For the past 58 years, the Chinese propaganda machine, or psychological warfare machine, has used the 1962 border conflict to put the Indian Army on the defensive and convey to nation at large that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is vastly superior to its Indian counterpart on the battlefield.
It is the same mindset that made PLA transgress the Finger 4 mountainous spur on the north banks of Pangong Tso as well as breach the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Galwan. The Chinese hubris, however, took a hit at both Galwan as well as on both banks of the lake, with the Indian Army occupying dominant positions and in fact threatening the PLA garrison at Moldo across the Spanggur Gap in Chushul sector.
Caught unawares by the Indian Army August 29-30 manoeuvres, a miffed PLA decided to place an anti-aircraft gun on Black Top, south of Pangang Tso, and rolled out main battle tanks to scare the Indians. The PLA propaganda machine is screaming war with India, without realizing that the tools of present-day war are standoff weapons and not World War II machines like tanks.
While both India and China, through their foreign ministers have decided to disengage from Ladakh, the exercise is very complicated and will take time despite best efforts of both the Corps Commanders. The disengagement has to be done in such a fashion that it gives mutual security and not a chance to the incorrigible PLA to occupy positions vacated by the Indian Army due to better border infrastructure and logistics. The best option available is status quo ante as existed in early April and anything less than that is an exercise in obfuscation.
While the Chinese harp about India’s 1962 loss, the fact is that the present Indian Army does not fight with .303 Lee Enfield bolt action rifles, light machine guns, three inch mortars and light tanks. A transparent battlefield in Ladakh will surely tell the Chinese ruler in Beijing that the Indian troop deployment north and south of Pangong Tso is more than the total deployed during the 1962 war.
Top Indian diplomats and military commanders are clear that the war, if forced by the PLA, will lead to more casualties on both sides in the first 15 minutes than the entire 1962 war due to standoff weapons, laser-guided bombs and beyond visual range missiles deployed by both sides.
They understand that tanks and troops on the ground will have little role to play except to hold and capture territory as the big weapons and rockets will take over the theatre of war.
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Even though the Chinese ruler and his western theatre commander are blinded with ambition to prove to the world that a new global power has arrived, India has enough standoff weapons and deterrence to ensure that PLA takes a huge hit in already sensitive Tibet and Xinjiang province.
A strong response from India can unravel the One China policy, but the opposite also could be true and erode the equity of New Delhi. It is time that Beijing woke up to stark reality on the ground as it is dealing with an Army that has been fighting on heights up to 24,000 feet since 1984 and insurgency in both Kashmir and the northeast since Independence. The 1962 war no longer puts the Indian Army on the defensive, it incentivises the force.