‘China intends to keep boundary issue alive,’ says General Manoj Pande

Updated on May 09, 2022 09:02 PM IST

His comments come at a time when the lingering border standoff in eastern Ladakh is now in its third year, and a full resolution is still not in sight even though the two sides have had partial success in disengaging rival soldiers from some friction areas on LAC and talks are on to end the deadlock that has cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship.

Army chief General Manoj Pande on Monday questioned China’s intention to resolve the India-China border standoff, which has now entered its third year. (Army HQs.)
Army chief General Manoj Pande on Monday questioned China’s intention to resolve the India-China border standoff, which has now entered its third year. (Army HQs.)

New Delhi: Army chief General Manoj Pande on Monday questioned China’s intention to resolve the India-China boundary question to arrive at an agreed framework for a settlement that will provide the basis for the delineation and demarcation of the boundary between the two countries, even as he said that the Indian Army aimed to “re-establish trust and tranquillity” between the two sides locked in a standoff in the Ladakh sector “but it can’t be a one-way affair.”

“The basic issue remains the resolution of the border. What we see is that China’s intent has been to keep the boundary issue alive. What we need as a country is a ‘whole of nation’ approach and in the military domain, this is to prevent and counter any attempt to alter the status quo at the line of actual control (LAC),” said Pande, who took over as army chief on April 30.

He was referring to the ultimate settlement of the boundary question - distinct from just resolving the ongoing border standoff in eastern Ladakh - in the context of the overall and long-term bilateral interests.

His comments come at a time when the lingering border standoff in eastern Ladakh is now in its third year, and a full resolution is still not in sight even though the two sides have had partial success in disengaging rival soldiers from some friction areas on LAC and talks are on to end the deadlock that has cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship.

“We are engaging the adversary through military and diplomatic dialogue. Talks have led to disengagement in some areas. We will continue to engage China in talks for resolving the remaining areas. The good thing is we are continuing to talk, and only dialogue can help find a resolution,” the army chief said.

The two countries have been locked in a border row since April-May 2020, and despite disengagement of soldiers from Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso and Gogra-Hot Springs area, the two armies still have around 60,000 troops each and advanced weaponry deployed in the Ladakh theatre.

The Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have held 15 rounds of military talks to cool border tensions, but problems at Patrol Point-15 near Kongka La, Depsang Bulge in Daulet Beg Oldi sector and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demchok sector are still on the negotiating table.

Pande said the army’s “aim and intention” was to restore the status quo ante of April 2020.

“Restoration of status quo ante is imperative to get the bilateral relationship on track, and also for the ultimate resolution of the boundary question in an equitable and mutually acceptable manner,” said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).

The army chief said the Indian Army’s posture along LAC was robust, and adequate forces were available to deal with all contingencies. He said Indian soldiers were holding important positions, and their posture was “firm and resolute” to prevent any attempt by PLA to alter the status quo.

He said the Indian Army was focused on upgrading intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, building infrastructure to support operational and logistics requirements, and inducting new technology all along the border with China.

On the theaterisation drive – a long-awaited military reform, Pande said that while there were areas of “convergence & common understanding,” some issues “still need to be addressed”, and these will have to be taken up for resolution at the appropriate level.

India is working on a roadmap for the military’s theaterisation to best utilise the resources of the three services for future wars and operations. India’s first chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, who was killed in a helicopter crash last December, was spearheading the theaterisation drive, and his demise was seen as a setback to the ongoing military reforms. The three services were expected to submit comprehensive reports on theaterisation and joint structures by April 2022, but the previous timelines may now have to be revised.

“The army’s study on land theatre commands is in the final stages of completion and will be submitted in due course. The army is committed to theaterisation and its success,” Pande said.

The current theaterisation model to enhance tri-service synergy seeks to set up four integrated commands - two land-centric theatres, an air defence command and a maritime theatre command.

On lessons to be drawn from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, the army chief said achieving self-reliance in defence was one of the biggest takeaways.

“We are dependent on Russia and Ukraine for some air defence weapons, artillery systems and tanks. So, reducing dependence on outside sources is an important lesson…The supply chain of certain systems, spares and ammunition has been impacted to some extent, but we have adequate stocks to last for a reasonable period of time,” Pande said. He said India was also identifying alternative supplies from some friendly foreign countries.

His comments came at a time when complications from the ranging sanctions slapped on Russia by the US and its allies on the back of the war in Ukraine have posed new challenges for the India-Russia defence relationship, put India’s military preparedness to the test and assigned new urgency to reduce dependence on imported military hardware to stay battle-ready.

The global backlash against Russia has also raised questions about the fate of new projects, spares procurement for existing Russian-origin weapons, maintenance and servicing of legacy equipment and creating an alternative payment system for defence trade with Russia amid the banking sanctions.

The army chief said another important lesson from the Russia-Ukraine conflict was that conventional wars were still relevant, and these may not be short and swift, and can be prolonged.

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