"China must undertake a visible withdrawal. Our next course of action should be dependent only upon an official confirmation of the Chinese withdrawal"

The threat of war in the world has not ebbed away. Leaders and astute statesmen will guide the destinies of respective nation-states when they have full backing of a crisp and battle-tested force behind them – one which evokes awe in the minds of the enemy. The Indian soldier is a living testimony and defender of the faith of 135 crore Indians and they swear by him! The great camaraderie between the officers and the men and their total devotion to 'Tiranga' and the Constitution has always been a battle-winning factor and has been instrumental in sustaining India's faith in democracy, pride, integrity, stability, and development of communal harmony.

The Indian Army can claim with utmost pride that it has stood true to its salt - whether its troops are serving in -60 degrees Celsius in Siachen glacier, in the sweltering heat of Rajasthan, fighting in the humid and dense forests of the north east or the high-altitude regions of our sacred frontiers. Folk songs of bravery, chivalry, and sacrifices of our officers and men reverberate throughout India. The Dragon must realise the strength of the Indian armed forces.

Undeterred by the abnormal weather conditions, our valiant troops are housed in snow tents, pre-fab structures, and igloos with the adversary also packed up across the LAC holding their positions at Gogra-Hot springs, Pagong Tso, accretion of troops in DBO/Depsang Sector. Our Border Road Organisation has resolved to keep all major high-altitude passes open for the Army throughout the winter. A big salute to them.

Notwithstanding all 'khabar' regarding mutual disengagement and de-escalation remaining speculative, being based at the military commander's level, the proposals arrived at the 8th round of talks between the military commanders of India and China have definitely shown signs of progress towards reaching a solution. High-level officials, including our China Study Group and the three chiefs, are engaged in discussions on this proposal. What's contained in the proposal will probably be evident during the next or the ninth round of talks, as and when it takes place. It appears that Dragon is making preparations to withdraw. Not only in the sector where the skirmish with Bihar Regiment took place, China must withdraw from other areas in Ladakh as well.

I have served in the DBO/Depsang Plains area. In the proposal, China has not mentioned anything about this area. There are unconfirmed reports that PLA has made forays here, though there is no official report about it. Owing to difficult terrain configuration depicting LAC demarcation out here, I envision it to be a tough job. The proposals must include this area as well.

While appraising the current proposal, we have to bear in mind the background of our relations. There is no doubt China's approach towards us has always been wily. In contrast, we, right since our independence, have not been able to pitch our stance toward China the way it deserved. China had commenced construction of a road in Aksai Chin in the 1950s. While Zhou pushed ahead with the construction of the road, we just erred in responding through 'Bhai-Bhai' message. It has now been established that the 1962 war did not happen because of our Forward Policy. In fact, millions had died in a famine in China owing to economic mismanagement legislated by authoritarian and senseless policies of Chairman Mao Zedong and his Premier Zhou causing widespread discontent and threat to the regime. Attack on India thus became a significant diversion to sway public attention.

Whatever happened in those years is a thing of the past but the sting of those events continues to haunt us. We are the ones that have displayed ineptitude. China declared in the 1980s that it was modernising itself. While it has built roads and widespread infrastructures throughout areas opposite Ladakh to Arunanchal Pradesh, we have not been able to achieve even 40 per cent in comparison to what China has achieved!

The times have changed; no earlier government had ever empowered the Indian Army as much as the current one. When entitled, the Army proved to China that we would not let them have a free go as in the past decades. Currently, about 50,000-55,000 soldiers are deployed in those borders armed with guns, missiles, and tanks. We have sent a clear signal to the world that Indian armed forces can give a befitting response to any misadventure by Dragon.

Keep in mind that in a recent conference held in China, President Xi Jinping had to admit in public that all disputes with the neighbours would be settled through negotiations. Consequently, the current talks with India are a face-saving effort in order to preserve that image. It is formidable for China to wage a war with India. I am in touch with people present in areas of current imbroglio. The temperatures in those areas have already dropped below -25 degrees Celsius. China understands it would not be able to sustain soldiers there and that is the reason for the talks on the current proposals put forth.

However, the biggest hurdle here is that China cannot be trusted. Recall the SINO-CENTRISM and ETHNOCENTRICITY! In case it is serious about resolving the dispute, China has to make the first move. China must undertake a visible withdrawal. Our next course of action should be dependent only upon official confirmation of the Chinese withdrawal.

Currently, there are no firing exchanges or skirmishes taking place in those frontiers yet casualties are occurring due to severe cold. Usually, in these areas, including Siachen, 90 per cent of deaths occur due to harsh weather-related problems. When we have casualties, we do not hide the figures but China does.

I have had the privilege of serving in these areas. DBO, Depsang Hills, and Chushul Heights are very dominating and so are the Pagong Tso Heights recently occupied by the Indian Army. The coldest part of the year is from December to February end. The temperatures drop to -60 degrees. Breathing becomes a challenge as oxygen is very rare. These are treacherous conditions. Save for some animal species that survive at these high altitudes and environment, these forlorn, obsolete, and desolate areas being highly inhospitable are unfit for humans to live. But it is our motherland and we are determined to protect every inch of it. Let there be no doubt about it. We are on the path of Dharma or Righteousness and our victory is guaranteed.

The human heart begins to enlarge causing subsequent medical issues. The arteries in the body contract. Organ failures and paralysis are quite probable. Though the food provided is of high quality and can provide up to 5,000-6,000 calories a day, unfortunately, one loses appetite in those conditions. The packaged food comes from special food laboratories and production facilities and can be reconstructed to make it ready to eat after four-five minutes of boiling in water. The lentils (daal) will not cook there, and ingredients like onion and potatoes have to be chopped with a 'khukri' (or large knife) applying a lot of force. Tea is made by melting the snow. These are abnormal living conditions that impinge upon the psychology of soldiers.

China does not have a more challenging frontier elsewhere. The northern Ladakh is hundreds of kilometers away from Lhasa. The largest military establishment in the region is located at Lhasa. In areas ahead of Lhasa towards the Indian border, they have established bases that need to be supplied from time to time. Their soldiers are going to have logistical problems. We like to refer to PLA as 'chocolate soldiers' as they aren't as resilient as ours. They are already beginning to suffer weather casualties. They waged a dispute with India but are now realising that while bullets will not be exchanged, the weather is enough to eliminate their soldiers.

While we share the belief that only Lord Shiva can make his abode in such harsh conditions, our soldiers are no less. In spite of the perilous conditions, our morale is high. India and the Indian armed forces are standing their ground. We must remain alert as it is the wise thing to do and that reflects in our diplomatic stance, too. We have already made a considerable breakthrough and it is our acid test that we forge ahead like this – always keeping our supreme national interest in mind, always and every time.


Dr. Mohan

Lt. Gen. (Dr) Mohan Bhandari, also known as the Thinking General, was born in August 1946. A veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the general has spent a number of years combating counter-insurgency/terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir and various other parts of the country. He is the proud recipient of three Presidential awards presented for his exceptional services to the nation. He was the Indian Army's face for both print and electronic media. The general is a rare mix of a successful soldier, erudite scholar, a powerful orator, a prolific writer, and a gifted painter. At present, he is a visiting faculty member at the Academic Staff Colleges of the UGC, universities, and schools of instructions.

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