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Perceptions, Options, Strategic Objectives of India and China in Ladakh

MAJ GEN (R) SHAUKAT, ARTY — Here are some of my observations and assumptions regarding the Indo-China faceoff in Ladakh and possible scenarios, options, implications:

A. Indian Brigade size Military Base at Daulat Beg Olde, just 8km from the Karakarum Pass and the Indian construction of road “Darbuk Shyok Daulat Beg Olde” give her the capability to access Gilgit and cut CPEC which is common objective of Indo-USA and which is perceived by China and Pakistan as one of the leading options for Indo US aims.

B. China and Pakistan both perceive Indian capability to cut CPEC with or without the support of USA a strategic threat against Sino-Pakistan vital interest. Therefore, Chinese in coordination with Pakistan aims at neutralizing Indian capability and forestalling Indian option of attacking Gilgit-Baltistan by posing threat to Indian base in Ladakh.

C. Indian abrogation of Article 370 and 35A and inclusion of Ladakh in Indian Union Territory with perceived long term plan to make a large scale military base in Ladakh is also perceived by China and Pakistan as major threat to Sino-Pakistan strategic interest .

WHAT ARE POSSIBLE CHINESE AIMS

(1) To Capture area up to the west of Shyok River and south of Indus River with the aim of cutting Indian access to the entire flank of Chip Chap plains, (Aksai Chin in the East and Shayok Valley to the north). This will allow China to get control of southern side of the Karakarum pass, domination of Nubra Valley obviating Indian option of accessing Gilgit . It will also allow easy approach to Siachen Glacier from Depsang corridor to meet at Tashkurgan junction from where the CPEC crosses into Gilgit Baltistan.

(2) Sikkim Sector China perceives Doklam Plateau lying in the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan as disputed territory between China and Bhutan with no ownership of India. India considers Bhutan as its protected State though not Protectorate. Chinese construction of a road to Bhutan as part of its Belt and Road policy through Doklam Plateau has threatened Indian strategic interest in Bhutan. Present move of PLA troops in this region is another strategic move to end Indian control over Bhutan invoking Indian strong response.

(3) China also claims a big chunk of territory in Arunachal Pradesh as part of South Tibet but present dispute remains in the North.

INDIA THREAT PERCEPTION AND RESPONSE OPTIONS

a. Indians perceive PLA military deployment as Sino-Pakistan Joint Strategic Maneuver to threaten Indian strategic interest in Ladakh Region and Gilgit Baltistan (GB is claimed by India as part of Kashmir and a disputed territory).
b. Indians perceive that present occupation of PLA inside Galwan Valley , with occupation of Western Ridge of the valley poses serious threat to Indian Road leading to its Military Base at Daulat Beg Olde which, besides forestalling Indian option of accessing Gilgit through Karakarum and cutting CPEC, have also threatened Line of Communication to DBO which necessitates strategic defense and re-occupation of the Galwan Valley by tactical offensive.

INDIAN OPTIONS

a. (Option 1): Strategic defense with tactical offensive to regain lost territory and get control of Galwan Valley.
IMPLICATIONS: This option implies more escalation leading to maximum stalemate which allows Chinese to use other options like Cyber Offensive in synergy with its option of using Ground and Air Arm. India being in no comparison to Chinese Cyber capability, and specially Indian Communication and Net Centric Operation based on Chinese equipment, Chinese Cyber attack even limited to Ladakh Region will be a disastrous blow to India.

b. (Option 2): Strategic defense in Ladakh Sector and Strategic offensive on Chinese maritime interest in East China Sea with other Naval forces of Pacific Command of USA and Allies.
IMPLICATIONS: This option will only be executed on getting green signal from USA and will engulf entire Asia into a conflict. China being weak in maritime capability against threat from the Pacific Command may launch Strategic Counter Offensive from Sikkim sector to cut Indian Chicken Neck in Siliguri corridor thereby cutting Indian 5 North Eastern states. (Less likely).

c. (Option 3): Strategic defense against China and strategic offensive across LOC to occupy maximum territory of POK with strategic aims of cutting CPEC passing through GB.
IMPLICATIONS: Most dangerous for Pakistan but chance of success under present threat by PLA in Ladakh are less.

Option 2 and 3 can only succeed with active military support of USA to India which is not foreseen under present strategic environments created by Coronavirus pandemic and the economic state of USA.

Effort has been made to present a focused overview of the security situation in Ladakh region. How can China achieve its strategic aims with a view to forestalling Indian options of interfering in CPEC is beyond the scope of this write-up.

The writer is a Pakistani ex-serviceman