.

    > Rajesh M. Parikh is Hon. Neuropsychiatrist and Director of Medical Research, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai. He has co-authored ‘The Coronavirus: What You Need To Know About The Global Pandemic’.


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