Skip to comments.As Xi Jinping escalates border crisis to divert attention from China's economic woes, India should steer clear of missteps in 1962 at Galwan Post
Posted on 05/22/2020 1:36:40 AM PDT by IndianChief
Five thousand five hundred metres above sea level, the Indian Air Force Mi4 medium-lift helicopter fought its way over the great ice sheets shrouding Ladakh, its single radial engine rendered asthmatic by altitudes its Soviet designers had never designed it to perform. Evading bursts of small-arms fire sent their way by Peoples Liberation Army patrols perched along the Galwan river, the pilots slowly made their way to the Indian Armys eastern-most outpost in Ladakh.
There was, the pilots would report that morning of 21 October, 1962, no sign of life: Galwan Post, Indias most remote outpost in Ladakh, had been obliterated.
Fifty-eight years on, PLA and Indian Army troops have again faced off at exactly that same place, where 68 soldiers of the 5th Battalion of the Jat Regimentwith no artillery or air support; short of ammunition, fuel and foodheld off almost an entire PLA Battalion, knowing there was no hope of either reinforcement or escape.
Galwan Post wasnt just a military tragedy: its loss, Indias official history of the 1962 war records demolished the assumptions that were the foundation of the Forward Policy, the governments strategy on China. Those misjudgments and missteps are now relevant as never before.
Exactly three years, to the date, before the battle of Galwan Post, Deputy Superintendent of Police Karan Singh had headed out into the Chang Chengmo river valley, running parallel to the Galwan to its south, searching for a group of three officers who had gone missing on patrol. His patrol was ambushed by the PLA near the Kongka pass; nine Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel were killed. Beijings message was clear: it was drawing what it claimed to be the border with India in blood. As Xi Jinping escalates border crisis to divert attention from Chinas economic woes, India should steer clear of missteps in 1962 at Galwan Post
Map of the Galwan Post. Courtesy Praveen Swami
The Kongka clash of 1959 was in fact the beginning of the war of 1962. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehrus suggestions that both sides withdraw their posts and territories behind the boundary-lines they had exchanged in 1956 went nowhere.
Few military cards were held by India. The newly independent country, yet to begin significant industrialisation or even to recover from the desolation of Partition, simply did not have the resources for a full-scale military response. Large parts of the military, moreover, were committed to protecting the border with Pakistan.
Led by Intelligence Bureau chief BN Mullick, Indias security establishment crafted a response: the so-called Forward Policy. The army would set up small outposts to assert Indias claims. Even though the army was in no position to sustain these small deployments, Mullick and the army leadershipin the face of plenty of in-house scepticismwere confident China would not risk war to evict them.
In the summer of 1962, a PLA patrol through the Galwan valley discovered the Indian Army had beaten them to it: some 30 troops of the 1st Battalion of the 8 Gurkha Regiment had already set up a Forward Post. Even as a diplomatic protest note made its way to New Delhi, some 350 PLA troops surrounded the post on 10 June, closing into just 15 metres from its periphery two days later. Galwan was cut off.
Now, a strange contest began. PLA troops set up loudspeakers, calling on the Gurkhas to pull back, proclaiming Chinas peaceful intent, and arguing that the troops, being Nepali nationals, ought not to involve themselves in this war.
In September, as the cold set in, the Gurkhas were replaced by 5 Jat. Platoon-sized positions were established at Hot Spring, Nala Junction and Patrol Base, all leading up to the final outpost, Galwan Post.
The army made a last effort to resupply the Galwan outpost late that month, sending out a Yak convoy with rations, fuel and ammunition from Patrol Base. The PLA, though, turned back the convoy just half a kilometre from Galwan Post. Indian troops, with orders not to fire unless fired upon, had no choice but to turn back.
Galwan Post continued to be supplied by Mi4 helicopters, but, as the weather deteriorated supplies soon began running short. PLA positions, linked to their rear by Akai Chin highway across the Tibetan plateau, had no such problems.
The Generals, though, looked at the standoff with satisfaction: to them, Indias official war history records, it appeared that shown firmness, the Chinese yielded.
Early on the morning of 20 October, PLA troops attacked across the entire Ladakh sectorthe full fury of an entire battalion descending on Galwan Post. The story of what happened was assembled only after the end of the war when Indian prisoners of war were returned. Faced with intense artillery and mortar bombardment which levelled their ramshackle shelters inside minutes, the 68 troops of 5 Jat had fought to the last bullet, losing 36 of their number before the last positions were overrun late that evening.
Further back, too, posts demonstrated bitter resistance against overwhelming force, with Nala Post holding out for three days before receiving orders to retreat. In spite of heroic resistance, though, the Indian Army was only able to fight one proper organised battleat Chushuland the PLA was soon at the 1960 lines claimed by Beijing as the border.
The Forward Policy, PB Sinha and AA Athale wrote in the Ministry of Defences official assessment of the war, was possibly a necessary adjunct to the negotiations that went on between the Indian and Chinese sides from 1960 onwards. After the breakdown of talks, they argued, the Forward Policy became full of risks.
The push to set up posts, Sinha and Athale noted, was won by Chinajust as Western Command had predicted, only to find itself overruled by Army Headquarters. Indian strength ended up being scattered across the entire boundary: in trying to defend every inch, the Indians ended up losing much more than they need have.
