Asia
Commentary

Lessons from the Ladakh crisis

It has become apparent that there have been grave failures somewhere in the Indian intelligence chain as it runs through from source to consumer.

This article was originally published by the Observer Research Foundation.

The 2020 India-China LAC crisis in Ladakh is arguably New Delhi’s “biggest strategic and security challenge in decades.” 20 Indian soldiers were killed by PLA forces wielding iron rods, clubs wrapped in barbed wire, and sticks studded with nails on the night of 15 June. The Indian forces were overseeing a negotiated “de-escalation” in one section of the around 40-60 square km of territory which China has progressively occupied since at least May. This “de-escalation” turned out to be a ploy for the Chinese assault. If the Chinese occupation is allowed to stand, this will not only entail India publicly accepting Beijing’s land grab as a fait accompli, but also cut off Indian lifelines between its border posts. Moreover, it will grant the PLA a commanding position overlooking the Indian Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road, critical for strategic purposes.

The first option available to Modi is to militarily force the Chinese forces back to the 1962 LAC claim line, which Beijing has historically de facto recognised in its patrol operations, albeit not de jure. The casualty rate of such an offensive would be very high, and raise escalation concerns, not least as China “believes it needs to stand up to India whatever the cost.” However, based upon a recent comprehensive estimate of major Indian and Chinese combat forces in their ground border areas, it is likely that India would eventually succeed in this effort, even with the new forces that China has moved closer to the border. India still retains the core advantage that more of its China-facing combat forces are located closer to border areas than vice versa. An additional — or simultaneous — option would be for India to open a new front by moving out of Arunachal Pradesh to seize Chinese territory in the eastern sector, strengthening New Delhi’s bargaining position in compelling Chinese withdrawal.

However, it appears more likely at present that Modi will seek to avoid further clashes against the Chinese occupying forces, and play for time in eventually securing a negotiated Chinese withdrawal later in the year. A global diplomatic campaign to damage China’s international image, including regularly briefing scores of foreign ambassadors on the nature of the incursion and of China’s brutality against Indian forces, could raise the political costs of Beijing’s actions. This could also include utilising India’s scheduled hosting of the 2021 BRICS summit to pressure China. Modi can publicly state that at present, he cannot see how he could invite China to attend if it is occupying Indian territory. India reportedly used the China-hosted 2017 BRICS summit as similar leverage in ending the Doklam crisis, threatening China’s public embarrassment by India’s non-attendance without prior resolution of the crisis.

Read the full article in ORF.

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