Humiliating the PLA near the Spangurr Gap is a direct affront to Xi Jinping
News of the Indian Army’s swift moves in the vicinity of the Spanggur gap has come as a relief to the Indian populace. The 1.2 billion people of this country, mostly, repose faith in the Indian Army’s ability to be the vanguard of national power and pride.
Some of the more-exaggerated reports from ‘interested’ sources did have an impact on the national morale of this demographically young nation. So, the news from earlier this week has certainly brought about a perceptible swing in the national mood and has also provided swagger to the national leadership, including Rajnath Singh and S. Jaishankar’s incipient dialogues with their Chinese counterparts in Moscow.
As we enter the turbulent phase of the confrontation with the Chinese, just prior to the onset of winter, we need to resolve some immediate issues while making more fundamental changes to our long term security architecture.
In the immediate term, let us be cognizant that the Indian Army has delivered to the Indian state a 1965 Hajipir redux, and that too against the formidable PLA. This, in itself, is a momentous development because unbeknownst to most people, the PLA’s status in the Chinese power system is much more than the Army’s in Pakistan. One of the first posts Xi Jinping raced to secure was the Chairmanship of the Central Military Commission.
One might proffer equivalences to India and America’s Commander-in-Chief, but those that are aware of the intricacies of neo-Communist systems know that the Army is the iron fist of power in states such as China and North Korea. Accordingly, Xi Jinping has stacked the PLA with his loyalists, including transferring his acolytes to the Western Theater Region. The public humiliation, therefore, of the PLA in Spanggur is a direct assault on Xi Jinping.
This is the nub of the audacity of the Indian Army’s moves around the rim of the Pangong Tso. It is this humiliation of the PLA that has set off the frantic reactions from China—8 press statements in the 12 hours after the news broke! In the Chinese system of governance, it is the PLA and the Central Military Commission which drives the Chinese Foreign Office and its assorted lackeys like the comical Global Times, rather than the system in democratic nations such as ours, where the military is the final instrument of foreign policy.
It is inevitable, therefore, that the PLA will make moves to restore its honour prior to November 15, roughly coinciding with the onset of high winter in the high mountains. It is this unfolding scenario that the Indian state has to prepare for in the impending 75-90 days. The broad contours of this scenario will see China, through its foreign office and propaganda shills, threaten India to back down and compromise without giving anything tangible in return. Let us be clear, now that since the Indian Army has recaptured parts of Ladakh that have been lost since 1962, going back to the status quo ante of April 2020 should not be an option for India.
So, in our turn, while we hold on to the heights around Spanggur, what would make it worthwhile for us to get back to status quo ante of April 2020 in southeastern Ladakh alone? To wit, if we de-escalate in Spannggur, what should we seek from China in return—options range from vacating territory around Daulat Beg Oldi to handing over territory to India around the Tawang tract. This, after all, is a game the Chinese started! If the whole LAC is non-demarcated, then it would be logical for India to seek land where we can reduce our vulnerabilities.
The Indian military, contrary to populist opinion, is an extremely analytical and detail-oriented entity, and they would have war-gamed multiple scenarios flowing from the above situation and shared their findings and recommendations with the national political leadership and the Ministry of External Affairs. It would be reasonable to expect the PLA to have also drawn up similar analysis. The rub though is that the PLA operates independently of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and Xi Jinping as China’s Lord & Master can play either gambit—if the PLA prevails in its confrontation with India, then his prestige shoots up, and if it doesn’t, then he will take it as a license to purge the PLA and various other organs of the Chinese state, notably the foreign ministry.
The PLA has wound itself into a corner and a face-saving exit is no longer sufficient. It needs to come out a winner. Even if it realizes the futility and perhaps even the disadvantages of attrition combat with crack Indian mountain troops, its recent failures, such as a company-worth of its troops being made POW by the Indians, and its defeat by the Tibetan-manned SFF, have already set the PLA on course for confrontation with India. The Pakistanis, of course, must be playing their part in convincing the PLA to continue to under-estimate India. The prospects for peace, therefore, don’t look too promising in the short term and are practically zero in the long term.
For India, in the short term, we need to continue to have the same suppleness that has been evident in the coordination between the armed forces, the foreign office and the national political leadership. I am sure we already have options lined up if the Chinese were to undertake further aggression, which they inevitably will. Given India’s advantages in mountain infantry, opening up Chinese vulnerabilities in other sections of the long frontier is certainly an option. This advantage of having large numbers of mountain infantry is impossible for the PLA to replicate. Interestingly, the Spanggur action is a significant counter to the general trend towards mechanization of armies.
A mechanized army can certainly fight in wide valleys and plains, but as the Chinese found out, in the mountains, you have to be on top of the mountains. The silent rimming by Indian troops of the heights and the feeling of being under compete and hostile Indian overwatch is a huge morale destroyer for the PLA conscript, and no amount of bling-bling outfits and cheap copies of western equipment can help overcome the primal fear a vulnerable soldier experiences when he knows he is under continuous monitoring by a seasoned enemy. These mountains do have eyes!
On a separate, but critical note, the Indian government needs to continue coordinating with the Pentagon and the US State Department, as the White House enters into the last throes of its presidential campaigning season, and its attention gets diverted. If a Democratic administration were to come to power, that administration would take at least a year to get its head straight on China, thereby, expanding the window for Chinese adventurism.
India’s advantages are a seasoned military with the largest numbers of crack mountain warfare troops, a stable government, and most importantly, growing confidence in the aftermath of the Spanggur manoeuvre. We are also more single-minded in our approach to defend what’s ours-how many times has the Chinese executive political and military leadership visited the frontlines since the crisis broke, unlike ours? Most significantly, there is also deep national resolve to stare out the Chinese and not blink. So, let’s stay vigilant, let’s stay confident, and not go back to status quo ante without extracting many many pounds of flesh.
Source:- The Week