Monday, October 23, 2023

Why New Delhi should worry about instability in China's PLA ranks

My article Why New Delhi should worry about instability in China's PLA ranks appeared in Firstpost.

New commanders may be inclined to please the Emperor in order to consolidate their position in the hierarchy and therefore take a more belligerent stance towards Taiwan and India 

Here is the link...

The planet is in turmoil. As if the Ukraine war was not enough, a new conflict has erupted in the Middle East.
The Russo-Ukrainian War had started in February 2014 soon after Ukraine's Orange Revolution, when Russia annexed Crimea. But it is only in February 2022 that Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, aiming at occupying most of the country. Since then the conflict has taken a disastrous turn with more than of a lakh casualties on each side.
Chaos is also visible in the Middle Kingdom where the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers have both ‘disappeared’ since weeks. This is certainly not a sign of stability for a country which dreams of overtaking the United States in the years to come.
Havoc also in Afghanistan, where multiple earthquakes struck northwest of the city of Herat killing more than 4,000 people, leveling thousands of homes; the earthquake was said to be of magnitude 6.3 on the Richter scale.
And now a new conflict has erupted in the Middle East; in a column in The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman spoke of “Israel’s Worst Day at War”: “This is not your usual Hamas-Israel dust-up. The Gaza-Israel border is only 37 miles long, but the shock waves this war will unleash will not only thrust Israel and the Palestinians of Gaza into turmoil but will also slam into Ukraine and Saudi Arabia and most likely Iran. Why?”
Friedman answers: “Any prolonged Israel-Hamas war could divert more US military equipment needed by Kyiv to Tel Aviv, and it will make the proposed Saudi-Israeli normalization deal impossible — for now. And if it turns out that Iran encouraged the Hamas attack to scuttle that Israeli-Saudi deal, it could raise tensions between Israel and Iran and Tehran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, and also between Saudi Arabia and Iran.” He concludes: “This is an incredibly dangerous moment on multiple fronts.”
Some reports on the social media speak of 6,000 bombs dropped in Gaza in the first six days of the conflict (during the air campaign against ISIS between 2014 and 2019, the US-led coalition dropped 2,000-5,000 munitions per month across all of Iraq and Syria).
According to a release of the Israeli Air Force (IAF), as on October 12: “Dozens of fighter jets and helicopters attacked a series of terrorist targets of the Hamas terrorist organization throughout the Gaza Strip. So far, the IAF has dropped about 6,000 bombs against Hamas targets.”
Incidentally, a story was going around: “The so called Five Eyes Intelligence knew about Nijjar's killers; why did it not have knowledge of the 5,000 Hamas rockets and hundreds of terrorists preparing to attack Israel?”
It is something for Mr Trudeau and his allies to answer or at least to ponder about.
For Delhi, an important question to look at is: will China benefit of the new war and how will it affect India?
There is no doubt that with the intensification of the conflict, the United States, China’s main adversary, will be bogged down on two fronts. This will undoubtedly weaken Washington (and its allies).
According to The Global Times, China’s (new and old) Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized Israel after its counterattack in Gaza against Hamas. Wang blamed the rapidly worsening conflict in the Middle East on a lack of justice for the Palestinian people: “The crux of the issue lies in the fact that justice has not been done to the Palestinian people," Beijing's top diplomat said in a phone call with Brazil's Celso Amorim, a special adviser to Brazilian President Lula da Silva.
Reuters says the comment by Wang appeared “to mark a hardening of its stance amid heavy Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and talk of a possible ground operation to dislodge Hamas, which controls the strip. Earlier this year, China positioned itself as a potential mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, as it seeks to become a more influential player in the region.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin used the same argument: "the Palestinian-Israeli conflict keeps repeating for a fundamental reason: The Middle East peace process has been off the right track, the foundation of the two-state solution has been continuously eroded, and relevant U.N. resolutions are not followed through in good faith."
In view of its pro-Palestinian stand, Beijing will probably be unable to mediate in the conflict, but China will certainly benefit from the engagement of the United States on two fronts at the same time.
In these circumstances, some observers believe that it would be the ideal time for Beijing to occupy Taiwan.
This raises several questions: first, is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) militarily ready? The next question is: can China open another front (in the Himalaya for example) against India to divert the world’s attention from its much larger objective on Taiwan.
China’s problem is that today India is ready to defend its territory and it will not be surprised like in May 2020 when the PLA entered several places in Ladakh.
On October 9 & 10, the 20th round of India-China Corps Commander Level meeting was held at Chushul-Moldo border point.
A release of the Ministry of External Affairs says: “The two sides exchanged views in a frank, open and constructive manner for an early and mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues along the LAC in the Western Sector, in accordance with the guidance provided by the national leadership of the two countries, and building on the progress made in the last round of Corps Commanders' Meeting held on 13-14 August 2023.”
It was agreed to maintain the momentum of dialogue and negotiations and both sides said that they were committed “to maintain peace and tranquility on the ground in the border areas in the interim.”
But China keeps putting the blame on Delhi …for wanting to occupy its own territory.
Liu Zongyi, secretary-general of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told The Global Times, “the biggest obstacle in making a breakthrough in corps commander level meetings lies in India's objective, which is not simply reaching disengagement of troops from friction points, but to use the talks to compel China to withdraw and allow India to carry out patrols and occupy Chinese territories in certain areas.”
Liu accuses the US to cozying up to India, “siding with New Delhi in the border dispute, granting it higher status and more flexibility on major global issues, to serve its Indo-Pacific Strategy to contain China.”
Long Xingchun, a professor at the School of International Relations at Sichuan International Studies University, even argues "China will not make major concessions to India on border disputes, particularly on territorial issues, due to concerns over India's strategic drift toward the US."
Now, what could happen?
On the western front (Ladakh), China can’t do much while the talks are on and India has massively posted troops on a LAC, which is still ill-defined. The status-quo, particularly in Depsang and Demchok should presently suffice for Beijing.
In the Central Sector (where maps were exchanged in 2000), it is difficult to envisage an advance in the Barahoti sector during the winter though Delhi should be aware of China’s new aggressiveness; ditto in Northern Sikkim were the PLA could hardly advance a few hundred meters in the Naku-la or Chorten Nyima sectors, but Chinese surprise incursions can’t be overlooked.
Trickier is the Eastern Sector, where China could try its luck in places like Asaphila, Dipu-la or in the Fish Tails area. But here too the Indian Army seems to be aware of the danger. Let us not forget that the PLA was repelled last December in the Yangtse sector, a few hours after it tried to occupy some ridges south of the LAC.
What should worry Delhi is the instability in the PLA ranks.
According to Chinese social media, several personnel changes will take place in the weeks to come. It includes Liu Zhenli, a member of the Central Military Commission (CMC) taking over as defense minister to replace Li Shangfu, who has ‘disappeared’
The Commander of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) Gen Chang Dingqiu may take over as director of the CMC Joint Staff Department (JSD), while the position of PLAAF commander may be filled by Lt Gen Jing Jianfeng.
Further, Wang Xiubin, commander of the Southern Theater Command is slated to become commander of the Strategic Support Force (SSF) while Lt Gen Hu Zhongqiang, the deputy commander, will likely succeed him as the commander of the Southern Theater Command.
This does not include several important changes in the offing in the Western Theater Command facing India.
All these new commanders may be inclined to please the Emperor in order to consolidate their position in the hierarchy and therefore take a more belligerent stance from the PLA vis-a-vis Taiwan and India.
Turmoil is undoubtedly here to stay for some time and in these circumstances, Delhi should not be caught napping like in May 2020.

