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Friday, April 16, 2021

What options does the Indian military have against China?

As the shock and grief from the brutal clash that took place in the night of June 15 and 16 remain like fresh wounds, it also makes way or implies what could be the road ahead for the India-China relationship. While emotions are running high among soldiers, army personnel and the public in general who wish the faceoff between the two nations may continue, it needs to be well thought of that all options for out country ahead come with their own pros and cons. It is quite a well-known fact that India’s military has been modernised since the last Sino-Indian war in 1962, but the government needs to act sensibly. We can look at several non-military ways to deal with this conflict, but there are a few options for the Indian Army to work on.

Let’s find out what options the Indian military has against China.

Situation still tense

Although diplomatic talks even the priority of both the nations and they have almost agreed to maintain peace on the border, the situation in the Ladakh sector still remains tense. Despite talks and several promises by China’s People’s Liberation Army to keep a tab on the troops, they seem to be doing the exact opposite — they have set up more number of observation posts, pillboxes and numerous permanent bunkers. From what it looks like now, the Indian side would want their enemy to pay a bigger price for the unprecedented and deadly Galwan attack. The situation in certain places remain extremely vulnerable as the troops belonging to both sides are supposed to maintain a distance of at least 2.5 to 3.5 kilometres but they are barely separated by 100m at some places. Even when the centre has been trying to deal with the tensions in a diplomatic manner the Indian Army seems to be on its toes to showcase their prowess to the enemy nation. “Either you exercise military options or you wait and watch through negotiations. But in the wait-and-watch scenario, another Galwan type clash cannot be ruled out,” said former Deputy Army Chief adding, “Military options, however, always have the risk of escalation.”

India in a better position

Disagreeing with the former army personnel, numerous military analysts and experts feel that India is currently in a better position than China as it has fought and won several wars with its arch-rival Pakistan. Moreover, the heavyweight Sukhois and the latest Rafales that India owns are capable of been flown from comparatively higher altitudes than China because of their obvious disadvantage of having air bases in some of the highest and harshest altitudes in Tibet. In terms of deployment, India has already taken steps to increase their hold at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. What is known as holding the line in military strategy is currently being deployed by the Indian Army at the 862-km long stretch at the LAC. “Holding the line is a defensive but a deterrent strategy,” said former Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General (retd.) D S Hooda. “The huge deployment of troops, artillery and armoured vehicles may somehow create fear in the enemy’s mind, preventing it from moving further,” he added. The Indian Army already in its effort to increase deployment in the area has moved two of its divisions from Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh along with two other engineer regiments. The Army has also stationed an Infantry division to look after the Galwan and DBO sector and several others in areas like Pangong Tso, Chumur, Chushul and more.

Military analysts have also suggested that the Army has an upper hand in some of the areas in Ladakh thus providing them with an option of the Quid Pro Quo- which in military terms would mean tit for tat. “We can occupy some of their areas where we can dominate them with sheer numbers. By occupying Chinese territory, our bargaining power becomes stronger and gives us negotiating leverage,” said a general from the Army. However, he also added that it should be kept in mind that this could lead to military escalation and India should keep the repercussions in mind. The Army can surprise the Chinese in areas where they have a tactical advantage, he reiterated. “The Chinese are not moving back, and military and diplomatic talks have not yielded much,” said Lieutenant General (retd) Mohinder Puri, former deputy chief of the Army. “I would feel comfortable if we think of a quid pro quo on the other side. Plenty of areas are available where we can surprise them.”

 

What options does India's military have against China?
Indian soldiers are presenting near the border with China, in their military base (Photo: Shutterstock.com/Omri Eliyahu)

 

Is limited conflict an option?

There’s also one school of experts who feel limited conflict can be carried out in order for India to be at a better position. Coordinated surprise attacks could be the key, say some military strategists. “When all your diplomatic channels fail, you are left with military options. Limited conflict option seems the obvious one. If you are determined to kick them out, you go for limited conflict options. Infantry and special forces can be supported with armoured elements and the newly-inducted Apache attack helicopters,” said an Army general who is in support for such action. However, the conflict option is the most obvious one that can lead to a full-fledged war between the two nations and thus have serious consequences.

What are the non-military options?

Some even feel that it would be wise if India currently tried to figure out other non-military options to show China their prowess. Already, the Indian public and other organisations have all begun calls for boycotting Chinese products and stopping imports from the neighbouring nation. The Indian government too recently banned 59 Chinese apps in the country to curb China’s infiltration in the technology and data-driven markets. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Vocal for Local’ call to build an ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ could also play an important role in this by encouraging locally made products and increased manufacturing inside the country. India could badly impact China in its manufacturing sector by significantly reducing imports thus cause a huge effect as their unemployment levels already are at a high six per cent. Speaking about non-military options to tackle the Chinese, former Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General (retd.) D S Hooda added, “Military options are very much there. But the key issue is whether it should be exercised at this point in time. Military options like quid pro quo and limited conflict can be considered at an appropriate time. I do not think we should start with airpower. It is not a Balakot-type situation, and China is not Pakistan.”

As the Indian government begins to examine each of the above options and other possibilities to tackle the situation, it will observe that all of it have dire consequences that they should be ready to deal with. And of course, the path will have a lot of challenges. However, China does not have a reason to sit back and relax either as they should not assume that these obstacles/challenges will deter India from doing what they might have to.

Do not have time to read? No problem. Every week, we produce a new episode in the Indian policy podcast series “In The Interest Of India”. Listen here.

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