A file photo of Pangong Lake in Ladakh | Visharad Saxena | Special arrangement
A file photo of Pangong Lake in Ladakh | Visharad Saxena | Special arrangement
Text Size:

Shorn of deception, disinformation and rhetoric, on the intervening night of 29 and 30 August, our armed forces launched a tactical operation with strategic import: to secure the Kailash Range opposite the Chushul Bowl. This was the long-awaited riposte to the People’s Liberation Army’s preemptive operations violating the Line of Actual Control in Depsang, Galwan, Hot Springs-Gogra-Kugrang and north bank of Pangong Tso in May 2020.

Officially, the Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Defence, released a signed statement by the Army spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand at 10:35 am on 31 August: “On the Night of 29/30 August 2020, PLA troops violated the previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements during the ongoing standoff in Eastern Ladakh and carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo. Indian troops pre-empted this PLA activity on the Southern Bank of Pangong Tso Lake, undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground.”

Be that as it may, with this operation, for the first time in the past four months, the armed forces seized the initiative and put the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the defensive, partially neutralising the strategic advantage secured by it through its preemptive operations. I analyse the strategic and tactical importance of the operation and the likely military reaction of the PLA.


Also read: The truth of Galwan must come out, unlike the 1965 battle with Pakistan in Khemkaran


The riposte

Our armed forces have secured all tactical heights on the Kailash Range from the south bank of Pangong Tso to Tsaka La that include Helmet, Black Top, Gurung Hill, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Rechin La. All these areas are on the Indian side of the LAC and were sites of intense battles in China-India War of October-November 1962. China also recognises the alignment of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in these areas, except in the area of Black Top, which it claims is east of its claim line.

Since China harks back to its 1959 claim line and, at will, moves into un-held areas, the 1993 agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility and the subsequent agreements, have lost their sanctity. Now, the principle of ‘finders are keepers’ currently prevails, though the facade of LAC is still being maintained for keeping diplomatic lines open (see Map 1).

Map 1 – Kailash Range Chushul Sector | Annotated Google Earth Image

We had not held these areas since 1962 because the LAC passes over the crest and we did not want to create a situation for a confrontation like it happens on the Line of Actual Control. As the crow flies, this frontage is approximately 30 km.

I assess and presume that south east of Rechin La and north of Indus River, we have selectively secured tactical features on the Kailash Range along the LAC/International Border (IB) up to north of Dumchele, a frontage of 45 km. This is a very difficult terrain, but given our mountaineering experience, it is doable. The Kailash Range from Chang La to Jara La, a frontage of 40 km, was captured by the Chinese in 1962 (see Map 2).

Map 2 – Kailash Range Indus Valley | Annotated Google Earth Image

In a nutshell, it was a surgical tactical operation and the surprise was total. We have used approximately one brigade — 3,500 troops — with an equal number as immediate reserve for a likely PLA reaction. None of these positions was physically held by the PLA, however, all preparations would have been made for capturing them assuming that they were held by the PLA.  Our deception — both at the strategic and tactical level — was perfect to a fault as was the tactical movement of our troops. Once again, it proves the point that electronic surveillance by aerial and ground systems still has its limitations.


ALso read: India’s use of secret guerrilla force SFF in Ladakh signals a larger design to contain China


The importance of Kailash Range

Kailash Range is named as such because it extends 360 km to the south-east, all the way to Mount Kailash. In the Chushul Sector, it dominates the Chushul Bowl to the west and Spanggur Tso to the east. The road from Rudok, 90 km to the east on the Tibet-Xinjiang Highway (G 219), runs from south of Spanggur Tso to Spanggur Gap. The international border between India and Tibet runs through the middle of Spanggur Tso (see Map 1).

Whosoever controls the heights on the Kailash Range — from Pangong Tso to Rechin La — dominates all routes to the east and west, and forces the other side to hold defences on the next ridgeline 6-8 km away, or occupy positions of disadvantage on lower heights.

Kailash Range in this Sector was held by us in 1962 and was vacated once Rezang La and Gurung Hill were lost, cutting off the road communications to Chushul as existing in 1962. The Chushul airfield was also rendered inoperable. Post-1962, our defences were well to the rear. It was only in 1986 that India went forward and made defences on the Pangong and Ladakh Ranges. Kailash Range was not occupied to avoid a confrontation. However, contingency plans were made to preemptively secure the same when hostilities were imminent.