Friday, October 20, 2023

The Unsung Heroes of the 1962 War

My article The Unsung Heroes of the 1962 War appeared in

Here is the link...

The Chinese admitted that they had suffered the maximum casualties fighting in the first battle on October 20, 1962, and these casualties had been inflicted mostly by 2 Rajput.
Claude Arpi salutes Major B K Pant and his fighting force of 112 men, 82 of whom lost their lives in the Battle of Namkha Chu, and whose courage must never ever be forgotten by a grateful country for who they laid down their lives.

For the Indian nation, the 1962 conflict with China is one of the most traumatic post-Independence Indian events; for those who fought, for their families and for the Indian Army in general, the experience was extremely harrowing.
Contemporary China likes to speak of what they call their 1962 'counter-attack' in the North-East Frontier Agency and Ladakh, but uses it for different purpose: to project its present strength and threaten India, forgetting that India of 2022 is not the India of the 1950s or 1960s.
When today the Chinese military leadership speaks of a 'repeat of 1962' (If India would not behave), it seems to overlook the many battles where hundreds of Chinese PLA troops were killed by heroic Indian soldiers.
The Forgotten Heroes
Unfortunately, some of the heroes of 1962 have been neglected by history.
Though the official history of the war published by the ministry of defence records the prowess of several units, many individuals are not mentioned.
Take the 2 Rajput, for example, the official history says: 'Of the units deployed on the Namkha Chu [river], the Rajputs suffered the most. They were preparing for the morning 'stand to' routine practice in adopting defensive positions in battle order when they were caught between the frontal fire of the Chinese guns and the main attack from the rear.
'Their companies were widely dispersed and each fought its own battle, taking on wave after wave of the enemy as long as men remained standing. In many cases, entire platoons were wiped out.'
It is a fact the nearly all the company commanders were killed except the wounded Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel M S Rikh and the battalion's second-in-command, Major Gurdial Singh (who was eventually awarded a Mahavir Chakra); both were taken to Tibet; the former's role is hardly acknowledged today.

