China’s military preemption has baited India. A quick and emotional response would be a strategic folly. India can 'counter bait' China by maintaining the 'status quo' indefinitely.
Since the 22 June talks between 14 Corps Commander Lt Gen. Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District commander Maj. Gen. Liu Lin, the disengagement process to avoid fresh clashes has not made much headway. The commanders met again on 30 June, with the talks lasting for 12 hours without much progress. “Army is preparing for the long haul and the standoff is expected to continue well into the winter,” Indian Army sources, the current substitute for formal situational briefs, told The Indian Express. India Today reported that far from de-escalation, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has witnessed greater mobilisation and concentration of troops on both sides of the border in the past 72 hours. And the mobilisation shows no signs of abating.
On the diplomatic front, the 15th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination (WMCC) on India-China border affairs was held on 24 June via video conference. The two sides recalled the conversation of 17 June between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister H.E. Wang Yi, and reaffirmed the necessity to sincerely implement the understanding on disengagement and de-escalation that was reached by the senior commanders on 6 June and 22 June. News agency ANI, citing unidentified government sources, reported that India and China have decided to hold WMCC meetings every week to resolve the dispute.
The ambassadors of both countries were interviewed by the Press Trust of India (PTI). In diplomatic language, they reiterated the absolute position of their respective countries and accused the other side of aggression and violating various agreements. However, they reiterated their faith in diplomacy to resolve the problem.
The indications are that unless there is a Wuhan-style breakthrough, diplomacy faces a dead end.
Keeping the above in view, the operational-level objectives of the Chinese PLA are likely to be as follows:
- Capture SSN Sector and threaten Indian defences in Siachen Glacier.
- Cut off the Darbuk-Shyok-DBO Road at Galwan Valley — Shyok River junction to assist the offensive in SSN.
- Capture Chang Chenmo River Valley and all areas up to the north bank of Pangong Tso.
- Secure/capture the Kailash Range in Chushul Sector.
- Capture the Indus Valley up to the Ladakh Range via Demchok and Changla Pass on the Kailash Range and contact Indian defences on the Ladakh Range.
- Pakistan is also likely to launch a complementary offensive in the Shyok River Valley in the Turtuk Sector.
The PLA lost the advantage of surprise, preemption and the window that was available upto end June while the Indian Army reserves were being mobilised, acclimatised and deployed. The likely plans of the PLA have been war-gamed for years by the Indian Army, and I have no doubts that the PLA will come to grief.
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post-retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.