One of India’s best known and most highly regarded defence analysts has said that in the early stages of the border crisis in Ladakh the army was slow to respond, failed to heed intelligence and, consequently, missed a trick.
Sushant Singh, former Strategic Affairs Editor of the Indian Express, said till at least the end of May the army did not acquit itself well. Even today the new Chief of Defence Staff structure continues to unsettle and hamper the efficient and effective operation of the army.
In a 28-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Sushant Singh, who has himself served in the army, said that the recent troop deployment on both banks of Pangong Lake has strengthened India’s position but it would be wrong to claim that the army has wrested advantage in this area. For a variety of reasons, including the length of its stay, the greater advantage remains with China’s People’s Liberation Army.
Nonetheless Singh said that this is clearly one reason why the Chinese Defence Minister has asked to meet the Indian Defence Minister in Moscow.
Singh was sharply critical of the reluctance or failure of both the army and the government to regularly and effectively brief the media and the Indian public. Consequently, there is confusion in the reports in different papers about critical matters. For instance, has India got control of all the strategic heights on the south bank of Pangong Lake as the Times of India and Indian Express suggest, or are Black Top and Helmet Top in Chinese hands as the Business Standard has said, or are neither India and China in control of Black Top but the advantage is strongly in India’s favour as the Economic Times suggests?
Indeed, there’s even confusion about whether Black Top and Helmet Top are on the Indian or the Chinese side of the LAC. The Business Standard clearly says it’s on the Indian side but Sushant Singh said that he has been told by reliable army sources that they are on the Chinese side.
There’s similar confusion about whether there have been physical scuffles between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the south bank of Pangong Lake. The Business Standard has clearly said this happened whilst the Indian Express and Economic Times say such scuffles have not happened. Sushant Singh said that he was reliably told by the army that scuffles have not happened. Yet the British paper The Telegraph speaks of a three hour hand-to-hand combat. The government has neither denied nor commented on the Telegraph report.
Singh also spoke about the Special Frontier Force, which has been described “as a secretive Indian commando force” comprising soldiers from the Tibetan refugee community. He also questioned claims made by Telegraph that “Indian troops have captured an important Chinese military post…in the surrounding hills of Pangong Lake”. He said no such claim has been made by the Indian army. In fact, the Indian army insists that it’s operating entirely on the Indian side of the LAC and has not crossed over to the Chinese side.
Sushant Singh said that a front-page report in The Hindu that China controls 1,000 sq. km. of Indian territory, which Indian soldiers were able to patrol but now cannot access, is probably correct. He made it clear that this does not mean Indian soldiers have been thrown out or evicted by the Chinese but that they are denied access to territory India believes is Indian and which previously they could regularly patrol.
Please see the full interview for accurate details.