Ever since the spring thaw this year, there have been have been reports of border clashes on the Sino-Indian border – mostly scuffles between Indian and Chinese border guards. Why aren’t the Indians shooting at the Chinese, if they think they have occupied their territory? The only reason is that they don’t want to cross that threshold that could escalate into a shooting war. It is quite in contrast to what they do on the Line of Control (LOC) in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, where they fire even without any provocation.
To this explosive cocktail of a standoff with China, has been added the India-Nepal border tiff. Construction of roads and military outposts have caused offense and resulted in bitter acrimony. The Government of Nepal has strongly objected to the construction of a road that they claim would be passing through their sovereign territory of Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura. The Indian Army Chief Gen MM Naravane has criticized the Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli for acting on another country’s behest. An obvious pointer to China. Nepal is upset because it not only grants as a matter of courtesy, the honorary title of a general of the Nepalese Army to an Indian Army chief on assuming command, it also provides recruits to Indian Army’s seven Gurkha regiments. These comprise 40 battalions of Indian Army – roughly 40,000 men.
Nepal a poor landlocked country, is entirely dependent on the goodwill of its powerful neighbors for its peace and stability. It earns its security by providing soldiers not only to India but also the the UK. It has a strong presence on UN peacekeeping missions.
On the map Nepal appears as a sliver of land stretching from east to west across the Himalayan Range. Ladakh is towards the west of it and Sikkim towards the east. Its depth extends into the Indo-Gangetic Plains. It shares a 1,690 km long border with India and has multiple entry points. There is no visa restriction on Indian visitors to enter Nepal and vice versa. India-Nepalese borders were established after the Sugauly treaty of 1816 between Nepal and the British Raj. Following Indian independence, the status of the borders was maintained. Nepal was never colonized and was officially the only Hindu kingdom in the world until it was declared the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal after the Maoist revolution in 2008.
Gautama Buddha, the founder of Budhism, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal. That’s where a Pakistani retired lieutenant colonel disappeared in April 2017. Lured in ostensibly lured in by Indian agencies as part of an extensive trap set up for him.
What is happening in Ladakh is sinister still. There have been reports that the Indian Army has been planning to attack the CPEC route in Gilgit Baltistan and to possibly sabotage the Diamir Bhasha Dam. Ravi Rikhye in his book The War that Never Was published in 1998 described an Indian plan code named Operation Trident to capture Gilgit via Skardu. The offensive launched by Indian XV Corps failed because the time frame of two weeks to reach Gilgit proved too ambitious.
The Leh district in Ladakh provides the approaches into Pakistani territory through the Indus, Shyok and the Nubra river valleys. The HQ of Indian Army’s 14 Corps is located in the capital city of Leh. This Corps looks after the military deployment along Kargil-Leh and looks after the frontiers with China, Kashmir and guards the Siachen glacier. 14 Corps comprises the 3rd and 8th infantry divisions. 14 Corps regularly carries out high altitude military drills. Exercise Changthang Prahar an Integrated Exercise of all Arms in Super High Altitude Area was conducted in September 2019. Since October 2019 Lt Gen Harinder Singh of the Maratha Light Infantry Regiment is the Corps Commander. He is likely to complete his tenure of duty in September this year. Typically, the Commanders of 14 Corps serve for a period of one year.
Until 2019, Ladakh was part of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) until the Modi government revoked the special status given under article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution and unilaterally annexed the entire region on 5 August 2019. On 31 October 2019, Ladakh was made a separate union territory. Ladakh borders Chinese Tibet to the east, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to the south, Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistani territory of Gilgit-Baltistan to the west, and the southwest corner of Chinese territory of Xinjiang (Sinkiang) across the Karakoram Pass in the far north. It extends from the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram Range to the north to the main Great Himalayas to the south. The eastern end of Ladakh, consisting of the uninhabited Aksai Chin plains, has been under Chinese control since 1962.
According to reports appearing in the Indian media, recently 5000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops entered Ladakh from five locations, four along the Gallon River and the Pangong Lake. It has been surmised that 75 Indian soldiers have been apprehended. India is considering options. President Trump has offered mediation but it is highly unlikely that any country would consider his offer seriously.
Trouble has also been brewing in Sikkim. Located in north eastern India, Sikkim borders China in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west, and West Bengal in the south. Sikkim is close to the Silliguri Corridor near Bangladesh. Nathu La pass in East Sikkim district connects it with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The pass, at 4,310 m above mean sea level, is an offshoot of the ancient Tea Horse Road. Only citizens of India can visit the pass, only after obtaining a permit in Gangtok.
Sikkim was an independent kingdom until it was forcibly annexed by India through a sham referendum in 1975. The kingdom was founded by the Namgyal dynasty in the 17th century and was ruled by a Buddhist priest-king known as the Chogyal. It became a princely state of British India in 1890. After 1947, Sikkim continued its protectorate status within India. In 1973, anti-royalist riots were orchestrated in front of the Chogyal’s palace and in 1975, the monarchy was abolished. The same year Sikkim was declared the 22nd state of India.
Now back to the main question: What is India upto?
Theory One. India wants to attack Pakistan through Ladakh, sever the CPEC and stop the construction of the Diamir Bhasha Dam. This may appear theoretically possible but practically impossible given the size of the logistics to maintain such kind of offensive. Besides the Pakistan Army is well prepared for such kind of eventuality.
Theory Two. India is putting pressure on China in the Himalayas, as US confronts it with a large naval presence in the South China Seas. This is quite possible but fraught with danger for India.
Theory Three. India is toying with the idea of delivering a small military defeat on China and Pakistan, while both are busy fighting the Corona epidemic. Indian army chiefs have talked of a two front war with China and Pakistan against a nuclear overhang. In all fairness India would think many times before militarily locking horns with China but with Pakistan it can risk the adventure. It would be good to settle the score for the Abhinandan fiasco. This could be good for optics and boost the national morale of Indian public. The possibility exists and Pakistani prime minister has spoken of false flag operations by India allegedly to counter terrorism from Pakistani soil.
As India spikes the LOC violations and fans unrest in Balochistan and the tribal districts through the Pashtun nationalists, Pakistan needs to focus on Kashmir. That’s where India’s soft underbelly is.