Daggers drawn in Ladakh

By: Imtiaz Rafi Butt      Published: 07:06 PM, 8 Jul, 2020
Daggers drawn in Ladakh

After almost 58 years, once again, China and India have locked horns near the Pangong Lake in the Himalayas region. Soldiers from both sides engaged in skirmishes with melee weapons and hand to hand combat. There have been scores of dead soldiers, more on the Indian side.

Following the worst skirmishes in June, 2020, there has been little effort to disengage. Diplomatic channels are not in a condition to bridge the gap. It seems that the principle of

“actions speak louder than words” is at play here. This military stand-off is the result of rash moves made by the Modi Government and the results are now open ended at best. The message has been conveyed and the reasons behind this military clash are a lot more than a mere border dispute. The world, India and its allies need to re-configure their inconsiderate strategy of military deployment in Galwan valley and the atrocities in Kashmir, which can now lead to the bloodiest battle since between the two most populous countries in the world. 

The Hindu extremist agenda of Modi Government has unsettled many internal and external political variables. On the internal side, the Citizenship law and the targeting of Muslims as a minority have halted the progress of the country as a whole. The fabric of society has been ruptured. Even Delhi is not safe. Mutual fear, hatred and suspicion have taken seed between people of different faiths. All this has been done in order to segregate the Indian vote bank as per faith. Similarly, Modi Government changed the disputed status of Kashmir and initiated a vicious black out of Indian Occupied Territories. Human rights, laws and liberties suspended, communications blacked out.

In doing so, India directly violated established International Law and resolutions passed by the United Nations, which, as the world already knows, the UN is unable to enforce, until and unless it does not coincide with the United States of America. But India, in its recklessness, ignored the fact that China is party to the process. This region around the Indian Occupied Kashmir, as a roadway to Gilgit Baltistan and the Silk Route, is of key interest to China. Any move to alter the status of the region or a threat to the CPEC route and Pakistan is not acceptable to the rising super power that is China. Modi Government deployed around five hundred thousand soldiers in Kashmir and began construction of multiple military bases in the region which made matters worse, including air bases and military supply depots. This was done to suppress any resistance that could come from Kashmiri freedom fighters or

Pakistan, in the event of an aggressive move by either side. But India ignored the Chinese geostrategic presence which has boiled down to a massive military stand-off. The conflict between China and India may look like a border dispute but the main reason behind is the brash appraoch of the Modi Government since August, 2019, in changing the status of Occupied Kashmir and deploying massive military formations without any regards for a country whose might dwarfs its own. 

The military conflict in Ladakh in 2020 is considerably unlike the Sino-Indian war of 1962. This was the time when India and China had never crossed path on the battlefield. Also, 1962 war was a first of its kind and the use of heavy artillery, air support and tanks was scarce. In a matter of one month, around five thousands Indian soldiers had been killed and a vast area was captured by Chinese troops. Following the conflict, India was embarrassed by the outcome and forward army bases were established. Diplomatic means resulted in the establishment of Line of Actual Control, which to this day, is still elusive and based on mutual understanding. China achieved its objectives in 1962 and it seems in 2020, China is yet again focused to achieve its objectives in the shortest possible time and with show of strength. Only this time, the Chinese strategy is not only to secure a borderline from an enemy army, but to secure strategic depth and safeguard future prospects against a country that is making negligent moves in the highest battlefield of the world. 

Continuing the analysis of the Modi Government and drawing a comparison with the 1962 war, it is evident that the defeat of 1962 caused India to give rise to a momentum to earn back national pride by attacking Pakistan. In 1965, India opened the fronts and attacked Pakistan. Once again, the uncalculated move resulted in embarrassment as Pakistan defended its positions with an army smaller in numbers but potent in intensity. As they say, history repeats itself; India is on the verge of making an expedition into Azad Kashmir in a similar fashion. And this time, this could result in another debacle. With an army trained and ready, Pakistan is more than able to take on any misadventure. From a military point of view, it must be remembered that Pakistan possesses a battle hardened army that has triumphantly defeated the scourge of insurgency and militancy across the country in both urban and rural warfare. The same militants have dragged the feet of a super power to the negotiation table in Afghanistan. The armed forces of Pakistan would have the upper hand in terms of experience and moral justification whereas India would be exposed on two fronts simultaneously. The causalities in Ladakh should be a jolt to consider reasonable options first hand. 

On the side of the International diplomacy, India has raised the slogan of bullying against China but the voice has been hampered by the human rights violations and unilateral abolition of International Law in Indian Occupied Kashmir. However, the United States has taken the Ladakh conflict as a means to initiate a new Cold War. By supporting India in the military struggle against China, the US would aim to convert the Himalayan territory into an Afghanistan for China. But unlike the Russian Invasion or the American intervention in Afghanistan, China is protecting its borders and not invading foreign lands. Mike Pompeo came out and openly called the Chinese Government “a rouge actor” in the region. The diplomatic condemnation is nothing new to China after the Hong Kong stance, the support of the South China Sea, Taiwan, and other international disputes. China has always taken the peaceful and non-aligned stance to many conflicts but this time, the Chinese Government is committed to using the full might of the army.  US military support for India would be a massive turn around for the region as it would push Pakistan to further align its objectives with China and siding against India and US both. It must be kept in view that the area near Ladakh forms a direct geo-strategic link to Gilgit Baltistan which is one of the key areas in CPEC and OBOR project, critical for both China and Pakistan. It must be remembered that the Americans are looking towards Pakistan as well, in striking a peace deal with the Taliban for a respectable exit at the earliest. As the ongoing crisis develops, India is on the back-foot, knowing that a military super power has daggers drawn and the conflict can get out of hand without notice. 

(The Writer is Chairman of Jinnah Rafi Foundation)