India -China: Of Border Roads, Tanks That Failed & The Dalai Lama

THE CITIZEN BUREAU
Saturday, August 12,2017

NEW DELHI: The Indian Army has been knocked out of the 19 nation international tank biathlon as both its main and reserve T-90 main battle tanks developed mechanical problems. As a result the Indian squad was disqualified from the finals leaving China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus to enter the finale.

Russia and Kazakhstan participated with T-72B3 tanks, Belarus with a modernised T-72 and China sent its indigenous Type 96B, according to agency reports. India decided to field its top of the line Russian designed T-90 Main Battle Tank this time, as against the T-72 tanks provided by the Russian hosts in the past. This time the two T-90 tanks were shipped to Russian for the exercises.

This has embarassed the Army, more so as comes at a time when China has positioned itself for a military conflict over the Doklam issue in what experts here say is now just a “few stages” away. The games allow each participating team up to 21 personnel including team members, a coaching crew and a maintenance unit. There are three stages in the competition - all teams participated in the individual race. Twelve teams made it to the semi-finals including India that had done well till the tanks packed up.

Indian defence experts have been writing at some length of the Army flawed armour equpping policies that are described as uneconomical, inefficient but also neglected. It has been reported in defence journals that the Indian Army’s main battle tank programs are in somewhat of a mess, and impact negatively on the countrys operational preparedness. Interestingly, this is a fact admitted by defence officers who have been warning political governments of this for several years, including under the two terms of the Manmohan Singh government.

At that time MBT aquisition and modernisation hit an all time law with the overly cautious Defence Minister AK Antony hesitant to clear any proposal. The Modi government came in with reportedly new plans, but acquisitions here too have got bogged down by bureaucratic delays, and inefficiency with files piling up in South Block without clearance. The fact that the country today does not have a full fledged Union Defence Minister, with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley doubling up for both the crucially important ministries, does not help. Jaitley has of course said, as Antony did before him that the Army has the equipment and the ammunition for the job at hand.

Strategic roads remains another issue. At a time again when China has bullt a network of motorable roads across the borders, and started a train service from Beijing to Tibet at heights hitherto unknown, India is still struggling with border roads. Previous governments had again ignored the Army requests to build an infrastructure similar to China’s and a decision was taken just a few years ago. However, Jane’s Defence Weekly has pointed out that only 27 of the 73 India-China Border Roads approved for construction in 2005 and sechuled to be completed by 2012 had been built. The new deadline by the current government, as per its own response to a question on the issue in Parliament is 2022.

The terrain is rough, and access a major issue that has impeded construction, according to Minister of State Subhash Bhamre . Jane’s reports that the Ministry of Defence, after a decade of delays, is now looking to complete the roads along the disputed 4057 km Line of Actual Control--from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh-- with China by 2022. Railway lines are also part of the delayed project. According to the Jane’s report senior officers of the Indian Army feel that it is difficult to monitor heightened PLA activity in the region. And that ,”the PLA was ‘significantly’ better serviced by all-weather roads and a rail link to Tibet which together could facilitate the deployment of 3-4 Chinese PLA divisions or some 40,000-60,000 personnel to the LoAC, within a week.”

And “Additionally, five all-weather airfields Tibet backed by 18-27 airstrips and advanced landing grounds in contiguous areas were capable of supporting PLA Air Force combat platforms to execute counter air and interdiction campaigns along and across the LoAC.”

China has meanwhile reacted to the Dalai Lama call for peace with a particularly scathing article in the official media in language that is becoming increasingly offensive. An Oped piece in the Global Times states after quoting the Dalai Lama at some length that he "should hold these seemingly peace-loving and universally applicable words until the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) kick Indian troops out of Chinese territory, or even when the PLA hits back and steps on Indian soil. He will be better placed then to call for India to have dialogue and maintain peace with China.

The political exile lives at the mercy of India and has become spineless. New Delhi now stresses the importance of dialogue because its troops on Chinese soil risk being dealt with by the PLA at any time. China is still pursuing the unconditional full pullout of India's troops, which is internationally acceptable, so the Dalai Lama siding with India is to no avail. Yet India has to use the Dalai Lama card as it has no others in hand. India hopes to use the Dalai Lama to boost morale in the face of China's punishment that looms large.”

Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley underlined Wednesday that lessons have been learned from the 1962 war and that Indian armed forces are strong enough to meet any challenge to the country's security, in a bid to lift up his people. He leaves unspoken the belief that the Indian army can sustain a prolonged standoff with the Chinese army. Since India is so confident, it can remain in Chinese territory and wait and see what action the PLA will take. “



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