Is China bracing for a winter offensive?

China, known for its strategy of carrying out deep thrusts in Indian territory, is getting a taste of its own perfidy.After seizing the tactical advantage by capturing the high altitude ridges in South Pangong, Indian Army has established its control in certain pockets in North Pangong, too.Perched on the heights, Indian positions can guide the artillery on the ground; PLA positions are in sight and within striking range; and its camps and supply lines are extremely vulnerable, if hostilities escalate.

It may make strategic sense in the existing paradigm to dominate the high altitude ridges in eastern Ladakh, but retaining control of the heights will be a logistical nightmare for Indian Army as a Siberian winter sets in.

For one, the Army has a very small window -- between now and early October -- to build makeshift shelters for men and armour at those menacing spurs. Without shelters, it may have to perforce vacate the heights rather than stay cooped up in bunkers or stand like sentinels in the snow, somewhat like freezing mannequins.Though India is far better equipped today than any time in the past in braving the inhospitable weather at heights ranging from 15000 to 18000 feet, the stockpiling on the ground for a long protracted winter, at a time the corona pandemic has stretched our sources thin, has raised the stakes of engaging with China in the debilitating cold of October-November.

The PLA loves a winter offensive -- the 1962 war too had erupted in October, after playing itself out during the summer months in the form of violent skirmishes and frequent transgressions. Then, too, Galwan was a flashpoint with farcical Chinese claims of Indian provocation; however, it turned out to be a red herring that was intended to distract the defence establishment in New Delhi. After a summer hiatus, came the Chinese attack on October 20. This time, the 'control of the heights' may become yet another distraction, even as China engages us elsewhere.

India has played the strategic American card in the past, often to remind Beijing of the new geo political realities, but inherent in such a gambit is the danger of New Delhi overplaying its hand, given President Trump's mercurial temperament and preoccupation with the presidential polls.It is nobody's case that China has a tactical advantage in mountain warfare or that it has superior infrastructure. The bloody Galwan faceoff has established that conflict is often more about valour and less about supply lines or logistics. The Indian response is a grim reminder to the Chinese that 1962 was an aberration, just as 2020 may be a jarring loss of face for Beijing.

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