North of Spanggur Gap, Black Top is the most dominant feature. This feature was not secured by India in 1962 due to an error of judgement and facilitated the PLA to attack the lower heights of Gurung Hill to the south. The Chinese road to the south bank of Pangong Tso that passes 1.5 km to the east of Black Top and 1.5 km to the North of Helmet, will now be rendered inoperable in hostilities. Now that we hold Black Top and Helmet, it willy-nilly implies that the south bank of Pangong Tso cannot be reached by the PLA using this route. The Chinese would have to develop a new route over a difficult terrain, which, too, can be cut off from our defences. We now effectively control 3 km of the south bank hitherto-fore under PLA control.

Black Top, Gurung Hill and Magar Hill effectively dominate the 4 km wide and 6 km long Spanggur Gap. Our deployment on Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Rechin La also dominates 10 km of the southern bank of Spanggur Tso.

Kailash Range also provides us with a launchpad for an offensive towards the north and south bank of Spanggur Tso, and further towards Rudok. And if we have selectively secured the Kailash Range south east of Rechin La, over a frontage of 45 km, we can further induct Special Forces into the area between Spanggur Tso and Rudok.


Also read: Army thwarting PLA on Pangong Tso south bank is a warning that India is ‘fighting fit’


Use of Special Frontier Force

As per media reports, the troops of the Special Frontier Force (SFF) or the Vikas regiment, comprising Tibetans living in exile, have been used for the operation. Much has already been written about the SFF. It should suffice to say that it is a highly-motivated Special Force with a stellar track record for both covert and overt operations. Their performance in the current operation has been outstanding. However, one would like them to be used in a tactical/strategic role, behind the enemy lines and not for conventional operations.

More than their tactical performance, it is a strategic message to China that the Tibetan cause is alive and India supports it. This also indicates a major shift with respect to India’s Tibet policy. The Narendra Modi government has made amends for jettisoning the Tibetan cause during the honeymoon phase of its relations with China.


Also read: This is what led China to open fire in Ladakh on Monday for the first time in 45 years


The likely Chinese reaction

As the stronger power, it would be difficult for China to swallow the bitter pill and opt for a diplomatic solution to agree to status quo ante April 2020. Our gains in the Chushul Sector are tactical in nature. The Chinese preemptive gains in Depsang, Galwan, Hot Springs-Gogra-Kugrang and north of Pangong Tso place it in a position of advantage to make strategic gains in a limited war in terms of territory in Daulat Beg Oldi, Hot Springs- Gogra – Kugrang and north of Pangong Tso. The tenor of Chinese statements is belligerent. We should be prepared for a violent reaction.

In my assessment, to begin with, it would be localised action in the Chushul Sector. However, such an action is likely to spiral into a limited war. Tactically, the PLA cannot afford the loss of Black Top or give us a launchpad for an offensive via Rezang La/Rechin La to reach the IB and out flank the defences of Spanggur Gap.

I foresee a repeat of 1962, with a counter-attack to regain Black Top and then evict us from Helmet and Gurung Hill. Simultaneously, the PLA would attack and capture Rezang La and Rechin La, and then proceed to clear Mukhpari and Magar Hill. Up to end August the PLA had only limited troops in Spanggur Tso area. I assess that the PLA’s reaction will come as soon as its reserves are moved forward because it does not want our defences to become stronger. With 11 days gone, I expect the reaction any time hereafter.

There has been an error of judgement on our part. We should have disregarded the LAC and secured the plateau-like areas to the east of some of the features secured by us to prevent the PLA from coming on to the equivalent or lower heights on the Kailash range east of the LAC to establish a firm base for counter-attacks. The PLA has taken advantage of this error of judgement to secure the equal or lower heights on the Kailash Range facilitating establishment of firm bases for launching counter-attacks. A case in point is what happened at Mukhpari on the intervening night of 7 and 8 September.

Also, our troops must not get involved in a non-military confrontation with the PLA, as it happened on 15 June in Galwan and was attempted at Mukhpari. What happened at Mukhpari and is likely to happen at other features too, is part of PLA’s deception plan to trigger Galwan-type incidents to bring about disengagement and trap us into vacating Kailash Range while hiding its intent to secure the Kailash with or without counter-attacks.

By securing the Kailash Range, we have caught the PLA by the jugular and we must not let go of it. Lay mines and booby traps to keep PLA “street warriors” away. And if need be, use proper military force for effect. Recall 1962 on the Thagla Ridge and in 1967 at Nathu La when the PLA had opened fire for effect in similar situations.

India’s riposte was necessary for national morale and our international prestige. It was a tactical operation that was well executed. However, it would be naive to celebrate a small operation because China will not respond in the manner we did for the past four months. The PLA is likely to react violently and we must gird up for an escalation — it will happen sooner than later.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.

