Spin Doctors Need To Cool Off

Rahul Gandhi’s tweets asking the government whether Chinese troops are on Indian Territory are tad confusing. Chinese troops have been on Indian Territory for almost seven decades when China captured Aksai Chin following the invasion and occupation of Tibet. Post Independence India collected samples from lakes in Aksai Chin to examine prospects of salt mining. But when China built a 1,200 km road connecting Xinjiang and western Tibet (in about seven years), of which 179 km ran through Aksai Chin, and established PLA posts in Aksai Chin, India was clueless till existence of the road came to light in 1957 through satellite imagery.

Incidentally, the map published by China in 1950s showed Aksai Chin part of India. Nehru dismissed a question on Aksai Chin in Parliament by saying, “Not a blade of grass grows there.” Incidentally, the size of Aksai Chin is 38,000 sq km, which saw jade mining by Europeans in 1860s. Later in 2010s China conducted geological survey of the region and discovered major-lead-zinc deposits and numerous smaller deposits, following which mining development has commenced since 2017. Today, Aksai Chin has sizeable PLA presence and the region is also used for training on maneuver warfare by mechanized forces.

It would do tremendous good for Rahul to demonstrate his sincerity to the nation if he holds a joint press briefing with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to lift the curtain on the following:

  • Why did Manmohan Singh want India to vacate Siachen at great strategic disadvantage under the euphuism of ‘Peace Mountain’? Was it for a peace prize for himself as Sanjay Baru feels or was there more to it – what was the pressure on him? What was the role of the then NSA (who had served in Beijing) in perception building through the Indo-Pak Track II making sure all their meetings were abroad, no Indian military veteran member had served in Siachen, they never visited Siachen despite months of deliberations, not even visiting HQ Northern Command and concerned formations below to get briefed?
  • Details of the Shyam Saran (then Chairman NSAB) report submitted to PM Manmohan Singh in 2013 confirming that over the years China had occupied 645 sq km of Indian Territory over and above China’s illegal occupation of Aksai Chin (38,000 sq km) and Shaksgam (5180 sq km). Putting this report in the freezer being sacrilege towards the public, the nation and Constitution, these details must be uncovered; giving out areas, roads developed by the PLA and posts now held.

With respect to the current PLA intrusions in Eastern Ladakh, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh referring to the nearly month-long standoff between Indian Army and PLA, told media on June 2 that “sizeable number” of Chinese troops have moved into areas in eastern Ladakh which China claimed are its territory and India has taken all necessary steps to deal with the situation. It is noteworthy that the PLA has intruded some three kilometers beyond their last claim line, especially in Galwan which was never disputed. Our Army has responded by taking up positions in strength to block further PLA advance, and are displaying banners telling PLA they are in Indian Territory and must get back. Army is well aware of China’s previous final claim lines and India wants PLA to revert to positions occupied in April 2020.

In the month of May itself we had scribes saying “de-escalation has begun”. Now more spin doctors are talking of India and China pulling back one to two kilometers. But in the zeal to sensationalize news and please their masters, paymasters and peers, grey matter and logic often becomes the casualty. For example, in a particular intrusion area if the intrusion was three km deep, do you expect the PLA to go one or two km behind, put up sun umbrellas or make fresh set of bunkers? Might as well go full hog and say PLA have retreated full three km – unless that is to be spun in a subsequent phase?

All that has happened, especially after the Corps Commander-level meeting on June 6, is that prospects of exchange of fire are over. Part of the intruding PLA forces, if not all, came from an exercise area. Some of them are probably getting relieved or thinning out, and heavy equipment may be moving backwards. But their bunkers in their new positions continue to be manned. In fact, some more infrastructures appear to have been added as per recent satellite imagery. Fact remains that the PLA has not moved back from the new line up to which they have intruded to. In Pangong Tso area the moat they built at Finger 4 to stop our traditional patrolling up to Finger 8 has not been demolished either.

Current PLA intrusions in this strategic border region especially in areas of Galwan and Demchok are to further future Chinese plans to grab areas south of Karakoram (KK) Pass and threaten Indian deployments in Siachen area. Government and the Army are aware of this and would certainly not permit PLA to stay put in these intrusion areas, which cumulatively are reported between 40 and 60 sq km. The spin doctors appear to be building a narrative that government is resigned to PLA holding on to these intrusion areas. Whether this is being done on behest of Beijing or a political party / parties is not known but it certainly is an attempt to undermine credibility of the government and the Prime Minster. This should be stopped.

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

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