This issue comes at an epochal moment in the world where a pandemic has forced all nations to face, at varying levels, the same challenge. But with Great Power rivalry still persistent, frictions between their camps has set the tone for a new Cold War. The Ladakh standoff between the Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a result of this phenomenon, unprecedented in the scale of Chinese incursions. Apparently, Coronavirus-induced medical concerns affected even the military’s functioning, as a cancelled annual Indian exercise in Ladakh is said to have allowed the Chinese build up.
India was bogged down by an economic recession that is worsened by the lockdown, the subsequent heart wrenching plight of the daily wagers and the migrant labour crisis and the added challenges of simultaneously checking the infection in a record-public health effort. Thus the central government could do little to focus on the military front. The Chinese saw this chance and moved quickly. This has challenged ‘deterrence’ that had prevented conventional wars between rival powers. What the future holds for global affairs in general and the Indian security situation in particular, is what we examine in this issue.
On the man management front, a Veteran criticizes the army’s reported short 2-3 year ‘tour of duty’ proposal as a superficial means to achieve the twin aims to make up for the vacancies in middle-ranks while meeting the youth’s self-aggrandisement needs. Another Veteran also succinctly explains the current demands of revoking the Income Tax on Disability Pensions while in another piece, an Air Veteran calls for extending the ex-gratia/monthly pension promised to SSC and EC officers recently, to PBORs too, who fought the 1965 and 1971 wars. And talking about the 1971 war, a Veteran of the war recalls how a Pakistan Army officer praised the honourable treatment of the 90,000 Pakistani POWs and how it triggered a wave of respect from the Pakistani society towards India and a consequent disaffection with their own rabid anti-India propaganda
But the reigning matter remains the stand-off with the PLA at Ladakh, which saw a first-of-its-kind talks between Major General and above-rank officers – helmed by 14 Corps Commander Lt Gen Harinder Singh and Major General Liu Lin, the commander of the Southern Xinjiang Military District. While tactically and technically, China is said to be uncomfortable with Indian construction of a feeder road to the strategic Darbuk-Daulat Beg Oldie Road that will allow faster Indian mobilisation to the DBO air field which threatens Aksai Chin, diplomatically, it seems to be China’s discomfort with India joining the US camp, China’s biggest rival, even though it is a part of a larger series of geopolitical developments.
US and China rivalry now involves, the abrogation of Article 370 (special status for Jammu & Kashmir) in August 2019; the US diplomatic offensive against China over Coronavirus; the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong; China’s claims on Taiwan (where China has officially considered the military force); China’s claims in the South China Sea; supporting Taiwan’s representation to the World Health Assembly (WHA); a remote connection to the hasty withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and India’s courting of Australia, China’s geopolitical rival. Also, India last month assumed the chairmanship of the Executive Board of the WHO, with Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is set to take charge, triggering another suspicion of it being utilized as another anti-Chinese front.
While a de-escalation was reported from the major flash-points, experts maintained it has happened completely on the Chinese terms raising a question on the government’s ability to challenge the Chinese agenda. Regardless of whether China’s effort to reduce American influence on India is justified, such military mobilization is totally uncalled for and must be resolutely countered, since appearing as a pushover raises doubts on our own conviction about our sovereignty.
Prasoon Kumar Srivastava