Support Our Journalism

46 Comments Share Your Views

46 COMMENTS

  1. This media outlet is a farce and wears a facade of being a neutral outlet, on the other hand it is only interested in propagating the so called liberal agendas. They always make it a point to demoralize our institutions and defame them. They present the facts in such manner that it seems that india is in a state of chaos, they just want to please their “masters” with such reporting. They should be grateful that the present regime is very tolerant.

  2. What does either side really want? What are the strategic long term objectives of both in these tactical ops to occupy dominating heights.?If China are spoiling for war, with what aim and to achieve what? Soldiers carrying spear like matchets ? And what do we want? An LOC like deployment in this terrain for perpetuity?
    About Tibet Vajpayee ji formally and officially accepted, in 2003, Tibet as part of China. What does it do to the status of Tibetan refugees in India? Chinese ?
    When will we settle our border with China? Never? Why not now?

  3. Good writeup by an experienced army commander who knows the lay of the land. Shame on the quasi literate Bhakts here who are unable to comprehend any writing that does not glorify their failed deity.

  4. General Panag has provided a good analysis of the situation as it is today, and predicted possible actions by the PLA. This war gaming is the stock of any good strategist and all armies do this to be better prepared. Indian army has done this, as have the Chinese army. What is amusing is the rreaction of Bhakts in the commnents who being illiterate are unable and unwilling to hear anything other than the name of their failed deity. One even called general Panag as Chinese general. You can bet that none of them ever, 7 generations plus or minus, had the testicular fortitide to enroll in the armed force races and put their life on the line. Why do that when it’s easy to vituperate as part of IT cell and earn black money.

  5. I wonder what is the reason for a tactical appreciation to be written for local consumption. Why factor in likely force levels used in the readjustments of positions? Why are we wanting to flaunt our ‘knowledge’ of the terrain, if at all? Which segment of society are we specifically targeting with this treatise. A broad assessment of the current situation may be more in order for the lay reader like me.

  6. The comments of the the General are in contrast with his spoken and assumed reputation. Indian army is capable of defending itself and give a bloody nose to the Chinese. I would have appreciated if the General had given views or advice to strengthen our positions rather than cowing down to chinese pressure.

  7. Well the difference is that now the Indian army is not tied by politics. IF the Chinese attempt to swarm out positions or attack our positions on the commanding heights, the Indian Army and Airforce will slaughter the Chinese as the PLA is in a totally disadvantageous position.

  8. Bring it on. We are ready for war. Salami slicing as a strategy should be finished if it means full scale war. The cost of this salami slicing has to be increased manifold both miltarily and diplomatically. Weak slogans like India China bhai-bhai, We love communists and CCP should all be replaced by a muscular “We are a great Indian nation” and we will unite together to fight any adversary including China who try to grab our lands. And I say this to our left parties CPM and others who support China(they openly celebrated chinese victory in 1962) more than India and want China to somehow invade India so they could propel to the top without getting elected. And Rahul Gandhi and Italian family is looking for such pupett ascension since they cannot win any election in India any more as a compromised citizens.

  9. Chinese should remember that International Opinion is against them ! Any misadventure will badly affect their International Trade dearly @

  10. China:
    *Poor air control
    *Poor pilot
    *Weak Army
    *No war practice
    *Afraid of dying
    *No love for Government
    *China will lose every single war with India as long as Modiji is there.

  11. Not sure if the General is aware of a battle at Nathu La in 1967 where the Indian army gave a bloody nose to the Chinese killing about 300 of them as against 80 odd Indian soldiers. Surprising that there is a constant harping on 1962, when India had already learnt it’s lessons by 1967, a year in which India was still suffering the effects of famine, leave alone a bad economy. Still India came on top. Funnily the author also calls China the stronger power without ever having taken part in any recent battle with it. Nor is there any recent evidence of China having a battle or war anywhere else. The last time it invaded Vietnam in 1979 it ended up with a humiliating defeat. So not sure on the basis of what evidence the author calls China the stronger power. Let’s not forget despite US encouragement China refused to open a 2nd front in 1971. Similarly China blinked in 1986 and 2017 in Doklam. Finally China’s economy is no less messed up irrespective of whatever growth figures they provide.

  12. High Quality article by the Print. Please keep publishing such articles regarding the China standoff – it is a cut above the rest of what the rest of the media has written so far on the capture of South Pangong by our brave men.

    While the current govt and it’s supporters criticise unjustly our 1962 losses to Nehru for political reasons… At least from this article it can be clearly appreciated how valiant our armed forces in 1962 fought in those areas – Galwan, Helmet Top etc. which back then must have been so remote without proper roads, without proper communications, without backup and logistics and without proper clothing and equipment My salute to those brave men of 1962.

