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The dangerous cat-and-mouse game before 1962 War has lesson for counter-attack in 2020

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Fifty-eight years ago on 20 October 1962, the Chinese began their “Counterattack in Self Defense on the China-India Border” to simultaneously attack in Eastern Ladakh and North East Frontier Agency, or NEFA. The phase 1 of the war lasted from 20-24 October in the northeast and from 20-27 October in Eastern Ladakh.

This column is restricted to Phase 1 of the war in Eastern Ladakh. The account is based on data from the The Official History of 1962 India China War and 1962 – War in the Western Sector (Ladakh) [ A View from Other Side of the Hill]

Until 1959, both India and China were pursuing the traditional forward policy to flag mark the frontier regions without coming in contact. In the northeast, we preempted the Chinese and had secured the area up to the McMahon Line using the Assam Rifles by 1951. In Ladakh, the Chinese preempted us to assert control over Aksai Chin and built the Xinjiang-Tibet highway, and set up posts to defend it. In response, we set up posts with subunits of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

After the violent clashes at Longju ( 25 August 1959) and Kongka La (21 October 1959), the Army was directed to take over the defence of the border and we adopted a new forward policy of establishing posts, beginning 5 December1961, as close to, to the flanks and behind the Chinese posts. The premise was that the Chinese will not initiate a conflict and we will flag mark additional territory. The Chinese did the same under their policy of “armed coexistence”.

The rival posts became interlocked. India’s strategy, based on the assessment by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was that the Chinese were bluffing and would not resort to a large-scale military action. Hence, the Indian Army could establish posts in areas unoccupied by the Chinese to stake claims up to its boundary, and at times go behind the Chinese to force their withdrawal. The Chinese played along, doing the same to stalemate the situation until they were ready for decisive military action. This dangerous cat and mouse game continued until China launched military operations on 20 October 1962.

By the end of September, Indian Army had set up 77 posts in Eastern Ladakh, out of which 43 posts were considered as intrusions by the Chinese because these were east of the 1959 Claim Line.

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