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Chinese incursion: Questions India needs to ask itself

Even before the dust has settled on the issue of Chinese troop incursion into areas controlled by India, the process of an autopsy of the entire chain of events has already begun. The army will surely review the set of events, but it is generating serious debates around three issues: (1) Is this a case of command failure right from the prime minister to the army chief? (2) Is this a colossal intelligence failure both at the tactical level of Military Intelligence (MI), and at the strategic level by the external spy agency, Research and Analyses Wing (R&AW)? and, (3) Did Indian diplomacy that claims to have saved the day have actually contributed to return to business as usual?

A senior army official who has recently laid down a crucial office considers that the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh down to the Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh have waffled on a number of crucial occasions during the time the Chinese border troops laid siege.

In his opinion, the political leadership showed too much of sensitivity towards the Chinese leadership and the supposed goodwill of the ‘improving’ bilateral relations. They failed to test the show of strength by the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF), those who guarded the LAC, and instead treated them with kid gloves as if it was New Delhi’s responsibility to maintain their well-being, despite their ‘interloping.’

This was on the face of a ‘correct’ action of the local battalion commanders who decided to pitch tents of their forces, right opposite the PAPF contingent at a distance of about 100 metres. This brought the two forces ‘face-to-face’ with each other, with each staring down the others. In that circumstance, the former official thought, Gen Singh should have backed his local commanders and pushed the government for a military solution.

But retired major general Afsir Karim believes the opposite. He thinks that the government over-reacted on a situation that happens often during patrols by both forces all across the LAC. He said that the government made it into a test of ‘patriotism’ from the beginning and were overly militaristic, thus causing a ‘normal’ event to seem as weakness, while it could be judged as a case of ‘strategic restraint.’

On the issue of ‘intelligence failure,’ Karim is categorically negative. He did not see any intelligence failure by any agency, for these kind of moves can be seldom predicted, he said.

The former official saw it differently. He felt that the MI should have been able to predict what the local PAPF commander was planning. Of course, he acknowledges that building sources to snoop in China is extremely difficult, but technical abilities of the agencies involved should have been optimally used. The R&AW should have been able to tell the government that who in Beijing was directly involved in the chain of command and got an idea of the leaderships’ intent.

Finally, the recently retired army official found it ludicrous that the government was so conscious about letting the External Affairs Minister, Salman Khursheed go to Beijing in preparation of the subsequent visit of the newly installed Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang. The emphasis on diplomacy virtually brushed-off all other options from the table. All this is bound to keep the already overheated milieu of the national Capital potentially more contentious.
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