The famous Sanskrit proverb “Vinasha Kaalay, Vipreetha Bhuddi” means that when destruction is nigh, one takes an unintelligent decision. In politics, revealing intention without action is a fatal misjudgment. Robespierre learnt that lesson the hardest way. He had his head severed at the guillotine.

General Bipin Rawat committed the same kind of error. In a June 2017 interview to the ANI, the former Indian Army Chief had declared his army’s preparedness for a two-and-a-half front war. The two fronts being Pakistan and China, while the half-front referred to over a dozen movements of self-determination in India. Despite this provocative statement, General Rawat had acknowledged that not even a single bullet had been fired between China and India over the past 40 years.

In April last year, India had got down on the business of stepping-up the logistical capabilities in Ladakh. It pulled in labourers from nearby high-altitude states, much to the resentment of the locals. India hastened the construction of roads and bridges in Ladakh. The military also started working on new airstrips in the region.

India’s strategic designs were not going unnoticed. China was already discontent with the ongoing construction of 323 kilometres long Durbuk Shyok Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) Road. The road passes just 8 kilometres from the LAC. Chinese troops in the area were alarmed by the Indian military’s logistical expansion in the region.

In late May 2020, Indian troops exchanged physical blows with the Chinese soldiers at the Sikkim-Tibet border, some 1300 kilometres away from the Ladakh. In response, the Chinese troops positioned themselves on the high ground along the northern borders of Ladakh and Uttarakhand. In the Galwan Valley, Chinese troops halted their patrols and established themselves on the ridges overlooking the position of Indian troops across the LAC.

It was the first deadly clash between the two nations in over 45 years. The ‘unpreparedness’ of the Indian troops revealed the lack of flexibility in the Indian military organisation. The Indian officers on the ground had little autonomy to take operational or tactical decisions. They had to follow the rigid instructions coming from the high command. It only conforms with Pakistan’s stance that ceasefire violations across the Line of Control (LoC) are sanctioned by top politico-military leadership of India.

Indian generals are reluctant to engage with the Chinese forces in the Galwan Valley because they consider it a ‘dispersive ground’. Moreover, the Indian government takes pride in its diplomacy. India downplayed China’s forward force posturing along the LAC, in a bid to allow its diplomacy to settle the issue.

In a choice between economy and security, Modi had preferred economy and appeased China. He did not flex his 56-inch pectoral muscles. But he must not be mistaken as “Surrender Modi”. He is a cold, power-politician. His calm tactic is not without reason. The Himalayas, particularly Tibet is the water-tower of Asia. Modi also campaigns to defeat global warming in the Himalayas.

India is robustly building dams on the rivers originating from Tibet under the guise of a war against global warming. However, India cares little for the lower-riparian states like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Time and again, India has violated the spirit of International Riparian Law. It ignores the recommendations of the International Court of Arbitration. India releases lower amounts of water in the Indus, and by the same reckoning in the Ganges-Brahmaputra as well.

India is doing its utmost to extend its security apparatus beyond the Himalayas. China’s vulnerability lies beyond these mountains where two of its largest autonomous regions with nervy sentiments are open to India. Learning from the American Offensive Realists, the Chinese strategists duly understand that the cost of a small-scale decisive conflict in the short-term will be much lower than any large-scale unyielding war in the future.

Therefore, China went into the Himalayas to take India’s attention away from the ocean, where India may develop a credible capability to challenge Chinese interests. China recognises that Ladakh is a ‘land of intersecting highways’. It has an ally in the area. The Chinese generals know that any adventure in Ladakh will rely on support from Pakistan. China’s necessity has only raised stakes for Pakistan.

The geopolitics of the Himalayas goes hand in hand with the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). India is enhancing its capability to be a maritime power. It is in the process of building a blue-water navy. It sits on the world’s busiest sea-lanes of trade, and it does little overland trade with any of its neighbours. Its trade security relies on distant markets in the US and Europe. However, India does not have a navy to protect its maritime interests.

India has one aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya. It is a $3 billion liability without its support vessels, trained sailors and educated admirals. A carrier battle group may consist of twenty different vessels, ranging from battleships, destroyers, missile cruisers, submarines, supply ships, survey ships and corvettes.

Having ships is one thing. It takes decades to train and acclimatise, sailors and admirals to command those ships, and to weather the storms. Then it takes an unusually long time to train admirals who can command a carrier battle group, or a group of such battle groups. In short- to mid-term, the Indian navy cannot challenge China’s maritime interests in the IOR.