    If it is possible without compromise of
    our military secrecy please analyse in a similar way what is happening in Depsang and Hot Springs – there is absolutely very little revealed for avid Print readers on this. Thank you.

  13. Read this General very carefully. He will (1) demoralise our armed forces with the theory of PLA being INVINCIBLE; (2) pass on tactical moves that the enemy should take to defeat India Armed Forces and these tactical suggestions will be surreptitiously wrapped in supposed advice to own forces. Dangerous snake, that is what Panag means. I am myself an ex-Army officer, I know what he is writing.

    • Don’t think the indian army could rear a biased scoundrel like yourself. You are probably an employee of the cell not an ex member of the armed forces.

  14. In this article writer has discouraged Indian armed forces and time and again praised China and PLA.
    Publisher must through such a demoralizing article in dustbin.

  15. I am an ex-Army officer myself, and I can assure you this General writes as if he is Pakistan/China agent. Panag is nag, snake, and only Congress government could feed and raise such snakes within the Army.

  16. Gen Panag, if you read carefully, tells our enemy what they should do in the guise of warning us. He believes PLA is invincible. Read his other articles too, they suggested India has no chance of winning wars against PLA. He is great fan of the PLA and the Pakistani terror outfits.

  17. When India was patiently biding time and waiting for the opportune moment to strike, these retired generals were poking for war and any action whatsoever, and now when India has taken decisive action they are saying – “dekhna cheen kya karega”.
    Someone please tell him, military decisions aren’t made reading opinion columns or tweets. Such a juvenile response.

  18. THE CHINESE MIGHT BE TECHNOLOGICALLY SUPERIOR BY THEY ARE ON A FAST LEARNING CURVE TO MOUNTAIN WARFARE
    The Chinese will use rocket fire to dislodge our troops from Black Top, if the area has been heavily mined, the Chinese conscript infantryman does not walk or climb as well as our Jawans. But eventually they too will get good at mountain warfare. The Chinese Generals might also be unwilling to subject their troops to the harsh winter, it gets colder every week. We on the other hand are quite ruthless keeping our troops on the glacier for years.
    Returning to the subject where are they going to to position their artillery? They are going to need lots of it and a huge amount of ammunition just as we did in Kargil. Not much room in the vicinity, the Chinese road (if we prepare ourselves at Black top and Razeng La is vulnerable) it is also subject to indirect fire. We can destroy anything on that road before it reaches this end of the small lake, ( if we have prepared for ourselves and massed our own Guns)
    No it’s not very easy and the Chinese attack might be delayed because of this, as I said, the Chinese Conscript infantryman will find it difficult to climb the mountain, take heavy casualties, he is not battle hardened at the moment. The Chinese might place they rocket batteries on the other side of the Pangong Tso, there they have a good road, they might even move some of their Guns by Boat. This might turn out to be a long drawn artillery duel, I hope everybody is digging deep in.
    The General is in a good position to tell us if the tracked vehicles can climb the ridges, the Chinese are good at cutting paths, given time they will have constructed solid defences.
    If there was a General Panag In the Chinese side he would have attacked with all his might before the Indian defences were prepared.
    But Methinks China does not have a Panag, so the Chinese will wait and try to use superior technology a long delay making it more difficult, they will have to think twice before using Air power as this will escalate into a full blown war.
    If I were Chinese I would think this is just the good little war, to give our NCO and Officers war experience, a good Himalayan training ground for Chinese troops. And off course this will also drain the beleaguered Indian economy.

    • You may be right, the inexperienced Chinese General on the other side might delay. Will all depend on his personality. It will be a fatal mistake and prolong this a long time.

    • NO the Chinese have no superiority. No matter what they do they are disadvantaged by position and India has parity with China in this area. The Chinese will keep sitting and writing mad articles in the Global Times. Indian positions are superior, Indian missiles forces and air force have an advantage over China in Ladakh

      India has stared down China and if China tries to attack Indian positions the Indian army will destroy the Chinese force and the Chinese will suffer many many casualties

    • The army should push the PLA beyond the 1962 IB at (33°29’21″N 78°59’08″E ) and establish defences on this ridge line. A distance of seven miles.
      This will consolidate our defence, and with this end of the Kailash range fortified, it will be very difficult for the PLA to recapture.
      It will take a ferocious battle but I’d doable, every hour we delay the enemy gets stronger. We should have staged a provocation yesterday. We have a adequate armour, mechanised infantry, Tibetan mountain climbing troops nearby, we should grasp this opportunity.
      We are waiting for a counter attack anyway, might as well better our position while we can. The clock is ticking.

