Security Issues in Border Areas
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Topic: General Studies 3:
- Security challenges and their management in border areas
In News: The sudden and tragic loss of 20 Indian army personnel in a treacherous ambush by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley has caused deep public anguish and anger, mollified, only partially, by the swift retribution visited on the assailants by our gallant jawans. This has led to several debates on if our borders are safe and if the government is doing enough.
The trust between our leaderships and nations has been seriously impaired by the events in Ladakh. The response of the government of India to China’s recent actions in Ladakh must be an all-of-government one, indeed an all-India one — covering all sectors including heightened security and be coordinated, consistent and implemented with spine. This is not a question of nationalism or patriotism but of self-esteem and self-respect.
- Bilateral relations between India and China cannot progress unless there is peace on the borders and China recognises that India too has non-negotiable core concerns, aspirations and interests. The principle of equal and mutual security is fundamental. No country can have a veto on India’s relations with any other country or group of countries.
- India needs to come to terms with the fact that a gigantic power has risen on its door step. India must also recognise that China, like the great powers before it, wants to redeem its territorial claims, has the ambition to bend the neighbourhood to its will, reshape the global order to suit its interests.
Spotlight on high-altitude warfare and the challenges
High-altitude warfare is fought keeping the terrain and weather in mind. The kind of infrastructure and training that the troops require for high-altitude warfare are key factors. The harshness of the terrain calls for a specialised kind of training to prepare soldiers in terms of mindset and acclimatisation. To begin with, the troops are imparted training in basic and advance training in mountaineering to make them equipped for mountain warfare.
Generally, India is considered a hub of mountain warfare skills since most of the country’s north and northeast requires such skills. Ladakh Scouts are considered the best in this kind of warfare. Mountain chop, a tactic involved in such warfare, evolved in India where the mountainous terrain is very difficult to scale.
The mindset of the enemy, sitting above, needs to be assessed. Taking stock of the entire situation, one needs to find out the easiest approaches. Especially when there are vertical cliffs, it is generally perceived that the enemy that has taken defensive positions will be less guarded from the side of difficult approaches… Basically, the most difficult approaches where the enemy is likely to give the least resistance need to be used efficiently
A big factor is who has taken defensive positions and who is sitting on higher ground. Once troops are sitting on high ground, it becomes very difficult to dislodge them from there. In a place like Galwan Valley, which is absolutely barren, there is not much concealment. The soldier on high ground is absolutely stationary, which makes those on lower terrain easy targets; the enemy can pick them up one by one. Normally in mountain warfare, troops on lower ground use a combat ratio of 1:6, but in circumstances as in Galwan, it may go up to 1:10.
Generally, mountain warfare is fought using the period of darkness to reach the opposing army, engage and overpower them before the first light of day. In case troops do not have the capabilities, fitness or strategies to do so before dawn, then it is a lost cause.
Other challenges faced by soldiers in high altitudes: The first major factor is acclimatisation since the oxygen supply reduces drastically. Next, the load carrying capacity of individuals reduces drastically. Things move very slow in the mountains and mobilisation of troops consumes time. Thus, time and place need to be kept on top priority when deciding where the troops have to be stationed and how they have to be mobilised.
The Way Forward
Army must revisit strategies on northern borders
- The Indian Army has to strategise and should revisit its rules of engagement on the Northern Borders, mindful that troops in tactical situations cannot be shackled by past treaties, which the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deals with disdain.
- Real-time intelligence, surveillance equipment and satellite imageries must be available to field formations that need to act on it. This should not be delayed by the bureaucratic maze.
- We need to strategise for the future, including the modern manifestations of non-contact, non-kinetic warfare. We must avoid unnecessary nitpicking on semantics of statements made in a particular context. This will be a great service to the soldier on the ground.
- On national security issues, there must be national unity. There ought to be faith in those at the helm that the issues of national security will not be soft-pedalled or obscured on the altar of politics. Similarly, within the norms and constraints of national security, the establishment must keep the nation informed, to avoid an information vacuum that leads to rumour-mongering.
- At the ground-level, we need to visibly reinforce our positions, and move forward to the LAC all along, enhancing the operational-tempo of the three services as a measure of deterrence. Indian warships should show heightened presence at the Indian Ocean choke-points. Cyber emergency response teams country-wide should remain on high alert. While building-up stocks of weapons, ammunition and spares, the Ministry of Defence should seize this opportunity to urgently launch some long-term “atma-nirbharta” schemes in defence-production.
- At the strategic level, the government must moot a sustained process of engagement with China at the highest politico-diplomatic echelons. The negotiations should seek multi-dimensional Sino-Indian modus-vivendi; encompassing the full gamut of bilateral issues like trade, territorial disputes, border-management and security. Simultaneously, at the grand-strategic level, India should initiate a dialogue for the formation of an “Indo-Pacific Concord for Peace and Tranquility”, inviting four members of the Quad as well as Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.
- India should continue its endeavours to consolidate its solidarity and amity among neighbours and all democratic powers of the world. China is the only non-democratic major power in the world. It will leave no stone unturned in order to make India vulnerable both externally and internally.
- Acknowledging China’s dramatic rise and recognising the scale of the challenge it presents are the first steps for Delhi in crafting a new China policy. For the Modi government, this should be a valuable opportunity to get back to basics on restoring internal political coherence, accelerating economic modernisation and expanding India’s national power.
Developing a comprehensive Underwater Domain Awareness strategy
- Our navy has interdicted Chinese maritime research and survey vessels that entered our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf (CS) without our prior consent in 2018 and 2019. India has legislation (Act No. 80/1976) that requires foreign marine scientific vessels to seek licence prior to undertaking activities. The Chinese claim that they are serving the interests of global scientific research.
- This will need coordination between our national security agencies, the navy, and the government departments responsible for the marine environment and disaster management, but also collaboration with like-minded countries who share our concerns. Such cooperation includes, inter alia, deepening of real-time information exchange, co-development and deployment of UDA monitoring devices and joint processing of acoustic signatures, and closer coordination in the patrolling of sea lanes to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
- The deployment of PLAN intelligence-gathering ships with naval escort along our coasts might also require a new sort of response. We should learn from Chinese tactics. A RAND study describes how they use fishing boats, which are actually “maritime militia”, to overwhelm the external adversary with swarm-tactics, supported from the rear by coast-guard or naval vessels. This is below the threshold of a military response, and a successful, albeit crude, way of blocking the PLAN vessel. We have multiple fishing communities that can be provided with the capacity and training for such purposes. Building Maritime Domain Awareness, and especially Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) capabilities and technology, both domestically and with like-minded partners, should be given the highest priority.
- India should maintain communal harmony in the country at all costs, embedded with equity and prosperity.
- Defence preparedness should be vigorously pursued to insulate us from unpleasant surprises.
- This is a time for firm resolve and prudence, to stay united and determined in the commitment to protect the integrity of the nation and its people.
- The vision should be to establish with utmost urgency, stable, viable and peaceful national boundaries, all around, so that India can proceed, unhindered, with the vital tasks of nation-building and socio-economic development
Connecting the Dots:
- The need for a comprehensive Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) strategy is pressing. Discuss.
- Examine the significance of border infrastructure for managing security challenges in the border regions.
- How critical is border infrastructure development for the internal security of India? Discuss in the light of India’s unique geo-strategic location and domestic politics of bordering states.
- More than history, it’s the geography of India that aggravates the security challenges in the border regions. Analyse.