The Galwan Attack
Seldom are the incidents that lead to ever lasting consequences remembered long after they have happened, less so the people involved.
So likely will the world forget the sacrifice of Col Santosh Babu of the Indian army in Galwan Valley of Ladakh or that of the PLA soldier(s) that were the cause.
What would be remembered in due course would be the attack on India’s Ladakh region by China leading to other possibilities, of a wider war, Pakistan entering it and liberation of Gilgit Baltistan region of Ladakh as the lasting result.
The Gilgit Baltistan region is a highly strategic region, a part of Ladakh historically with strong Tibetan influences in olden times, but seized by Pakistan in a past attack on India and now a part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is itself a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
If that were to happen, it would be tough struggle for Xi Jinping to survive as the Chinese president. Perhaps the time has come for alleviating the sufferings of the Tibetans.
What a sight would it be to behold the Dalai Lama visiting the Buddha Rock at Gilgit’s capital Skardu .
What were the immediate triggers
The triggers behind the Chinese action as mentioned in the press was a response to India’s border construction but that just seems far from reality since the road construction by India has been going on for the past several years and on its own territory and matched what China has done for years on the side controlled by it. You match roads with roads not by killing soldiers.
An ill-conceived plan by China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) hatched likely in Nov/Dec 2019 just after the visit of Xi Jinping to India with the aim of giving a bloody nose to Prime Minister Modi, instead ended in the PLA falling flat on its nose. That the Chinese top leadership decided to go ahead with the ill-fated plan in the midst of a global epidemic that exported by China exposes the arrogance, false self belief and lack of foresight.
It also exposed the ill preparedness of its leadership and the CMC. It is sad, a co-operation between two ancient cultures, two ancient civilizations that holds so much potential, that relationship has now been pushed back several decades.
The recent attack by the PLA on India in Galwan valley of Ladakh, was not as a result of India’s constitutional moves in Jammu and Kashmir as is speculated in certain sections of the press, nor the Doklam incident, a border standoff between China and India, where the PLA were caught off guard by the Indian resistance, nor wanting to divert domestic attention from the coronavirus pandemic, though these could have acted as a catalyst.
The timing of what has happened and what could happen in the near future could have been planned to coincide with election season in the US when a sitting US president could be less likely to undertake any military action against China. To understand the actions of China, you have to understand the vision of Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.
You cannot miss Xi’s speech on sovereignty made in May 2020 on the occasion of 13th national people’s congress1, this even as the PLA had just started their operation in Ladakh. At the meeting, Xi prodded the PLA to think of worst case scenarios, scale up training and battle preparedness and effectively deal with all sorts of complex situations and safeguard sovereignty and security.
The only problem was the Chinese definition of sovereignty meant control over ever expanding territorial claims like that of Galwan Valley of India or adding new claims when none existed in the past like that with Eastern sector of Bhutan2 or by creating artificial islands out of thin air, actually out of sea, the south china sea when none existed and claiming 90% of the sea3.
To think that the tiny kingdom of Bhutan which is one of the most peaceful nations on earth and least threating to China’s security and to initiate new claims on its populated land can only mean expansionism garbed in the veil of sovereignty. The roots of all these actions lie in this vison of expansionism outlined by Xi Jinping after assuming chairmanship of CMC in Nov 2012, which involves a lean, mean PLA that moves from flexing its military muscle to actual combat operations when desired by the Chinese Communist party4.
It involves winning battles across China’s immediate neighborhood of South China Sea and India, block adversaries like USA, Japan and Australia and set the stage for global domination vis-a-vis the BRI. Think of Countries that have drifted significantly towards the Chinese camp in the last 8 years since Xi came to power and you will begin to see how the policy has been at work all these years.
The planning for the attack may have been a recent one, but the policy has been in making since his elevation to corridors of power. Soon after Xi took control of the CMC, he promoted a few key top ranking officials of the Chinese military and one of them was General Zhao Zongqi, the General in charge of the PLA’s western theatre command, who ordered the attack on India’s soldiers at Galwan valley as per US intelligence reports5.
As prime minister of India, Modi aptly said the age of expansionism is long over and history is witness that the powers that dream of expansionism have bitten the dust or forced to change course. Wars are strange, rarely they go as planned. The problem with wars are you are never sure of the outcome until after it has ended and sometimes decades after it has ended. Xi jinping, his CMC and General Zhao Zongqi of the PLA are responsible for the attack on Ladakh.
Till they are in power, India and the world will have to exercise caution. India so far has handled it well. Once the dust settles, it should nurture and allow Tibetans in exile the right to exercise their political protest as well against China. In that lies the good of India and of the world. It would be unwise to think that the PLA would stop or return back, they can do a tactical retreat but they will be back on India’s border, either now or in future.
They will not stop until their policy objectives have either been achieved or been repulsed by India with significant costs. The current misadventure by China and the subsequent stiff resistance shown by India, the deployment of US warships, the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagon in the south china sea, the Indian prime minister’s tough speech, and the subsequent disengagement initiated by China’s foreign minister would have been noticed by countries on the periphery of the south china sea.
It will in turn embolden them to stand up to China, knowing they can and that if they do, there are others that will stand by their side. That is the lasting result of the current standoff, for the world, if it stops at this juncture but likely won’t.
Path to Liberation
A sudden 12% increase in defence budget of Pakistan announced in June 2020 when the country is battling covid and its economy so weak, with a govt that came to power on the promise of great increase in social welfare, now suddenly throws that agenda out and opts for spending on defence?
It can only mean its prime minister was too weak or the army too strong it doesn’t care for its people but cares more about grabbing territory in Ladakh along with the PLA, or these are alarm bells ringing for a war prep in the works and Pakistan has just been thrust into it by the PLA or these are all of the above. One is heartened to see the Tibetan women line up on streets and wave at Indian army convoys en route to the Ladakh border, chanting “Hindi-Chinee Bhai Bhai, Cheen ka yeh Dhoka Hai”, reminding India and the world to be on guard, for what one says and what one does can be a lot different.
Indeed they have waited a long many years for their struggle. If the war expands and there are strong indications it will and once Pakistan joins it, a choice it would come to rue in due course of time, for would not the theatre of operation expand into territory controlled by it, which is the Gliglit Baltistan region of Ladakh, and without preparation, but suddenly being thrust into it, wouldn’t it leave Skardu so weak and when and if it falls along with it the CPEC, the flagship project of the BRI, wouldn’t it prove to be a costly affair for China?