  19. If you want peace, prepare for war.

    If China wants a war of annihilation, they should get one.

    there will be celebrations in Indian streets as well.

    • Annihilate the Chinese…looks like you are a typical Indian young man clueless about the world and solely educated through Bollywood war movies. Do you know the geography and climate of Northern Ladakh? Do you know how hostile the terrain of Northern Ladakh is?

      Do you even now know the effects of war for soldier’s families ? Do you even understand the cost and implications of fighting a war in our borders ?

  20. This writer is exact replica of Shalya of Mahabharat who was the sarathi of Karna. He also spent his time demoralising Karna during the entire war. Similarly, this man, although retired army man, is always their to demean our forces. And further these type of writers get place on these types of sites such as Print, Wire, Scroll, etc.

    • That nobody’s like Nirmal also have a say on military strategy and can judge a decorated General like Mr Panag is a travesty. Know your limits keyboard warrior, you cant grasp what the author writes, its above your pay grade.

  21. Send mixed signals and execute a surprise move on the confused opponent. That is the strategy of PLA. Things are happening in the exact pattern of 1962. Army secured a forward position (without enough preparation & backup) then & government firmly believed that PLA would never attack us. Rest is history. I hope that we have learned the lesson and now we did a similar move with enough backup and preparation.

    War is always gruesome. Lets hope that it will not happen but prepare for it.

  22. Agreed, for a change, at long last India has decided to dump the ill thought policy of allowing the Rouge state free runs to sneak in at will and grab Indian territory. Now onwards India must look the rouges in the eye. Build roads n infrastructure on our side at full speed like the PLA had been doing all these past 7 decades.
    These shameless goons have the gumption of first exporting Wuhan Virus, wreck world economy then go on rampage to grab neighbours territory by deception.
    God save the world if these nuts become Top superpower…

  23. Very good analysis..And I’m also assuming PLA will launch an offensive operation to get these strategic heights back…I hope we are prepared enough to give a befitting reply , moreover we should not refrain from using firearms now as the previous agreements are all null and void..

  24. The Chinese cannot remain there for ever…when the river floods as it does every year most of the surrounding plains sees the action also.
    It is necessary we dont repeat the
    mistakes of 1962 and dont loose out on our advantage.We need to strategize our fortification and be indomitable on the heights…The dragon is not know
    for its patience as much for its treachery.The writer is right²,no more getting into unarmed combat….after all you cant make rules when it suits you (China)and break it down when you feel like.
    We should now claim the Kailash hills eight up till Aksai Chin…and that is our rightful territory and we should not allow any Chacha Nehru to make a mama of us!

    • Sanghi keyboard warriors like you should be sent to the Spanggur Gap and face the Chinese soldiers from Moldo.

      You think it is all so easy at an altitude of 4000 m, bitter cold and no green vegetation in sight. It is obvious you don’t seem to care for soldiers and their families , you want them to die for your imagined Akhand Bharat.

  25. Great article again by Lt Gen H S Panag throwing clear insights on the current situation. I salute the Indian forces to take the tactical advantage as the Chinese were stubbornly opposing to maintain the status quo before April 2020. I hope they learned their lesson. However as noted in the article, the Indian army should be well prepared, in case the Chinese try another misadventure.
    Also the Indian government should keep imroving infrastuture near LAC and make it suitable for sight-seeing so that tourists from India can visit. The places are very near to Indian civil localities, compared to the main Chinese localities. The tourism will improve civilian-military ties, improve the morale of the Indian jawans and also help in developing infrastructure.

  26. This gentleman & this website are constant spreaders of negativity. I understand that we all have our likes and dislikes, but to become a constant naysayer and nitpicker is really pathetic. It seems that that Army is not the same since this gentleman has left the Army! It seems that he is harbinger of all wisdom and the officers and soldiers serving currently have no idea what they are doing. Its childish. One should not vent out one’s own political likes and dislikes on such important matters, in this fashion. Many soldiers might see this as derogatory. China will doi what China will do. India will do what India will do. An ex-soldier ranting will not change the course of the matter. It just seems so pathetic.

    • He is indeed a constant naysayer. He might have been a big brain but any reader of The Print will know that lately all he does is crticize or raise alarm. You and I might find it pathetic but Shekhar Gupta loves his viewpoint so the publication will keep pushing it at us. Sad.

      • Nobody is forcing you to read the article. It’s not like the intellect to understand the article is anyway present so best if you skip past it much like how the contents of the article went over your head.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here