L’Affaire Tawang

General P R Shankar writes: Tawang incident should drive home urgency of army modernisation, reconsideration of ill-conceived Agnipath

Tawang was no regular face-off. It seems part of a well-planned strategy by China to change status quo on the line of actual control

The 09 Dec ‘22  face-off on the LAC in the Yangtse subsector of  Tawang is the first  violent one between the Indian Army and PLA since Galwan. From inputs available nearly 200-300  PLA soldiers were trying to dislodge one LAC post held by about 50 Indian soldiers. Various reports of the faceoff indicate that strong retaliation by the Indian Army with prompt reinforcement seems to have overpowered the PLA and sent them packing despite being outnumbered. There have been some injuries sustained by both sides, with the PLA suffering more. Faceoffs in this area occur almost annually. The last one had occurred in the same spot in Oct ’21. However the difference this time is in the strength, timing and intent. This was no routine patrol as put out by the Chinese. It was a blatant attempt by the PLA to change the status quo on the LAC by force as stated by the RM in the parliament. 

The PLA attempt to seize a post in the thick of winter from the IA, when routine troop turnover was in process, indicates a pre-planned operation to exploit a window of opportunity. The intent seems to have been to seize the post in an area claimed as Chinese. Once seized, it could have been reinforced and made impregnable through the winter. The LAC would have been permanently altered. The whole operation would have been publicised as a victory and India would have been shown in poor light. The total consolidation of power and control over PLA by Xi Jinping indicates that this incident is not a local initiative. This operation could have only been conceived at the highest levels in China. 

It has to be understood that the LAC is a political issue in China. Politically, even a small victory over the Indian Army through salami slicing, externalises and diverts attention from China’s internal  economic, social and zero covid related turmoil. It also raises PLA morale, shakes off the tag of inexperience and raises a spectre of invincibility. It serves to reignite the dying flames of nationalism in China, which has been the hallmark of Xi Jinping. Capturing a post in winter from the tough Indian Army gives China a huge geopolitical advantage. Most importantly it teaches India a lesson. A failure is easily underplayed as thwarting aggression by Indian Army into Chinese territory. Sacrifices by  PLA in defending the motherland can be extolled.  That is how the Chinese narrative is unfolding.  

This incident must also be viewed against the larger canvas. Is it a retaliation or political messaging for the Indo US military exercises conducted in Auli recently? It could also be to create a situation on the LAC so as to enforce postponement of the IAF exercises to be conducted in the East shortly. It is right up China’s alley to start something like this to fix our attention on the LAC. It enables their spy ships and surveillance vessels to carry out their activity and monitor our space launch activity in the IOR by diverting our attention. Overall the LAC is being used as a pressure point by China to impose its will on India as also give a larger international message.    

This incident brings to focus another major issue.  The apparent priority as per the recent 20th Party Congress is annexing Taiwan. However, annexing Taiwan militarily requires extensive training and resources. It is also a major political risk with an inexperienced PLA. The chances of military action towards Taiwan are low and not immediate. On the other hand, any military action against India along the LAC can be undertaken at a time and place of China’s choice, with lesser resources and calibrated for maximum effect. Further political risks are low with exit options available. In my assessment, India  is the greater priority militarily. This is borne out by the number of incidents along the LAC in the recent past. This incident also indicates that the Chinese can be expected to strike anywhere along the LAC and we need to be prepared accordingly. 

This event forces reflection on our security preparedness. Our Jawans have displayed alertness and toughness in the high altitudes to thwart Chinese designs. The Indian Army has risen to the occasion to safeguard the territorial integrity of the nation. That reassures the nation. It is fortunate that the incident did not snowball or escalate into a wider conflict. From available literature it appears that the Chinese seem to be geared up for escalation in terms of firepower, resources, communications, command and control, and infrastructure – locally and in the larger strategic spectrum. The question is are we fully prepared for it?  Our jointness, and theatrisation initiatives launched with great fanfare seem to be fizzling out despite the new CDS. Our modernisation programs appear episodic. The strategic partnership plan to produce submarines has hit a road block. The requirement of a lightweight tank for high altitudes is still paperbound. There seems to be no cogent plan for firepower enhancement. The difference between PLA and Indian troops is evident in this incident. It should force us to rethink the ill planned ‘Agnipath’ scheme on emergency basis. We seem to have no defence against cyberattacks or data theft through cheap mobiles as highlighted in the AIIMS case.  More than rhetoric of retaking POK, India needs to rethink national security and focus holistically on the clear and present threat – China.     


10 responses to “L’Affaire Tawang”

  1. A very deep & detailed analysis. However , there seems to be no thinking on part of indian polity on long term strategy & planning to counter Xi’s vision & strategy. Ours seems to be more of knee jerk reaction & defensive.

  2. 1. While overall tenor of the article is absolutely spot on, Agniveer scheme is out of context as of now. It is a new scheme conceived taking into consideration many aspects and needs to be given its time to play out. 2. India must adopt same salami slicing policy as Chinese n pay them back in the same coin. We are just busy defending when Chinese ingress. We need to make life difficult for Chinese too. How to do it and keep it under some threshold is for the Army to work out. We hv taught a lesson to Pakistan; it’s time to teach a lesson or two to China now.

  3. Captain Kiran Khankhoje Avatar
    Captain Kiran Khankhoje

    We are “reacting” once again! A ‘qpq’ may follow, but that still is a “reactory” step. What I wonder is, why are we not the ones acting and nibbling away their territory / instigating trouble in the Chinese areas, of our own, and await their reaction. Why is there no plan chalked out to do this act premptorily? Why the qpq sites are not pounced on at the first sight of their instigation? Why have we to wait it out to negotiate? Why have the Chinese not been made to sweat it out whilst we hold on to their areas/personnel? The Kailash range trade off was a bad settlement, by all accounts. If they are “nibbling”, why aren’t we gobbling into their territory? Force Structure permitting, which I presume is comparable by now, that is the only way the dragons tail can be twisted.
    My two bit.

  4. Is there a Part 2 to this article to elaborate on some of the steps needed towards what modernization, how it would improve and how ‘Agnivir’ scheme would be detrimental to modernisation.

  5. Succinct and nice write up General Sir! It’s enlightening

  6. Why take up piecemeal situations. Our biggest flaw is lack of direction for the military and civil organisations due to absence of a Defence policy at the national level. Once this is formulated the finances, organisation, manpower, modernisation etc etc will fall in place with minimum debate and bakwas. In absence of a policy it will be a case of CYA on a daily basis.

  7. No country in the world have any defence or foreign policy. You name the country we will tell our policy. For Bangladesh, pakistan and China, our policy are different and cannot be the same. Ghar mein ghoos ke marenge, IS applicable Against Pakistan, but applicable Against China.

    1. A national security strategy is a public document in most nations. . Normally with a classified and an unclassified part. Even Pakistan has one!

  8. […] Interview With Rediff.Com on Yangtse Faceoff The Larger Chinese Strategy in Tawang L’Affaire Tawang Beyond The Tawang Incident : […]

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