Major’s Squad Discusses India-China Border Standoff: Was The Appearance Of Calm In Government’s Handling An Expression Of Quiet Confidence?
Four defence experts discuss the India-China border standoff in a conversation that focuses on the government’s quiet but firm handling of the crisis.
This piece is the second part of the Major’s Squad series.
In this series, four keen followers of all matters defence — Major Manik M Jolly (Retd), Mihir Shah, Shaunak Agarkhedkar and Firestarter, the Major’s Squad, discuss the latest developments related to the India-China standoff in eastern Ladakh, the most serious military crisis between the two countries in many decades.
Once again, the team gathered on the weekend and was keenly looking forward to the impending discussions. They took their seats, opened their laptops and waited. Shaunak, the only published author in the gang, had gotten everyone an autographed copy of Let Bhutto Eat Grass and was distributing when Manik entered.
He quickly hung the map on the wall and said, “Hi guys. Shaunak, please don’t forget my copy. Also, I would like to to open today’s discussion with a very peculiar thing I have been noticing during the entire India-China crisis. Lack of panic! Have you noticed that too? The calm manner in which government, military and bureaucracy is conducting itself is commendable, yet strange. What do you guys think?”
Mihir: There are two possible reasons: one, the security establishment was genuinely blindsided by the Chinese offensive and chose to maintain an outward projection of calm to avoid any panic on the home front.
At the same time, they were burning the midnight oil to obtain a diplomatic solution. The other—and stronger—possibility is that the establishment and political leadership received timely intelligence and built up the resources necessary to counter the Chinese deployment.
The appearance of calm may have been an expression of quiet confidence: they knew that Indian forces were in a stronger position and could wait out the Chinese.
Manik: Yes, I would rather go with the second one. I think we are very well placed to counter any offensive of any size, in any area. Hence the calm.
Shaunak: Yes, I would agree to the same. The Prime Minister, Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff visited Ladakh, reviewed the situation with GOC-in-C, Northern Command, and gave a 30-minute speech to the troops deployed there. Seen in the context of the lack of panic in the Indian establishment, this suggests that they believe they have their ducks in a row as far as the Chinese threat is concerned.
Had that not been the case, the Prime Minister probably wouldn’t have visited today (3 July), and he definitely wouldn’t have given the kind of speech he gave, basically throwing down the gauntlet.
Firestarter: I think it is because this is how this government operates. They “run silent, run deep” as the old adage about submariners goes. They have seen that releasing constant sound bytes only feeds the media frenzy, and vested interests spin everything they say against them.
Combating misinformation then becomes a bigger issue. This is not always a perfect approach, as it also allows speculation to thrive while action is underway, and folks start getting worried.
But by following this approach, they retain the advantage of making their decisions objectively, and keeping their opponents guessing. They seem to think this approach works well for them, and so far that has been the pattern.
Manik: I agree to all the points and would also like to add that at a time of national crisis, it the becomes responsibility of citizens and media to not hound the government for details to satisfy their urges for information.
It would be good to have some faith and wait. I saw some senior media personnel’s tweets aimed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and government on why he is not telling, on a daily basis, what is happening. Found it very unprofessional and selfish. The situation was, and still is where hostilities were a very real possibility. How can we expect government to lay out its plan in front of everyone? Imagine this pressure during the Second World War for Allies. Normandy would have never happened.
Manik: By the way, on same but a little different track, have you seen how media and opposition chooses to put army and government on the same platform when it suits them and separates them as they wish.
Mr Modi is army some time and some time he is not.
In my opinion, the army is executive arm of the government with special function, duties, responsibilities and powers. There is absolutely no difference between the two when it comes to taking responsibilities and answering for any faux pas.
If the governments are keen to take credit for any gallant and successful operations like surgical strike, then they are also to take the blame for failures.
It is sad how at such a critical time, this wedge is being driven to suit individual agendas and narratives. Everyone should be very clear; the army serves the country on command of the ruling government. Party and leader agnostic. This is not Pakistan.
Mihir: This is something that needs to be understood with absolute clarity by every citizen given the magnitude of the crisis we are facing, there should be no mental distinction drawn between the ‘government’, ‘army’, ‘internal security agencies’ and a host of other bodies.
This is a problem that will only be tackled with a whole-of-nation approach.
If a war breaks out, the army alone will not be fighting it, but the country as a whole will. Any fallout will be borne by the entire country, not just by the army, or the government, or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It is, therefore, essential for the citizenry to unequivocally back their country—with all its constituent parts. It does not matter if you do not like the current Prime Minister or disagree with the Chief of Defence Staff. They are not the enemy.
