By LT COL MANOJ K CHANNAN,
The talks between the Indian Corps Commander Lt Gen PGK Menon and his counterpart of the Western Theatre Command Commander, soon after President Xi Jinping’s visit to Tibet, a visit by a senior dignitary after three decades is to be seen, not in isolation but in conjunction with the ongoing events in our immediate vicinity along the Line of Actual Control, the region as well as globally.
Along the Line of Actual Control
While the Indian Government is keen to come to an early settlement of the Border dispute, China appears to be in no hurry to resolve this at an early date.
The developments in the Tibetan region and now a directive that each member of a Tibetan Family will serve in the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), is probably to boost the morale of the PLA conscripts who do a two year tour of duty. The locals being hardy and adapted to the harsh weather conditions vis a vis the Han conscript is to be seen as a quick fix solution to the problem.
While some may think it’s the Chinese answer to the Ladakh Scout units of the Indian Army, probably miss the woods for the trees. The Ladakh scouts and its rank and file; consist of volunteers consisting of locals who are Indians; some of Tibetan origin may also be there; who see the Chinese as an aggressor.
On the other hand the Tibetan, by order of CCP is doing a tour of duty much against his will and that too against a cause, which has not changed for the majority Tibetan population.
This should keep the PLA leadership on tenterhooks and something for the Indian Intelligence agencies to exploit. Some stringent goal setting has to be done to be successful.
In neighbouring Pakistan, the Chinese continue to be targeted and are getting killed, those posted in the CPEC corridor. Social media has photographs of Chinese engineers carrying AK 47s as close protection weapons. This does indicate that the two infantry divisions deployed by the Pakistan Army are unable to provide fool proof security. Tribal affiliations are much stronger as is being reflected.
In Afghanistan the game for larger stakes by China is on and using its surplus dollars and support of the Pakistan Army and ISI, China is hopeful of creating a stable environment in the region for its economic gains.
The Taliban spokesperson has made a statement that China will allow the Afghanis to deal with their issues without interference yet help them in solving their problems.
This statement on both sides seems surreal and too good to be true.
Taliban will not allow the average Afghani live as he wants and the Chinese Government will soon enough pull the rug on their benefactors for absolute control. The region is likely to see more conflict and could be a battle training ground for the PLA.
It is also to be seen if Taliban 2.0 is in control of Pakistan?
Pakistan plays an important part to the parties in the region, but may see its role marginalised by the Pashtun uprising.
The outcome of the situation in Afghanistan will decide on whether the CCP/ PLA want to keep the LAC cauldron on a low simmer or would they like to keep it hot? The availability of troops will decide which part of the region is kept on a low boil.
There is an apprehension in Pakistan that the Taliban may turn against Pakistan, noted military history expert Major Agha Amin, Veteran Pakistan Army has shared his views on a Podcast on social media. Though unlikely; as Pakistan ISI and Army may not allow the factions to get out of their control, yet it cannot be ruled out.
In this context, Mr Sunil Pant, an expert on Afghanistan who I quote here, are the factors which are likely to prevent the Taliban from taking on their present mentors, Pakistan, which Maj. Amin holds out as a real possibility, in this bitter fight by Taliban 2.0.
· Pakistan loses control over the principal faction(s).
· China, which is expected to be the principal financial and diplomatic resource, abandons its key ally.
· Pakistan is unable to ‘bring to heels’ recalcitrant elements by choking the principal supply lines lying within their control.
· Taliban is able to bring together a well-integrated group, including other sympathetic elements, and effectively lead them in the days ahead.
· The Ghani Government is wiped out despite support from a sizable community opposed to a Taliban military victory.
· Taliban succeeds in winning over the bulk of the population in the areas overrun by it, freeing scarce resources from internal policing to address external issues.
· The Mujahideen and Regional Satraps give up their divisive course and join a Taliban Govt.
· Possible overt-covert action by USA and like-minded players is effectively hedged against by the Taliban.
· Just as China has sought guarantees against ETIM etc., from the Taliban, Pakistan would most likely have taken suitable measures against future treachery.
· There are entities that might not wholly favour a Pak – China led alliance in power in Afghanistan – a factor that cannot be ignored.
While at the International Level, the US has warned China that any Cyberattack could lead to exchange of shots, is yet to be seen as China will continue to up the ante to see how much the US will accept, so the blurred red lines can be correctly assessed by the CCP/PLA. Fortunately for India, Galwan helped in giving this clarity to the PLA overnight.
The battle for leading the world order will continue; as China is keen to assuage the countries that feel threatened by its rise economically and militarily by indicating to remain peaceful towards all.
Global Context. It has been observed that China has issues with 14 neighbouring countries to include Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. Notwithstanding the peaceful overtures made at international forums the borders remain simmering with almost all countries; North Korea may perhaps be the only country with no dispute with China.
Regional Context. Pakistan and Afghanistan remain in its focus and while it has been a strong ally of Pakistan in the near term, it remains to be seen in the mid to long term if there is a peaceful takeover of the country due to economic implosion/situation in Afghanistan.
Line of Actual Control. In the overall analysis, it is assessed that some concessions in Gogra and Hot Springs may be made in the near future, Depsang Plains will be held without any reduction of troops / redeployment, in the midterm to long term. Areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim will continue to be contested by the Chinese, as it tries to control the waterways by construction of dams on the Brahmaputra.
To sum up, the Chinese activities have to be monitored at each level and contingency plans must be put in place to negate / exploit the situation as it unfolds.
(The author is Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)