How India can combat Chinese guile in Ladakh

Claude Arpi
Claude ArpiJun 15, 2020 | 10:38

How India can combat Chinese guile in Ladakh

We are told that the Ladakh front is more peaceful after Lt Gen Harinder Singh met Maj Gen Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region, at Moldo near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on June 6.

Ladakh front is more peaceful after Lt Gen Harinder Singh met Maj Gen Liu Lin on June 6. (Photo: Reuters)

The troops would have started 'retreating a bit' (2-2.5 km) in 3 out of 4 sectors, namely, Patrolling Points (PP) 14 and 15 (in Galwan area) and 17 PP (near Hot Springs). However the Chinese remain adamant in the Finger 4 area, north of Pangong Tso (lake).


In the next few days, more meetings will take place at the Division and Battalion commanders' level. We can only pray and hope for the best, but it will probably take months for the issue to be sorted out, as some believe that General Zhao Zongqi, the big boss and commander of the Western Theater command overlooking the entire Indian border, is batting for a promotion to the Central Military Commission, the 'paradise' for a Chinese general; as long as he does not get what he wants, the issue may continue to remain hot.

Familiar pattern

In any case, the core issue is that there is no agreed LAC today as both parties have failed to exchange maps; this leaves the space for Beijing to create problems. It remains that the so-called LAC has drastically moved over the years. Let us go back to October 1962.

On October 20 at 4:30 am, the Chinese launched their first attack with artillery and mortar fire in the Ladakh sector; the Chinese troops advanced in different places, whose names are today familiar: Galwan, Hot Springs, Sirijap or Chushul. One of their objectives was to capture Srijap 1, a post established on the northern bank of Pangong Lake by the 1st Battalion of 8 Gorkha Rifles commanded by Major Dhan Singh Thapa. Today the Indian and Chinese are fighting for Finger 4 which is located 15 kilometres west of Sirijap 1. Over the years, the PLA has slowly, but surely moved the line westwards into Indian Territory.


An age-old strategy

In 1962, the post was strategically important for the defence of Chusul airfield; Major Thapa and his men, surrounded by far superior Chinese forces, held the post and repelled three attacks before being overrun. The Gurkhas fought so valiantly that Thapa was awarded the Param Vir Chakra; he was made a prisoner of war (PoW) in Pishan in South Xinjiang; the Army, without any news, declared him 'missing in action' and his wife 'posthumously' received the highest war-time award from the President of India in early 1963. The citation said that the post "was attacked by the Chinese in overwhelming strength after being subjected to intensive artillery and mortar bombardment. Under his gallant command, the greatly outnumbered post repulsed the attack, inflicting heavy casualties on the aggressors." When future negotiations take place in Moldo the sacrifice of this great soldier should be remembered as well as that LAC was then in Sirijap. In Pishan, Major Thapa underwent severe punishments for having killed so many Chinese and, to refuse to make statements against the Indian Army and government.

The Chinese's game-plan was to brainwash the Gurkhas, "you are like us, racially, we are not different, don't side with the Indians". In the PoW camps, the Gurkha troops were even kept separately and better treated than other Indian soldiers, but they all remained faithful to their illustrious regiment.


In Pishan, Major Thapa underwent severe punishments for having killed so many Chinese and refusing to make statements against the Indian Army and government. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Sometime in April 1963, while he was still 'missing in action', Thapa was brought back from Xinjiang to Central Tibet to be repatriated along with some other 26 other senior Indian officers. But before that, they were compulsorily taken for a tour of China. What happened to Maj Thapa and his colleagues, led by Brigadier John Dalvi of the Himalayan Blunder fame, is worth recounting. Though the Chinese told the Indian Chargé d'Affaires in Beijing, Dr PK Banerjee that the officers were keen to see 'New China', the officers were taken around against their will. The Communist leadership had planned to 'parade' these officers on the Tiananmen Square on May 1 on Labour Day. When Brig John Dalvi opposed this final humiliation for his men, the Chinese had to drop their plans.

The next day, the 27 officers were allowed to visit the Indian Embassy in Beijing (part of Beijing's propaganda efforts, to show how 'liberal' China was).

Blast from the past?

According to Banerjee's memoirs: "All the members of the embassy with enthusiasm produced enormous quantities of excellent and varied delicacies from almost all of India, … the drinks included lassi, coffee and champagne."

The Indian officers heard that Chinese propaganda based on the distortion of statements was going around in India, what would happen when they returned to India? In the party, Lt Col Khera called Banerjee in a corner and pointed out to Thapa, the 'posthumous' PVC awardee: "We had another round of champagne to celebrate," recalled the Chargé later. When the officers left, Banerjee cabled Delhi suggesting giving the officers a hero's welcome when they land in India "…otherwise we would be strengthening China's pernicious propaganda about the Indian armed forces." Unfortunately, the officers were treated in a most insensitive manner.

Many things have changed, the government and the nation have more respect for the defence forces, but the fact remains that the Chinese continue with their behaviour in pushing forward the borders of India. It is probably genetic.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: July 06, 2020 | 14:25
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