“The fighting at Galwan began after troops under Colonel Santosh Babu’s command dismantled a Chinese tent set up near a position code-named Patrol Point 14, close to the mouth of the Galwan river”, a News 18 article by Praveen Swami dated 17 June 2020.
There is something fishy about the whole incident. The truth about what exactly had happened is yet to come out? However, the casualties on the Indian sides are unacceptable. It is stated that India has suffered 20 dead including an officer (Col. Santosh Babu), and a few others went missing and were presumed dead.
It is also learnt that some Indian soldiers were lying injured in Leh Military hospital. Some scribes also disclose that some officers may be held prisoners by China. It might not be true. But prisoners?! So, it is nothing but a full-fledged war! The Army must refute these speculations by issuing a clear cut statement.
According to official sources, quoting US intelligence reports, 35 were dead and injured on the Chinese side during the clash in the Galwan Valley. An editorial of the Global Times, dated 17 June 2020, claims that the clash in the Galwan Valley this time has led to casualties on both sides. But it has not given out the number of casualties on the Chinese side.
The editorial gives out a bizarre reason for not disclosing its casualties. It says that it does not want to prolong the confrontation. The editor, Wenwen Wang, tweeted, “It is noteworthy that the Chinese side did not disclose the number of casualties of the Chinese military, a move that aims to avoid comparing and preventing confrontational sentiments from escalating.”
It is known that on 6 June 2020, an understanding was reached between the 14 Corps Commander of India and the Chinese Commander of South Xinjiang Military region. According to this understanding, Chinese and Indian troops were to disengage by moving East and West respectively. China was to go back by 2.5 km and India was to retreat 1.5 km westwards from LAC.
It seems the disengagement had started on 15 June 2020. Chinese Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili, spokesperson of PLA, western theatre Command has stated, “Breaking their promises, Indian troops had again crossed the line of actual control in the Galwan Valley region on Monday evening and purposefully launched provocative attacks, leading to severe physical clashes, causing casualties.”
However, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian claimed that the Indian troops had crossed the border twice; provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in a serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides.
India outrightly rejected these statements from the Chinese and instead blamed China for this recent scuffle in the Galwan River valley. Amongst claims and counterclaims, what is the truth? Did the Indian army do what Praveen Swami has said and what Chinese officials are claiming? The Chinese version does not seem to be correct. Even Praveen Swami’s reportage of the incident (quoted above) paints only a partial picture.
A piece by NDTV on 17 June 2020 by Vishnu Shome and Deep Shikha Ghosh said, “New details have emerged on what went down on Monday, 15 June, when a small Indian patrol party moved to remove a Chinese tent in the Galwan river valley at 15,000 feet.” It seems that the Chinese were reluctant to move out of the area. This was a clear breach of the agreement reached on 6 June 2020 between Lt Gen. Harinder Singh of Leh-based Indian army Corps and Major General Lin Liyu, Commander of South Xinjiang PLA Theatre. Chinese reluctance was borne out of the fact that it asserts its sovereignty over the entire Galwan valley.
The External Affairs Minister of India has made the things more clear. He has said, “While there was some progress, the Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan Valley on our side of the LAC,” So, this is what had happened. Col. Santosh Babu had led a party to ask Chinese to dismantle the tented structure.
The Indian CO must have reported to Indian higher-ups about Chinese non-vacation of the said post as per the agreement. It seems that he must have been asked to go and reason it out with the Chinese Commander at PP 14 and tell him to go back by 2.5 km as agreed. It is understandable that the heated exchange would have led to a scuffle, which carried on for 6-8 hours.
But it was surprising that Chinese troops were prepared for the scuffle with Iron rods and nailed wires wrapped around it. One such rod is attached here with this article. There must be something more to it which has not come out so far.
There is a very important question: if the matter was reported on non-vacation of the tented post by PLA, why did the higher commander not approach the higher commander of PLA? What was the need to establish physical contact with PLA Soldiers, when there was tension?