Facile comparisons between 1962 and 2020 are certain to misleadbut one feature of both situations is of particular significance. The 1962 war, as historian Bertil Lintner has shown, was at its core a political performance, not the outcome of any geostrategic imperative. Indeed, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Unions premier, had, attacked China at a 1959 meeting for failing to resolve the border issue, declassified documents show, predicting would serve only to push India towards the Western bloc.
Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Communist Party of China, hoped the nationalist display would divert attention from his dismal performance at home, and consolidate his hold over the PLA and the party.
Like Mao Zedong in 1962, President Xi Jinpinghis legitimacy increasingly in question as Chinas economy slowslikely sees border crisis as a political tool. For the most part, they are low-risk, high-yield opportunities to profit from nationalism: few countries, after all, are likely to see a gain in escalating a crisis with China.
The evidence suggests Prime Minister Narendra Modiwhose government has run the lowest military budgets, as a percentage of GDP, since the 1962 warunderstands this. The prime minister has shown India wont concede territory but has also avoided allowing the periodic crisis on Indias eastern borders to escalate.
But, as prime minister Nehru discovered in the build-up to 1962, nationalism has a life of its own. The ill-conceived Forward Policy, after all, was born of his need to show muscular resolve in the face of intense criticism in, and outside, Parliament.
Every India-China crisis since 2013 has played to much the same script: a small local stand-off; a build-up of forces; a negotiated restoration of the status quo. Each crisis, though, has engendered a growing tide of anti-China nationalist sentiment that constrains the prime ministers options. President Xi, enfeebled by a slowing economy, might, in turn, find it that much more difficult to be seen as backing down.
The next crisis, then, might have consequences leaders in both Beijing and New Delhi have neither anticipated nor desire. Prime Minister Modi and Indias military leadership ought to be thinking, with the utmost care, about where to go from here: even the slightest misstep, the path to the Galwan Post tragedy shows us, leads straight to the abyss.
“border crisis...they are low-risk, high-yield opportunities to profit from nationalism”
Let’s see, what are the ingredients to this stew? India weak in conventional forces...India nuclear power...India’s current leader possibly less predictable than ever.
Everybody seems to think that going nuclear is never an option. Well, it depends on how threatened the guy with the button feels. China is extremely aggressive and they need control of the Indian Ocean to guarantee oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. Their strategy all along has been to establish a position from which they can split India into little pieces. This is a conflict that India can’t afford to lose. To lose up in the mountains is to lose all of India.
I wonder if China has ever considered being such a good neighbor that it doesn’t need to destroy a country in order to safely transit goods through that nation’s border. Also, China has threatened practically all of the countries it shares a border with. What will they do if they perceive that China’s attention is suddenly elsewhere?
Too many Chinese in China. Now there are 30+ million males with no marriage prospects. China is prepared to lose a whole lot of their people. I just wish India would understand they have a common issue with Taiwan, japan, P.I. and a few other countries. Stop depending on the U.S.
Everybody seems to think that going nuclear is never an option.
Going nuclear is never going to be an option right up to the point that a nuclear capable country is about to lose a war on their own territory. Then it will be the only option.
[Everybody seems to think that going nuclear is never an option. ]
If India does a first strike, it needs to ensure that China’s SLBM’s are taken care of. That means its short-legged Kilo subs need to know where China’s SLBM-carrying subs are, and take them out before Beijing can get in touch with those subs with targeting information. Bottom line is that even if Modi kills a few hundred million Chinese, he risks tens of millions of Indian dead. Seems like a huge price to pay for a parcel of uninhabitable wasteland.
[Going nuclear is never going to be an option right up to the point that a nuclear capable country is about to lose a war on their own territory. Then it will be the only option.]
Hitler tried to pull the temple down around him. I doubt any other leader, democratic or otherwise, would. Hitler wasn’t right in the head.
“Its never an option against nuclear power with 2nd strike capability.”
At the time the Mutually Assured Destruction model was successfully in force there were few, if any low yield “clean” tactical nukes. Now there are low yield nuclear weapons and as the yield drops the probability of use goes up. Especially, if they have been released to field commanders.
So, if India is being invaded and about to be cut in half, would they use tactical nukes? I’d guess yes. They would probably limit the initial use to their own territory. That’s the sane scenario.
Now let’s talk egos and fear. Remember that a politician in office always has his opposition either biting at his ankles or actively getting into a position to take him out. Let’s say the B team has been telling the voters that A is weak and perhaps a traitor and when B gets in office he will arrest and try A. Depending on just how frightened A is, how will he respond to having his country split in two when B has already said that HE would use the nuclear option? To further the scenario, as these events seldom happen as standalones, there’s an election in three days and the Supreme Court of India, which openly has opposed A, has ruled it will take place.
If India has weapons with yields no larger than a WWII blockbuster, they will be used. As the Chinese are forced to fall back and their leader risks being replaced by his ankle-biter will he strike back with slightly bigger yield weapons?
In a discussion about how the US Civil war started a Freeper said, It went like this, tap, tap, push, push, shove, flying-fist, all out melee. The problem with any war is, once it starts, you can throw all of the carefully planned scenarios out the window.
It will never be an option in the event of conventional defeat.
I respectfully have to disagree. You dont think Kim Jong-un or the Iranians would use nuclear weapons if they were about to lose a real war? I would seriously question what China or Russia, or the even the U.S. would do. Hell, we used them and we werent even losing. Remember nukes dont necessarily mean destroying an entire country. Tactical nuclear weapons exist for a reason.
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