The situation in Eastern Ladakh after the death of Indian soldiers in the clashes is extremely grave now. It was already serious to begin with because of the way the PLA soldiers came and occupied Indian territory.
It was initially felt it will take some hard negotiations to resolve the issue but with the latest violence leading to deaths, it could become more difficult to find a resolution. The future course of things will depend on what are the demands of the two sides and whether both are ready to reconcile.
We don’t know much about the Chinese intentions this time as opposed to the Doklam or Chumar incidents. In these incidents, the problem was restricted to the construction of roads by the Chinese and we opposed it. I see this standoff leading to greater tension if what the Chinese want is unacceptable to us. If the Chinese agree to return to the original position along the LAC then the tension could ease. But, this time the Chinese don’t seem to be ready to vacate the areas.
From our point of view, we need a firm strategy and show of strength on the ground with a clear message that they need to go back and restore the status quo ante. It is their responsibility also to respect the protocols. Once these broad principles are accepted, the details can be worked out. Our overall stance needs to be enunciated to the government of China.
The Eastern Ladakh clashes are not a normal, routine border incident. It has obviously been planned at the highest level. The talk of differing perceptions of the LAC and the link to the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldie Road is incorrect. In my view, they want to coerce India, although whether they will succeed or not is another thing. This incident has been backed by planning, preparation and mobilisation of a large force on the ground. The size of a normal patrol is 30-40 soldiers; 4,000-5,000 troops are not expected. The larger question is whether the Chinese want to maintain peace along the LAC or have the desire to put pressure on India and are ready to handle the risks that are associated with this step.
Whatever it is, the Indian military is prepared. In military terms the Indian capability is fairly strong on our side of the border. If it escalates our forces are conventionally strong to handle the situation. That is not a major concern and that should not limit our policy options. Another important aspect is communication from our side. We could have handled it a little better. Without sharing the sensitive details, the factual position could have been communicated to avoid unnecessary speculation. By communicating our message through the media we are also making our stand clear to China.