Slitting throat

Sikkim tri-junction and importance of Chumbi Valley

The tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China is like a Chinese dagger held at India’s throat. At this point the Chumbi valley which is part of southern reaches of the Tibetan Autonomous Region along the Line of Actual Control is like a pointed kris dagger thrust between Sikkim and Bhutan, giving access to China directly into West Bengal.

China has been trying to maximize this geographical advantage because it is aware that it is through Sikkim and the Gaygong-Geegong gap that India can pose a threat by a lateral manoeuvre that will cut off the Chumbi valley from the rest of China. This can give India respite from threats that Beijing would use a route different from what it used in 1962 to cut Sikkim and the whole of the north east by sitting on the narrow Siliguri corridor in West Bengal.

Once that happens India will not be able to sustain its forces in Sikkim and all troops and military assets would be lost. After what has been happening at the Daulat Beg Oldi sector in Jammu and Kashmir in the western reaches of the Line of Actual Control, India confronts a palpable threat at the Sikkim, Bhutan tri-junction.

Territorial integrity

It needs to ensure that the Chinese geographical advantage is not converted into a debacle worse than in 1962. It needs to be remembered that unlike as in Kargil in 1999 when Pakistani troops were shelled to submission, this portion of India is densely populated and the use of bombardment both aerial and ground-based would be fratricide against one’s own population.

Therefore, the very first signs of a Chinese misadventure here and a beginning of even a few feet of intrusion must be taken as a declaration of war and trigger a massive artillery response that will destroy all Chinese troop concentrations from its very forward most echelons and all logistical supply lines traversing the Chumbi Valley so that all forward movement is made impossible.

It should be backed up by aerial bombardment of troops’ concentrations and lines of communications leading into the Chumbi Valley and the dagger point. If India will not do this it will be very grievously remiss in the protection of its national territorial integrity; worse than anything it was accused of in its acts of commission and omission that led to the Chinese attack of 1962.

For one, more territory is at stake this time. Sikkim and all of the Northern States will first be cut off from India and then fall into Chinese hands because Indian troops will not be able to dispatch reinforcements to the north-east in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam without active assistance from Bangladesh which may or may not come.

Apparently aware of the tenuous nature of the landscape India had, even before Kargil happened, moved the Bofors howitzer to Sikkim but the lay of the land is such that besides deployment within Sikkim itself, it would be necessary to create adequate killing zones inside the Chumbi Valley and along the area north of Sikkim.

While the sharp edge of the knife is resting on India’s throat throughout Sikkim, the point rests in Bhutan and it will not be beyond Chinese insouciance to break Bhutanese sovereignty in its south-western segment bounded on one side by the Torsha Chu river and the border with India on the other.

Such a manoeuvre conducted by commandos would catch India totally by surprise and threaten the Kalimpong-Phuntsoeling segment of West Bengal.

For the Chinese, being acutely aware of the military potential of the Gaygong-Geegonj gap which is an undulating flatland and good terrain for tank warfare, it would not want India to exploit this potential to the full.

It would try and disrupt it by cutting Sikkim off from India by striking at its base in the territory that lies just south of the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction. For India this should be a zero-tolerance zone where any attempt at infiltration must be viewed with utter seriousness and dealt with accordingly in quick time.

It is very likely that there will be swift escalation of Chinese military activity all along the Line of Actual Control but India cannot afford to allow the Chinese to come down through the Chumbi Valley into West Bengal.

Military tactics

A Chinese thrust into West Bengal has many advantages for the People’s Liberation Army. The main would be the fall of Arunachal Pradesh into its lap along with the Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Tripura.

As part of its strategy of territorial aggrandizement it will hold on to Arunachal Pradesh and return the other north eastern States if India agrees to accept the current Line of Actual Control as per Chinese perception as the final border.   

It will be a terrible blow for India not just in the present but also the consequences could be the Balkanisation of the north-east with Chinese supported insurgencies gaining the upper hand because of the decimation of the Indian Army.

STRATEGIC AFFAIRS has time and again made it a point to bring to the Government and the Ministry of Defence’s notice that it needs to bolster its firepower all along the Line of Actual Control by pre-positioning its heavy-calibre weapons within reach of vulnerable segments of the LAC where Chinese massed attacks are possible.

It has suggested that its indigenously created 214 mm Pinaka multi-barrel rockets, the Bofors 155 mm howitzers, the 130mm medium field gun and the 105 mm Indian field gun be dismantled and reassembled at points where they are able to dominate the Indian perception of the Line of Actual Control plus five kms as a killing zone which Indian artillery will be able to dominate in the event of full-scale hostilities.

With concentrated barrages backed by well-positioned fire controllers to give corrective gridlines to the gunners China will not be able to use its larger military manpower to full advantage.

The tactics of creating killing zones all along the Line of Actual Control from Arunachal Pradesh in the East to Jammu and Kashmir in the west would have the effect of stalling all Chinese manoeuvres across a broad front even as Indian artillery chops up the Chinese thrust in areas that are acknowledged to be a disadvantage because of terrain and Chinese military disposition.

The dismantling and reassembly of heavy artillery is a tactic that is being dictated by the absence of roads and other military infrastructure in close proximity to the LAC because of a studied Government policy of benign neglect intended to prevent the Chinese to make deep inroads into the Indian territory.

Since there has been a reversal of that policy and renewed efforts to create roads and bridges have been delayed by the difficulties of cutting rocks in many places, India has no other option but to innovate and make preparations that do not require a road network to fructify.

The very fact that the Chinese have objected to the Indian military build up and the creation of new infrastructure all along the Himalayas is proof that Beijing will act before all these facilities become a reality.

Its inimical activities in the “Finger feature” in the Sikkim area appears to be a pincer move operating in conjunction with the Chinese deployment in the Chumbi Valley salient. Let us prepare while we have the time.