Disengagement of forces


Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent statement in Parliament on the disengagement of forces in Eastern Ladakh, on the heels of a statement on similar lines by the Chinese Defence Ministry, caught most media observers and analysts by surprise. The way events were otherwise moving had suggested that we were in for what could only be a long hot summer, which still remains a remote possibility given past Chinese duplicity. There can still be many a slip between the cup and the lip as the contentious issue of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) transgressions in the Depsang sector and other friction points is yet to be discussed, let alone resolved to mutual satisfaction. The statements emanating from official sources suggest that either both sides are keen to de-escalate matters, or that we have conceded ground to the Chinese. Either way, the chances of an armed conflict have receded substantially, which is undoubtedly a good thing. A conflict at this time would cause immense damage to our economy, already reeling under the impact of the pandemic and the earlier ill-considered and poorly implemented demonetisation. More importantly, we cannot brush aside the simple truth that our Armed Forces have been deliberately neglected over the past two decades, a situation that remains unchanged if one looks at the new Budget. As a consequence, their capabilities have been greatly impaired.
In the event of a conflict, while they may still be able to force a stalemate, it is unfortunately not a certainty given the unpalatable fact that China is the dominant power in the region with a larger and better-equipped military. The possibility of Pakistan’s involvement, either directly or indirectly, in such a situation would only add to our woes. Undoubtedly, the response and resolve displayed by our Government and the military after the initial setback was commendable and caught the Chinese unawares and unprepared. The subsequent occupation of dominating heights on both banks of the Pangong Tso, including along the Kailash Range, was a brilliant strategic counter and made the Chinese even more uncomfortable. In these circumstances, one cannot help but conclude that our military commanders have acquiesced to militarily unsound directions from our political leadership. We have seen this before, be it our withdrawal from the strategically important Hajipir Pass after the Indo-Pak war of 1965 or the refusal to allow our forces to cross the LoC during the Kargil conflict that resulted in avoidable casualties. What is worse, the Government then ensured that these facts were kept out of public discourse. With the general elections due in a few months, it raised suspicions that this was done to ensure the BJP’s chances of victory were not compromised by these embarrassing revelations. One is now struck by a feeling of déjà vu as important State elections are due in a few months and what appears to be a repeat of the modus operandi. Let us hope, for all our sakes, that this is not so! Only time will tell.

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