China-India Stand-off at Laddakh and Consequences for Pakistan
By Jan Achakzai
China’s move into Laddakh and establishing a hold over Galwan river valley comes after India coerced Nepal by encroaching on its border territory and reviving Kalapani dispute.
China says that India actually encroached on its territory. The similar holding over of river valley led to 1962 war between India and China.
What strategic compulsion weighed in behind the Chinese move?
A) What are the immediate reasons for Chinese move?
- India’s aggressive behaviour regarding Nepal, reviving Kalapani dispute, indirectly implicated Chinese interest.
- Post August 5 annexation of IOK with Indian intention to turn Laddakh into union territory rattled China that India is materially changing the status of the region contested by China and Pakistan.
- China’s perception of its tactical invulnerability on Laddakh front constitutes best pressure point to send a message to India.
- China rightly read lack of will in Delhi to pay back kinetically given its weakness regarding economy, corona & IOK on boil, hence afforded perfect chance.
B) What is constant?
- India unlikely to seek a full-fledged fight with China due to
- -historical reasons—1962 defeat;
- -its unpreparedness;
- -economic differential with China
- China will also eschew escalating given its picture imperatives: economic revival; post-corona order etc.
C) What can India do?
- India has less options kinetically;
- Since India seeks to control spread of tension, any escalation may have unintended consequences.
- Best pressure point for India is South China Sea but it is unthinkable to breach into high militarised zone – a red line for
- Another region is Indian Ocean to coerce Beijing; but it is a disproportionate response Delhi would think twice;
- The best option is non-kinetic response in Indo-Pacific as both US & Delhi seek to checkmate Beijing along with other Quads members.
- As a bottom line, India does not have many palatable options except to live with altered status quo – it means constant Beijing pressure on Galwan river valley & putting an end to delusional aspirations of making Laddakh a union territory.
D) What India would seek?
(i) India will seek US support by posing a victim of Chinese aggression;
(ii) Delhi will further cement defence cooperation with Washington;
(iii) India will expedite decoupling and take parallel economic measures. India is stepping back from digital BRI like Alibaba, Huawei, ZTE etc; launched BNSL 4G; investment in Reliance Joi; to trade policy – one for China other for rest – codified as “Atam Nirbhar Bharat”; Pharmaceuticals to revisit value chain; new barriers towards Chinese investment;
(iv) Delhi’s military and strategic establishment would exponentially enhance security budget.
E) Repercussions for Pakistan?
- On the positive, India would think twice executing its rhetoric of taking GB due to Chinese vital interest in CPEC going through GB.
- As Delhi will rightly read Beijing’s intention (i.e. Laddakh move) which is clear: in case of India’s Kalapani incursion or any Laddakh breach or any potential GB aggression, China will not sit idle
- On the negative side; India after humiliating Laddakh episode would like to go for fall-back option e.g., attack Pakistan to appease its domestic public opinion & assuage prestige loss;
- India after Balakot & August 5 IOK annexation, believes Pakistan may have no will to escalate hence can give space for kinetic action of its choosing;
- IOK is boiling at unacceptable cost for Delhi so it may be the best opportunity to establish a narrative of Pakistan going proxy in IOK yet again.
- Thus it is right time to attack Pakistan, as Delhi’s thinking goes.
- Corona world & US leadership retrenchment give India a perfect alibi to mount a kinetic response against Pakistan;
- CPEC likely further to be targeted;
- Pakistan was facing hybrid warfare by India but now it has unpalatable choice: risk more Indian aggressions into its territory or establish new deterrence by raising cost for India.