“Don’t be a Gama in the land of Lama”: You will see this slogan anywhere you go to the Northeast of India.
Northeast is an enchanting place, people welcome you with open arms. You will rarely come across someone in the region who will not smile at you once you make eye contact. These people are simple in thinking, simple in living and simple in the matters of state affairs.
If you look at the Chinese map, it shows Arunachal Pradesh as part of China. The Chinese call it South Tibet. Earlier, even Sikkim was considered to be part of China. It was only in the 90s that the issue got resolved and Sikkim became an undisputed territory with China. However, when we talk about Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese still consider it as part of their land.
Be it the hotspots of Ladakh, Galwan Valley or Spangghur / Spangghur gap, etc, in my opinion, those are not the places China will think of engaging us militarily because it tactically suffers from the worst terrain and enjoys least support by its air power.
To support China in the battle in this region, I think the only base is Hotan and there is no other that can come in direct support of Chinese Army operations in the region. Ngari Gunsa is at a very high altitude with no blast pens and no facility for overnight parking. At best, Ngari Gunsa can only protect itself. Hotan is at a fairly low altitude, at about 4,700 feet.
This base can launch many aeroplanes. But if these aeroplanes need to divert to an alternate place in case of bad weather, or if the Indian Air Force puts it out of action for a couple of hours, there is no other place for the aeroplanes that get airborne from Hotan can go and land.
The closest alternative bases are Kashgar, Kashi and beyond. However, in the regions of Arunachal Pradesh, the are many bases that can come in support, like Chengdu, Mengshi, et cetera. They have a huge stockpile of second artillery also called as rocket force missile bases close by from where the Chinese can launch surface surface cruise missiles against India, both against Indian Air Force bases as well as Indian army positions.
Lot of people of our country are not aware that this sector is disputed in the sense that the entire Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by China. However, there has been relative peace and quiet in this region since 1962.
North Arunachal Pradesh is a difficult terrain which rises to the north-eastern corner to a peak called Namcha Barva. However, after this peak, the terrain rapidly descends to about 4,000 feet close to Walong. Historians and enthusiasts may remember battle of Walong, where sheer valour of Indian Soldiers saved the day.
There are two places that we need to keep in mind, called fishtail 1 and fishtail 2. Both of them are perceived differently by Indian polity and the Chinese government. Fishtail 1 and 2 Annini Mechuca Asaphi La are going to be in the news in days to come. Arunachal Pradesh, in my opinion, is going to get active and India will have to address many threats from north, northeast, east and possibly through south from Myanmar. Various bases that Chinese have developed in Myanmar may be used in times of war.
Myanmar shows to the world and to India that it’s a neutral country. But during times of war and under pressure from China, it may end up allowing Chinese aeroplanes to leapfrog from its bases. Therefore, that is something that India should take care of diplomatically.
This winter of 2020 is going to be challenging and harsh for troops stationed at high altitudes on the borders with China and India. The troops of Northeast are hardy strong and very pro-India; they are going to give the conscription army of China, whom I call ‘weekend warriors’, a befitting reply.
1962 was a mistake that was committed by a handful of people who blindly believed Chinese ruse. This mistake, is something that India is not likely to repeat in times to come. India will be careful, it will be calculative and it will be ready for any kind of misadventures that China would like to try.
(Group Captain MJA Vinod was in charge of operations for Northeast during his tenure as CATSPAW – Command Air Tasking And Strike Planning for Aerial Warfare – in Shillong, Meghalaya. He was also conferred with Vishisht Sewa Medal by the President of India for establishing CATSPAW. He served four tenures in Northeast from Sikkim sector to the Eastern most base. He is an MPhil and a PhD scholar in international relations and strategic studies. Views expressed are personal)