In India-China Conflict, Which Intel Lapses Could We Have Avoided?

India-China row: Clarity in our strategy, unity among people, and a strong political leadership will see us through.

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Image of the site of the India-China clash, and an illustration of a radar, used for representational purposes.
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As one of the significant principles of war remains the element of surprise, the art and science of Intelligence gathering and analysis has been, down the ages, a vital ingredient of a nation’s state-craft.

During the current India-China face-off in Eastern Ladakh, India’s strategic adversary in Asia – an expansionist and a revisionist ambitious power – China has indeed surprised India’s political and security establishments by transgressing across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at four points in Eastern Ladakh on or before 5 May 2020.

Notwithstanding the violent clashes between the Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley on the intervening night of 15/16 June, and later some form of agreement reached between the two senior commanders of the opposing forces to disengage, the Chinese, according to unconfirmed media reports, are in no mood to relent with their incursions in these undefined border areas . On the other hand, they have continued to build additional fortifications, improve roads, induct tanks and artillery guns, and amassed additional troops at various places along the LAC.

India Should’ve Been More Cautious Along LAC

Regrettably, the Chinese continue to scoff at the five comprehensive border management protocols signed between the two nations from 1993 onwards to date. But then, the Chinese, in their arrogance, have an aversion towards any rules-based arrangements governing the conduct of affairs between nations. Thus, China’s standard playbook conveniently has been blaming India over the last few weeks for the tensions in Eastern Ladakh – ridiculous accusations by any standards.

The victim of these audacious incursions, India, appears to have faulted somewhere in the monitoring of its borders. Is the current standoff between the two Asian giants another Kargil in the offing – remains to be seen.

With China being as it is – devious and untrustworthy – should India not have been far more circumspect along its borders facing the fangs of the Dragon?

Why does India, stabbed in the back on numerous occasions by the wily Chinese, continue to display a propensity for being surprised over and over again? Is there something wrong with our DNA? Why do we persist in being naïve, over-trusting and overly kind to our erring neighbours?

Why India Must Defend Darbuk-Shyok-DBO Road At All Cost

Mercifully, after a long break, India’s MEA has finally issued a statement criticising China for reneging on the 1993 protocol regarding peaceful management of the LAC. Presumably, EAM S Jaishankar’s virtual conference with his Chinese counterpart the other day appears to have fallen on deaf ears, and the tensions persist.

The tactical situation on the ground appears to be getting more tense by the day, with both nations deploying additional troops and combat equipment at many places along the LAC. How the volatile situation will shape up will only be known in the coming weeks. However, what is of concern for the Indian troops on the ground is that China has commenced making manoeuvres close to Depsang, near Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) – in areas where all these years they have not shown much interest. Both in this region and in the earlier undisputed Galwan Valley, the Chinese are surely looking for features from where they could dominate by observation, and fire India’s strategic 255 kms just-completed road, which runs from Darbuk-Shyok-DBO.

India will have to defend this road at all cost, as its importance lies not only along its stretch to move troops and logistics all along the Eastern Ladakh region but importantly, for any forays by the Indian troops across the Karakoram Pass towards China’s G-219 highway which links Tibet to China’s restive Xinjiang province.

Gaps In India’s Intel-Gathering

Though the stand-off continues and the contours it will take will emerge shortly, there are gaps in India’s Intelligence gathering which have clearly emerged.

  • Firstly, it must be enquired as to whether adequate intelligence inputs were given by our external intelligence agency, R&AW, to the Army or not?
  • Secondly, what inputs by the technical intelligence agencies of our security establishment (both civil and military) were administered to the Army and our higher security structures?
  • Thirdly, what is the efficacy of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police in manning borders which are operationally live all throughout the year?

Importantly, when we know that the Chinese were carrying out their annual exercises in areas east of their Western Highway, were we not keeping their movements westwards under aerial and signals surveillance as is the normal customary procedure? India has more than adequate aerial and other forms of TECHINT capabilities, and thus, to be surprised by a massive Chinese build-up all along the LAC is indeed inexplicable and unpardonable.

It is worth recalling that after the Kargil War, the NDA-I government had done a wonderful job with the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) and the Group of Ministers’ recommendations regarding the streamlining of the higher defence management mechanisms of the nation. One of their recommendations was granting in peacetime one para-military force/ central police organisation to one specific geographical border.

Thus, the ITBP was given the task to police the India-Tibet borders in their entirety during peacetime. However it has been observed that both during the Chumar, Depsang crises in 2013 and 2014 respectively, there were many deficiencies.

What Will See Us Through Border Conflict With China?

It is my belief, both as a former GOC of the entire Ladakh sector and as the first DG Defence Intelligence Agency, that wherever there is a live border – which is operationally active throughout the year – the Army must be given the responsibility, and the ITBP placed under its command.

It is a simple yet profound truism that duality in responsibility and command is always fraught with danger. After the current crisis is over, both the MOD and MHA must, once again, go into the aspect of this recommendation of the KRC, and take action as deemed fit, based on experiences in manning the borders since the last 18 years or so.

As the tactical situation appears to heat up in the Ladakh sector, India must remain in full preparedness to counter Chinese expansionist tendencies. If we do not do so now, then it will be woefully late. Thus, India has to galvanise international opinion also whilst it gears up to confront the dangers knocking at its doors.

Clarity in our strategy, unity amongst all our people, and a strong political leadership will surely see us through.

The Indian Armed Forces will, as always, rise to the occasion, and bring glory to the nation. God bless the Republic.

(Lt Gen (Retd) Kamal Davar raised the Defence Intelligence Agency, was Deputy Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff and is one of India’s leading military thinkers. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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