It was greatly inadvisable to make physical contact, when an incident had taken place at Naku La in Sikkim on 9 May 2020. There, an Indian young officer had smashed the face of a Chinese Major rank officer with a mailed fist. It must have hurt the Chinese and they must have been itching for revenge.
Another question is regarding the preparation in advance by the Chinese. Were they expecting this kind of objection by India? Had they planned this scuffle? After the Naku La incident , why did the Indian authorities not anticipate such an action by the PLA?
It is not right to find fault with the unit and its Commanding Officer. He did his assigned task with the sacrifice of his life and gave a good lesson to the Indian army. The lesson is: agreements or no agreements, the Chinese are not trustworthy. They would twist facts to their advantage. India must understand as to why China has been refusing to have the LAC marked on the map and delineated in the ground. The confusion allows it to nibble at Indian territory at will.
Chinese characteristics aside, the incident raises doubts on the ability of the Indian army higher commander to effectively assess the enemy. After the Naku La episode, the army should have expected this kind of action by China. Whoever asked the CO 16 Bihar to establish physical contact is guilty of ethical bankruptcy.
One’s mind also goes to the Chinese Foreign ministry’s statement, where it claimed that in the said sector, India had crossed the border twice. Its truthfulness is questionable. It could just be an effort to justify their pre-planned action of attacking Indian soldiers with clubs. However, if it was true that earlier also such an incident had taken place, then it was the abounded duty of the higher commander to ensure that proper preparations were made. It shows the lack of mental mobility of the leadership.
The type of Indian causality shows that it was a joint delegation of local troops, who were seemingly on a “goodwill mission”. They had no idea what awaited them in the dark of the night. Hereafter, it would be a big folly for the Indian Army to trust the PLA. Let diplomats play the game of diplomacy but the Indian army must play the game with a straight bat.
If heads are to roll, it must start with the Ministry of Home Affairs, who controls the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP)? Have the Chinese suddenly appeared in these areas in the month of May? It seems that the ITBP, who are responsible for the LAC in the region, have not done their job properly. One cannot help but wonder if they had carried out their patrolling up to Indian claim lines, they certainly not in the Galwan River valley.
One wonders how many times an Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) or Director General of Police (DGP) had visited these troops in the Galwan Valley. The funniest part is that instead of sacking the ITBP big wings, another wing has been created at Guwahati with an ADGP rank officer. Mostly, these higher officers are from the Indian Police Service (IPS). And how much do they know about mountains and mountain warfare is anyone’s guess?
One feels that all these Paramilitary forces (PMF) or Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) or even the Shashastra Seema Bal (SSB) have a different role. God knows why should they be under the Home Ministry if they are deployed on the borders? Their creation and employment under MHA seem to be based on Nehruvian apprehensions of the army.
Be that as it may, it needs a total correction in its employment at the borders. It seems ITBP is under the operational command of the Army. One wonders if the Divisional and Corps commanders have been ensuring that ITBP had followed a proper patrolling regime. This dual-command system must go. It is desirable that the MoD must take charge of all troops in external security roles.
To conclude, one would say that the fiasco at the Galwan River gives a clear indication that the Chinese can not be trusted at all. Secondly, this may not be the only incident, it might initiate a more serious incident in collaboration with Pakistan. Ladakh is going to remain a hot spot between India and China because of the strategic location of DBO.
China knows that in a future date, India could pose a serious problem to Western Highway and Gilgit-Baltistan. It wants to dominate the DSDBO logistic link to DBO from the Galwan valley. Possibly, ITBP converted into an army regiment. India has to be watchful and guard it in strength.
(The author was a former CO of 3 Bihar. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')
(Col Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into the 3 Bihar Regiment in June 1971 and was the Commanding Officer of same unit in insurgency environs in Assam in 1990-93. Has vast experience in CI Ops from North East to Punjab and J&K. A prolific writer-cum-critic on defence and security matters, he has authored the book, ‘Kashmir: A Different Perspective’. His second book on Assam was released in April 2018. Held prestigious appointments in the army including as an instructor at a premier army institute, Col GS, Col Adm of an Infantry Division and Col "Q" works at a Command HQ. He can be contacted on e-mail: email@example.com)