The Tale of Major BK Pant
One of the officers of the 2 Rajput who has not sufficiently been mentioned in the history of the battle of Namkha Chu is Major B K Pant.
In his memoirs (The Himalayan Blunder) Brigadier John Parshuram Dalvi, the commander of the ill-fated 7th Infantry Brigade ,called the young major's leadership and indomitable courage, a true epic: 'When the Chinese shelling commenced, Pant went round the locality bracing the men for the inevitable assault.
'He told the men that this was the day in which they would write a new chapter in the history of the battalion; and the time had come to show the Chinese the qualities which had made the name Rajput synonymous with courage and tenacity.'
Why this bravery was not recorded in the Official History is a mystery.
Brigadier Dalvi explained that Major Pant was wounded in the leg but continued to insist on exposing himself during the shelling 'to reassure his men who had never experienced artillery fire.'
The company held strong against three waves of Chinese attacks and suffered heavy casualties.
Soon, Major Pant was wounded in the stomach and both legs.
Realising that the major was responsible for their heavy casualties, the Chinese brought heavy machine-gun fire to neutralise him before launching their fourth attack; by then Major Pant's body was riddled with bullets.
Brigadier Dalvi writes that despite his agony the brave major continued to inspire his men who seeing 'the indomitable will of this man, rose to super-human heights and broke the fourth attack. Pant losing blood rapidly, was nearing his end but would not cry enough.
'He shouted to the men that Rajputs never give up and never die. His last stirring clarion call was to remind his jawans to fulfill their destiny and historical role as members of the martial clan from whom descend all other fighting men in India.'
Major Pant's last words were: 'Men of the Rajput Regiment, you were born but to die for your country. God has selected this small river for which you must die. Stand up and fight as true Rajputs.'
Brigadier Dalvi noted: 'The Chinese later admitted to one of our senior prisoners-of-war that they had suffered the maximum casualties of the NEFA fighting in the first battle -- and these casualties had been inflicted mostly by 2 Rajput.'
Major Pant's force of 112 men had 82 killed and wounded.
After retirement, Brigadier M S Rikh, the former commanding officer of the 2 Rajput, asserted: 'Where officers lead men will always follow. It is easy to command, but it is a different matter to lead. A leader has to show the way. A commander directs as to what is to be done.
'Doing and directing are two different things. In an infantry battalion there can only be leaders and no directors.
'It has been my privilege to have commanded 2 RAJPUT at a time when the unit had to carry out the most difficult task in its whole history.'
Brigadier Rikh admitted that 'the battalion did more than even I expected it to do. For no man can do more than give his life for a cause, however impossible the task may be.'
He recalled his experience while being interrogated by the Chinese interpreters in the PoW camp: 'They asked me on several occasions what were the characteristics of the Rajput Battalion as different from that of other troops in the Indian Army. I enquired of them the reason why they were asking me these questions.
'They finally told me that it was in the first battle on 20 Oct 1962, that the Chinese army had suffered the maximum casualties of all the fighting in NEFA.
'These casualties had been inflicted on them by the Battalion. I felt proud to have commanded such a unit.'
The former CO concluded: 'We must ensure that at a future date when the time to defend our country again comes, we are not found lacking.'
He then told young officers: 'Yours is the responsibility, lead the way with courage and perseverance, the men will not be far behind.'

Another Testimony
Major General (then a lieutenant colonel) K K Tewari, the commander of the 4 Infantry Division's Signals Regiment who spent seven months in Tibet with Lieutenant Colonel M S Rikh, also witnessed Major Pant's prowess.
General Tewari wrote: 'Major Pant had really inspired his men and they had killed a number of Chinese. We were told by many of our men in the PoW camp later that even after Pant was killed and his position overrun, the Chinese kept bayoneting his dead body repeatedly.
'They were perhaps angry because of the large number of casualties which Pant and his men inflicted on them.
'Otherwise, who would expect a regular army soldier to go on bayoneting a dead body in battle! This was also confirmed by a Chinese officer when we were in the PoW camp.'
General Tewari regretted: 'Major Pant should certainly have been honoured and given a high gallantry award posthumously. But such was the state of wrong in the Indian Army hierarchy at the time, that not only did he go unrecognised but others who had run away the quickest with least regard for their command responsibilities, were given gallantry awards.'

But it is not the end of the story
Though in December 1962, the Indian civil administration returned to Bomdila from where the administration progressively restarted functioning, it is only in 1986 that the Assam Regiment of the Indian Army went permanently in the forward areas after 1962.
In some places, the army found a large quantity of bodies.
The Assam Regiment was tasked to record in detail the names, locations, position of the bodies, etc of each jawan that they found.
They did this and even prepared maps of the locations.
On the mountain heights, the bodies were well preserved, but on the Namkha Chu only skeletons were found.
Unfortunately, the Assam Regiment was not allowed to bring back the bodies and later they were tasked to destroy all the records of what they found; orders had come 'from above' not to keep anything, says an officer who witnessed the incident; Delhi was probably too nervous of a Chinese reaction (the official argument was that it would disturb the families of the dead Indian jawans).
Incidentally, in 1986, the General Officer Commanding the 5 Division (responsible for the area) was Major General J M 'Jimmy' Singh, also from 2 Rajput. Unfortunately, he could not convince Delhi.
It has to be noted that no Indian officer's body was found.
What happened to the remains of the Indian officers killed on the Namkha Chu and other areas is still a mystery.
One can only assume that they were taken to Tibet and buried there.
Sixty years after these tragic events, the Chinese should be asked to clarify this, even though they probably prefer to forget some of the aspects of the Namkha Chu battle.