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‘Yes, we have to prepare for war’

‘When the adversary has tasted what you can do, he is going to be more experienced in countering how the Indians think.’
‘He will go back, rework and come back.’

“The leverage we had South of Pangong Tso has been taken away and I’m not aware if we have any other leverage.”

“I’m certain India must have been given new guarantees which would amount to the hope that the Chinese would withdraw.”

Lieutenant General P J S Pannu (retd) — former corps commander of the XIV corps (in-charge of the China border) — discusses the situation at the Line of Actual Control with Rediff.com‘s Archana Masih. The concluding segment of a two-part interview.

  • Part I: ‘Disengagement has not resulted in de-escalation’

China seems to be reluctant to withdraw from certain other friction points on the LAC and as you said earlier wants to play the decision maker as the negotiations continue. What problems does this pose for India?

The Chinese have witnessed the strength of the Indian military in the past year. The Indian Army is more than a match for the Chinese and that is one perception that the Chinese want to nullify.

As the stand-off continued, the Indian Army counter occupied certain very relevant heights. This came as an advantage to us and marked a turning point for the Chinese.

China saw the capability of the Indian troops to react and respond.

The match between India-China is still on, the game is not yet over.

China would want to end this match on its own turf because they would want to carry home a notion of victory to their people.

Both countries want to carry the notion of their own victory to the people. Hence the military, the diplomacy, and corps commanders have a great responsibility of achieving a breakthrough that it’s a win win situation for both.

Therefore, both diplomats and politicians need to have good exit strategies in place. It should not only be left to the militaries to negotiate and decide. It is also the responsibility of leaders to make sure that the two countries honour each others’ disengagement commitment.

Do you think that the Chinese achieved their objective by the Indian withdrawal from the Kailash heights in exchange for the Pangong Tso disengagement?

There must be some strategy or insurance in the mind of our leaders and military commanders. The leverage we had South of Pangong Tso has been taken away and I’m not aware if we have any other leverage.

I’m certain India must have been given new guarantees which would amount to the hope that the Chinese would withdraw.

Do you feel that it was an error for India to have withdrawn from the Kailash heights without complete disengagement from other areas by the PLA?

Maybe it was to trigger the start of confidence building measures between the two countries. If it works, it would be a good strategy, if it does not, it would not be so. Therefore, I’m not aware of the other guarantees which the leaders may have in their mind as I’m not privy to that.

If they have nothing else, then I think withdrawing from South Pangong Tso is something they should have been more careful of in their deliberations.

Does the Chinese threat still persist?

Absolutely.

Will our troops keep holding the LAC like they have through last year?

Our troops are not holding the LAC like last year because some degree of disengagement has already happened. But troops are still in that area. For the status quo ante, the troops should actually move back so that they do not pose a threat.

If they can redeploy in a matter of hours and days and occupy positions, that is not demilitarisation.

The disengagement has happened in South Pangong Tso, an area which was hotly contested between the two armies.

Depsang, Hot Springs and Gogra are not contested from a point of view that the Chinese would be worried about. It is a worry that the Indians are not able to patrol the traditional areas in Pangong Tso, Gogra-Hot Springs and Depsang.

If the Indian Army is prevented from patrolling those areas it will certainly impact on India.

What should the Indian Army be wary of?

As an ex-corps commander, I can say that when the adversary has tasted what you can do, he is going to be more experienced to counter how the Indians think. They will go back, they will rework and come back.

They may have been surprised by our mobilisation, strategy and counteraction, but we have to be prepared that they will return with a different plan.

We have to make sure that all our options and military strategies are in place. If they reset the chessboard, then we should be very attentive about anticipating their next move.

We should be prepared for any adversity which can be brought by the Chinese on our borders, including technology.

Can we still go to war?

I would say that the military should always be prepared for war. No military officer would ever say that they cannot go to war because then you will never be prepared for one.

There are always chances and therefore we need to prepare for it. Only when you are prepared can a war be avoided.

The answer is yes, we have to prepare for war.

  • Standoff in Ladakh

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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