Let me state that these thoughts were penned even before military talks recommenced. These views are not pessimist, but realistic. In my opinion, military talks would lead to no tangible result leaving forces of both nations in their currently deployed positions through the harsh winter.
The reasons are many, beginning with a massive trust deficit to variation in perceptions and firm demands of both sides. In addition, neither nation would be willing to take the first step back, thereby showing itself to be acting under pressure.
This is harsh reality and must be accepted.
A major cause for failure in the military talks lies in shortcomings in the joint statement issued in Moscow by the two foreign ministers. Firstly, by not including the basic Indian demand of status quo ante of April 2020 and by changing the term LAC to border areas, the joint statement opened doors to new interpretations of the LAC, which would be unacceptable to the other nation.
It is possible that the two foreign ministers had differences of opinion, failed to reach a consensus on the current crisis but issued a statement to set the stage for future talks.
However, the statement opened more doors to differing perceptions, rather than closing them. Secondly, lowering the level of talks to army and Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC) has slowed decision making on resolving current tensions along the LAC.
Both these platforms are avenues of conveying viewpoints, assessment and acceptance.
This could be better achieved be utilizing embassies. The Chinese insistence on adopting this avenue is indicative that they are not rushing for a resolution but willing to prolong the standoff.
Thirdly, the joint statement emphasises the Chinese insistence on disengagement, not de-escalation and withdrawal.
China has, since Galwan, sought disengagement, seeking to enhance distance between forces as it fears another Galwan would be counter-productive for its poorly trained and unmotivated conscript soldiers. India is seeking de-escalation and restoration of status quo ante which China avoids accepting, and which India appears hesitant to push.
For China, disengagement implies India withdrawing from its current deployment on the Kailash Ridge, while India demands Chinese forces deployed close to Indian positions pull back.
China would suggest mutual pullback of troops located in proximity to the Kailash Ridge, which India will reject. Recent local army level talks had similar suggestions from China, which were rejected. Apart from this, there are other differences, the major being the perception of the LAC.
India is of the view that its current deployment remains within its perceived LAC and Chinese must withdraw to positions held prior to April 2020.
This gets further complicated with a massive trust deficit between the two forces. The Indian army doubts that if it vacates its current dominating positions, these would be occupied by China.
Even if new confidence building measures, as proposed in Moscow, are implemented, the trust deficit would remain, unless the LAC is delineated. Hence, diplomacy, as suggested by the foreign ministers, at current levels of the army and WMCC is unlikely to produce results.
The Indian army would be unwilling to withdraw from its present gains unless assured that China will not occupy them. India carries past experiences of Jelep La, Sikkim, of 1965. China would never attempt any offensive action unless it is assured of success.
It has achieved its present dispositions without firing a bullet, however for once has been stymied. It has no option but to either hold on to its gains or plan an offensive. India has dug in deep, prepared to thwart Chinese plans. It would seek to cause immense losses to China in a defensive battle, if pushed, rather than initiating any offensive.
Exercising the military options would therefore not suit either nation. Chinese propaganda machinery, seeking to apply pressure on India harps on 1962, conveniently bypassing 1967 Nathu La and Cho La actions and even recently, Galwan, where it suffered heavily.
The LAC is now a de-facto LOC (as with Pak), with permanent forward deployment within eyeball range. If this scenario continues, then India must lay down for itself its longterm aims and not rush into seeking midway solutions which China will invariably propose.
There is no doubt that maintaining present positions would imply economic and human costs, but it must be accepted. It was China which began the game, India must seek to conclude it, and for once on its own terms, ignoring Chinese half-measures. India occupied and held on to Siachen for nearly three decades, over which there has been no resolution.
India also reoccupied Kargil and reorganized its forces to ensure similar incidents do not recur. It did so aware that talks to resolve Indo-Pak border issues are a remote possibility. In both these cases it continues bearing economic and human life costs yet is unwilling to relent. It should be the same with the LAC in Ladakh.
Indian plans must include maintaining its present positions and gaining further tactical and strategic advantage in case an opportunity presents itself. Simultaneously, it should continue decoupling its economy from China and if possible, bring in other nations on the bandwagon.
It must enhance its international grouping and announce its true intentions for doing so. All this while, it must set long-term objectives, which should not change even if there are changes in government. If the Chinese can consider long term objectives and plans, India should adopt a similar approach.
The long-term objectives, after which India would be willing to deescalate and withdraw must include delineation of the LAC, an agreement not to occupy vacant areas along the delineated border and a commitment to keeping access open for Mansarovar pilgrims through Lipu Lekh (this would resolve the Indo Nepal-China border issue).
All future talks, including at the diplomatic level, must include elements of the army thus presenting a diplomatic military interface.
The involvement of a Joint Secretary in the current talks is a welcome step. India must remain firm and unrelenting if it seeks a holistic solution.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.