Indo-china War 1962 Lessons and way forward
“Relations between great powers cannot be sustained by inertia, commerce or mere sentiments.” — Aaron Freidburg in New Republic, August 4, 2011
The India-China War in 1962 was independent India’s most traumatic and worst ever security failure which left an indelible impression on our history and psyche. This October marks its 50th anniversary: an appropriate occasion to reflect on its strategic lessons and our current politico-military status vis-à-vis China.
It all started with China’s occupation of Tibet, and their surreptitious construction of a strategic road through Aksaichin, joining Tibet with Sinkiang. The Government of India took two-and-a-half years to confirm the road construction and another one year to disclose it to the Parliament on August 31, 1959.
The uprising in Tibet caused further worsening of relations. In March 1959, Dalai Lama fled from Tibet and took shelter in India. China suspected that India was helping the Khampa rebellion and had enabled Dalai Lama’s escape to India. This, alongside skirmishes on several border posts, resulted in the hardening of attitudes. India adopted a strategically flawed ‘Forward Policy’ of erecting isolated check posts without taking any measures to improve border infrastructure or the armed forces’ capabilities. Failure of the government policy put Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru under intense domestic pressure. He ordered the military to throw out the Chinese from intruded Indian territory—a task that was well beyond its capability.
In October 1962, the Chinese military launched premeditated and calibrated punitive attacks in India’s Northwest and Northeast sectors of Ladakh and North-East Frontier Agency (now Arunachal Pradesh). India suffered its worst ever military defeat, and a geographic surgery that continues to fester in the form of Line of Actual Control (LAC) till date.
There are many lessons. My emphasis is on strategic thinking and planning, civil-military relations and capability building to tackle potential security threats.
According to a Pentagon historical study paper on the Sino-India Border Dispute, declassified in 2007, “Developments between late 1950 and late 1959
Tawang War Memorial at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, for martyrs of the 1962 Indo-China war