China Challenge

IN an obvious reference to the ongoing stand-off with China along the Line of Control on the 74th Army Day0, Army Chief General MM Naravane said on Saturday that Army will prevent any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo along the borders. He asserted that the country’s patience stems from self-confidence, but it should not be tested by adversaries. General Naravane admitted that the last year was “challenging for the Army” specifically mentioning the northern front.  He, however, said that the efforts will continue to find a resolution “on the principle of mutual and equal security”.  The Army chief, however, acknowledged that on the western front the situation “is better than last year” as the ceasefire violations were largely controlled since the understanding between the DGMOs last February. But he warned that the training camps were still active across the border as 300 to 400 militants were waiting for an opportunity to infiltrate, and the attempts to smuggle weapons using drones were continuing.

Earlier in a statement, General Naravane had said that India “is not averse” to the demilitarisation of the Siachen Glacier, on the condition that Pakistan accepted the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) dividing the two countries’ positions. He said the militarisation of Siachen was a result of an attempt by Pakistan to unilaterally change the status quo in late 1984, which forced India to take countermeasures. There has, however, been no response to the statement from Islamabad.

Going forward, it is difficult to predict how 2022 would go.  As underlined by the Army chief, the northern border remains a challenge. The two countries failed to arrive at a breakthrough even in their 14th round of Corps Commander-level talks. The two sides were looking at a possible agreement for disengagement from Hot Springs as part of the comprehensive disengagement and de-escalation efforts in eastern Ladakh. The stand-off is now over 20-month-long and the successive efforts to end it have met a modest success. Last year, the two countries had disengaged from the friction point at Pangong Tso lake but ever since they have struggled to replicate at the other friction points: Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army has enhanced its military profile on the border by deploying thousands of its soldiers and equipment.

As things stand, it doesn’t look like things will change much this year. Pakistan, going by the statements of its leadership, has given up on any engagement with New Delhi as the latter wouldn’t reverse the withdrawal of Article 370. And China wants to cement the new status quo along the LAC. Here’s hoping that the situation turns out contrary to what seems like an eminently predictable course of events.

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