Firestarter: I’ll be frank. Many of the current government’s political opponents have gone absolutely nuts. They have forgotten the Indian armed forces represent some 1.4 billion people, ie, all of us, and are trying to score political points at the expense of the establishment, and as usual the military happens to be in the way.
But today, barring one particular party, the opposition has shown exemplary maturity in standing behind the government of the day. I hope better sense prevails and we can put a more united front rather than show infighting at such crucial moment.
Manik: True. The image India presents internationally is very weak when our opposition makes it an agenda to keep engaging in pedantic nitpicking day after day just to prove some illogical point to its supporters. I genuinely fail to see the political equity in this format.
The army is the front ending entity here that delivers the decision of government to enemies, be it defence or a surgical strike.
By constantly questioning the actions, ability and scope of the army’s operations, you not only question the soldiers who are sacrificing their lives to defend the borders, but also the government that has an holistic view and control on the issue.
Your myopic reach to gather some claps is hurting not only our reputation internationally but makes even soldiers feel bad. It would be so much better if the opposition realised this and came in support of government and the armed forces.
Everyone nodded in agreement.
Manik: Given the fact that de-escalation has started, what do you guys think is going to happen to the three points of controversy? Pangong, Hot Springs and Galwan.
Mihir: I have not formed a firm opinion about Chinese intent at this time. But something about this whole situation feels odd. It almost looks as if the Chinese have come prepared for a fight, and with reports coming in that Pakistan has mobilised 20,000 troops in Gilgit-Baltistan, it would behove the Indian leadership to treat this as a call for open war, rather than a posturing exercise that will be resolved through diplomacy.
Manik: The Gilgit-Baltistan deployment hasn’t been verified by any media or OSINT (open source intelligence) expert till now. Maybe, it was just one of those gossips made to stress Indians.
Shaunak: But, think about it. Pakistan will prepare in one way or the other to defend Gilgit-Baltistan. Because they will be terrified of a scenario where the Chinese, after all this mobilisation, come to terms with India and withdraw, and Prime Minister Modi then decides, “Hey, we went through all this trouble and mobilised all these divisions here in Ladakh; we might as well go take Skardu”.
Manik: Wars don’t happen like that. We have majority of army in J&K, but we have not attacked Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) , right? Just because some troops and formations have been moved, does not mean they have to attack someone before coming back to their bases. Present de-escalation should be a prime example of this argument.
Firestarter: True. Also, some interesting reports have emerged during the entire stand-off, but we have to apply our own commonsense filter that there could be an element of misinformation and that not one report could by itself cover the entire truth.
For one, War on The Rocks mentioned that most attempts to salami-slice or basically grab territory during peacetime by delivering the opponent a fait accompli are usually successful. That could be the aim of the Chinese incursion. But our response has drawn a line in the sand — question is what after both sides disengage, the Chinese repeats this. Or, if the Chinese simply refuse to disengage?
Manik: In short, I think at Pangong, Chinese will not go back from ‘Finger 4’. They have been wanting this F4 for a long time just because of the view it provides into the valley. And they have also developed the spur pretty effectively.
Personally, I doubt they will exit from here. But it gives us a great advantage of starting to treat F4 as limit of their deployment. Beyond that, India.
It clears lot of confusion and restricts Chinese from patrolling until F2. In Galwan, Chinese have retreated almost 2 kilometres and that’s good news. Though it will take a few more days before situation is clear on who settles where in Galwan Valley.
What they are to look out for is Hot Springs. There is a reason, I think Chinese have not caused chaos and altercations in Hot Springs area. They have developed a massive base there with a good supply line from rear.
The silence in that area could be because they do not want to be disturbed in this region. Centrally located, the base has ability to reinforce either side. We should keep an eye on that area, just my opinion.
Mihir: I’m sure this has not gone unnoticed by the government and the army.
Manik: Oh, definitely not. We have just a few open source images and inputs to form our opinions. The government is sitting on heaps of intelligence. Anyway, lets call this a day. Have a nice weekend. Next week we will discuss South China Sea in detail, the backbone of Chinese economy. I think the real games will be played there.
The first part of the series can be read here. A new part will be published next Monday.
Major Manik M Jolly is a decorated veteran, who now works in the field of energy innovation and rural development. Mihir Shah is a mechanical engineer who tracks military and aerospace issues. He has contributed to Livefist, Swarajya and Newslaundry. Shaunak Agarkhedkar is the author of ‘Let Bhutto Eat Grass’, a historical fiction set in 1970s India and Europe which follows Pakistan’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. Firestarter is a commentator on all matters military.
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