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Chandigarh

The empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the only trans-regional state: Dr.Karamjit S Malhotra

PUNJAB NEWS EXPRESS | December 03, 2023 10:13 PM

CHANDIGARH: Dr. Karamjit K Malhotra during discussion in the Military Literature Festival concluded today said that in the entire Indian history the empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the only trans-regional state which was created in the North Western region and it was he who practically gave the concept of North-western frontier.

On the significance of the Amritsar Treaty, Dr. Malhotra said that before Maharaja Ranjit Singh signed the treaty of Amritsar in 1809, he was ruling over a large area of five doabs (interfluves) of the Punjab. That with this treaty the Britishers recognised the Maharaja as the sovereign ruler of Punjab.

Bringing out that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a statesman and he wanted to secure his territories up to the mouth of Khyber than going across, Dr. Malhotra said that even when Maharaja Ranjit Singh's European and Sikh military officers were enthusiastic about expanding the territory by taking advantage of the unsettled situation in Kabul, the Maharaja rejected the idea.

Sharing his insights on the contribution of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the panellist French-born author and journalist Claude Arpi made a presentation on the spread of the empire and its colossal significance for the region.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh's strategic acumen was instrumental in the vastness of his political rule and there is a reason its significance in history is discussed so vigorously even today, Arpi added.

The session was moderated by Prof Indu Banga who advocated holding of more research and discussions over the contribution of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from a military angle.

In the panel discussion on China’s Strategic Culture-Use of Force From Yellow Emperors to Red Monarch the three panelists, Maj Gen (Dr) GG Dwivedi, Maj Gen (Dr) Mandeep Singh (Moderator) and Col Nihar Kunar said that the global polity is often taken by surprise by Beijing’s unpredictable actions. This can be primarily attributed to the ignorance about the Chinese strategic culture, which richly draws from its ancient wisdom. It continues to influence the thinking and decision making of Communist leadership of ‘People’s Republic of China’ (PRC) significantly.

China’s strategic culture refers to distinctive set of beliefs which are deeply embedded in history. In continuum of traditions and norms over millenniums, great philosophers and thinkers made yeomen contribution in adaption of ideas into statutes. Confucian (551-479 BCE) advocated the idea of harmonious society but also recognized that military force might be necessary for protecting the state and people. His doctrine of ‘Guanxi’ implied reciprocal relationship based on ‘network of balanced interaction’ among the states. Sun Zi (544-496 BCE) an ancient Chinese military strategist in his treatises, “The Art of War” espoused the ‘doctrine of legalism’. He propounded military to be an instrument to rein in the adversary but laid emphasis on the cautious use of force.

The notion of ‘Zhong Guo’ (Middle Kingdom’) and concept of ‘Tianxia’ (all under heaven) signify the legacy of imperial past, an idea of China’s centrality in the world and its culturally superior civilization. It is symbolic to national pride and conviction to regain the past glory. Chinese strategic culture is not monolithic or static but diverse and contextual, relates to different historic periods, evolved over millenniums.

Use of force in the Chinese culture has been influenced by numerous factors. The concept of ‘just war’ in the ancient Chinese texts considered use of force in response to aggression or perceived threat as absolutely acceptable and deemed it to be defensive action. ‘Yizhan’- ‘righteous warfare’ tenets emerged during the turbulent ‘Spring-Autumn’ period (770-476

BCE). The traditional beliefs continue to be adhered implicitly, evident from PRC’s leadership frequent use of force ever since its establishment in 1949, due to the obsession with sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The ramifications of China’s cultural inclination towards use of force and aggressive behaviour have significance implication for the global polity. PRC has continued to employ assertive actions to serve its national interests and settle territorial disputes as brought out above. Since Xi assumed power a decade back, PLA’s actions have been highly provocative especially in South and East China Seas, Taiwan and against India. These have led to heightened geo political tensions and instability in the region.

Chinese coercive diplomacy orchestrated through ‘Wolf Warriors’ makes it hard for the countries to engage in constructive dialogue with the Communist leadership for resolution of disputes. China has a proven legacy of using force to safeguard its territorial integrity and expand influence is amply substantiated by historical events which have left deep impact on the evolution of China’s strategic culture.

Given the prevailing environment, wherein there is shift in emphasis from traditional conquest to seeking global influence through geo-economics and economic power as a leverage is being increasingly employed as a tool of statecraft by the Communist leadership alongside the concept of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’.

Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ envisions ‘prosperous and Powerful’ China. It encompasses the narrative of rejuvenation, i.e. restoration of China’s great nation status and position of global prominence; includes integration of claimed territories such as South China

One of the essential elements of the Chinese culture is strategic ambiguity. The Communist leadership is known to take advantage of the uncertainty and surprising the adversaries through unexpected actions. The rapid pace of PLA modernization in the coming decades only foretells China adopting more aggressive posture in the coming times.

To decode the salient aspects of Chinese leadership behaviour, it is imperative to comprehending the nuances of Chinese culture of use of force, so as to gauge its impact on the international and regional security dynamics.

The final session was a panel discussion on the Battle of Zojila – or more significantly, how the battle opened up the Gateway to Ladakh and saved Leh. Col Ajay Singh, renowned military historian and author of seven books – including the pathbreaking “India’s Battlefields from Kurukshetra to Balakot” – brought out the nuances of both the Pakistani and the Indian operations. The taking of Gilgit by British perfidy, aided by men of the Gilgit and Chitral Scouts was highlighted by the author, and also the manner in which Skardu and Leh were surrounded. Skardu was lost, but Leh held on. Yet, the Pakistani masterstroke in capturing Zojila Pass, cut off all area east of it. Leh and Ladakh were on the verge of being lost.

It took the ingenuity of Gen Thimayya, aided by the gutsy determination of 7th Cavalry, led by Lt Col Rajinder Singh ‘Sparrow’ that moved a squadron of light tanks to the pass, and then attacked in a raging snowstorm on 1st Nov 1948, to retake the pass. Tanks were taken to at a height of 11500 feet, and then launched an assault on the highest spot-on earth where tanks have ever been used in action. The infantry cleared the pass and then moved on to retake Dras, Kargil and eventually linked up with the garrison of Leh, ending its long siege. And just in time. Just a month later the ceasefire came into force, and the area held by the respective countries remained in their hands. That attack by tanks and infantry in a raging snowstorm, not only regained Zojila. It saved all of Ladakh.

The intricacies of the operation and the manner in which it shaped the geography of the nation, was very well brought out and helped highlight some little-known aspects of one of India’s most momentous battles. The MLF helped bring about awareness of these very important aspects of Indian history. Moderated by Lt Gen NS Brar the panel also included military historian Sagat Shaunik.

Sagat Shaunik made the following key points: -

- Indian Army officers had proven leadership in WW2

- Indian Armed Forces are all about legacy. It is about our fathers, brothers and sons. And now also about our mothers, sisters and daughters; with changing times

- Men from all corners of the country fought for Zoji La

- Gen Thimayya’s decision to induct tanks of 7th Cavalry changed the story of Zoji La

- Artillery, particularly a Battery of 30 Field Regiment had fired 1000 rounds on that decisive day.

- Engineering achievements of Madras Sappers and innovation of EME helped win the day.

- Role of IAF in close support of all battles was appreciated. Lessons learnt from Punch as devised by Air Cmde Mehar Singh, MVC, DSO were used again in Ladakh sector

- Sons of battlefield commanding officers joined their fathers’ battalions and lived up to the collective legacy.

- He thanked the organisers for commemorating 75 years of victory at Zoji La and for acknowledging Maj Som Nath Sharma, first PVC of India by naming the main venue after him.

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