This article is Part 1 of a series being written by the author

by Saurabh Dubey

Post 1962 debacle, there have been border skirmishes at the LAC and China has always initiated them, attempting to disrupt the status quo and has audaciously kept changing the geo-political goalposts to suit its hegemonic agenda.

In 2017, bullying Bhutan was just a means to an end, the aim was to gauge India’s reaction in its attempt to close the distance between Chumbi Valley and its forces. But, apparently, we were lulled into strategic complacency even after the ‘dis-engagement’ at Doklam after seventy-two days of intense geo-political jostling. So much so, we kowtowed to China’s ‘sensitivities’ in 2018, when Government officials were told to skip the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Dalai Lama’s stay in India and we also kept the Quad under a cloud of strategic ambivalence.

Regrettably, it took another vicious stab in the back at Galwan, for us to employ our Comprehensive National Power and make an attempt to shed the shibboleths of futile policy of engaging China over countless border consultations even after being acutely aware of its nefarious designs. Best way to deal with China’s predictable unpredictability is to become just as unpredictable as them. You simply can’t placate an implacable enemy by being predictable or even worse, being pliable. India also needs to get rid of its gargantuan gullibility when it comes to embracing the so called One China Principle.

Our past unpleasant encounters at Somdurung Chu and Doklam should have made us wiser in our strategic planning vis-a- vis China. Indicators of what could come next, especially, after the abrogation of Article 370 and reorganization of our territories should have been anticipated in advance and prepared for any eventuality at the LAC, but in the same year we invited the General Secretary of CPC to Mamallapuram. Could Galwan tragedy have been avoided? Yes. Coronavirus or not, we should have kept our guard up, it is exactly in tumultuous situations like these, the enemy who is a habitual offender will batter down at your gates. Can CPC be allowed again to initiate, escalate, dictate unilaterally and ultimately pull back at its leisure? No. Case in point the Somdurung Chu incident. Who knows had the intrepid and tenacious Gen Sundarji’s bold Exercise Chequerboard precipitated into a brief conflict, another vicious hammering (the likes of Nathu La 1967) by India from the commanding heights of Hathung La would have punctured the pugilistic pangs of the PLA for good?

Some parallels could be drawn between the present long drawn Ladakh faceoff and the equally volatile Somdurung Chu standoff. There are some similarities which could be drawn in the lead up to both these incidents, barring the tragic part of the bloodshed at Galwan.

Period 1984 to 1988 (The end result was that amidst a border face off India was forced to react and a Union Territory became a full-fledged Border State): The audacious Operation Meghdoot of 1984, to capture and control the Siachen Glacier, was an unqualified success in the annals of high mountain warfare. India’s Siachen success in 1984 became a thorn in the strategic calculations of China and Pak. With supremacy over Siachen achieved, Operation Brasstacks was initiated too (18th November 1986 to 6th March 1987), China’s ‘all-weather’ friend, Pak had a target painted on its back. The subcontinent was rumbling as the Indian war machine was thundering. During the summer of 1984, India had established an observation post on the bank of Sumdorong Chu. It was manned by the Special Security Bureau (SSB) during the summer and vacated in the winter. In June 1986, an Indian patrol found some 40 Chinese working on permanent structures. Soon some 200 men and reinforcements arrived on the spot. By August after the Chinese had constructed a helipad, the Indian Army took a more aggressive stand along the entire front in the NEFA. In September, in order to diffuse the tension Delhi suggested that, if the Chinese accepted to withdraw their forces during the coming winter, India would not re-occupy the area following summer. The proposal was bluntly rejected by Beijing. Amidst the deteriorating situation at the LAC, in December 1986, Arunachal Pradesh became a full-fledged State of the Indian Union. This angered China further. The area of Arunachal Pradesh was integrated into Assam at the time of independence. But the presence of China with an unsettled border made the area militarily important for the government. The area was upgraded to the Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh in 1972 and was granted statehood by the State of Arunachal Pradesh Act, 1986 in 1987. India stood firm at its commanding positions with a force to match and even punish China for its deceitful designs, eventually, the enemy blinked. The deployment of troops was de-escalated, and the way was paved for the then PM Rajiv Gandhi to visit Beijing in 1988.

Period 2016 to 2020 (The end result was that after a full- fledged border state was bifurcated into two Union Territories a border face off ensued, where again India was forced to react): In January 2016, Masood Azhar’s JeM, carried out an audacious attack at the Pathankot airbase which was followed by another deadly attack at the army base in Uri in September the same year. Indian Army crossed the LoC and conducted a surgical strike in response and Pakistan was at the receiving end diplomatically as well, but its benefactor China went to great lengths to come to its lackey’s aid. Not once but twice, first it blocked the designation of listing Masood Azhar as a terrorist by the UNSC 1267 Committee and later when PM Modi warned Pakistan that, ‘blood and water can’t flow together’, China openly announced that it had blocked the Xiabuqu river, one of the many tributaries of the Yarlung Zangbo (Bramhaputra), the message was not lost on India. If China could deal with the shady figures of the Pakistani Deep State, that meant even the ‘non state actors’ had to be kept in good humour to avoid any blowback for its CPEC projects. And also, because that suited China just fine, if India gets bogged down on the LOC then China can prepare for future course of action at the LAC. Very next year came the Doklam road building ruse to test India’s reaction. The vicious suicide bombing at Pulwama in 2019 was the last straw for India and its aftermath needs no elaboration. 5th August 2019, India removed the impediment of Article 370 and reorganized its own territory of J&K by bifurcating it into two UTs. Home Minister Amit Shah thundered in the Parliament that even Aksai Chin fell in the ambit of reclaiming India’s occupied territories. China’s fulminations in the aftermath of this historic decision should have been enough of an indicator of what could come, the only question remained was where and when. Galwan in Ladakh provided the painful answer. A series of events in both the above-mentioned time frames, set in motion a necessity for greater collusive action between China and Pak to threaten India’s legitimate moves in pursuit of her national interest and also correct historical wrongs.

They say prevention is better than cure, rightly so, even in the prevailing circumstances when the world is engulfed by the Wuhan Virus. For China, I would say pre-emption and gumption are the two tools to ensure that we are not surprised again by our enemy. For they have become dangerously and predictably unpredictable, we should keep bolstering our capabilities and revisit our China strategy at the same time, so we can serve them a dose of their own medicine, for the hegemonic virus that the CPC is afflicted with is becoming more and more menacing every passing day.

Saurabh Dubey tracks military and aerospace issues closely. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN