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The Galwan Clash

June 18, 2020 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Google Map
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


The image depicts the terrain around the Galwan Valley where the clash between Indian Army soldiers and Chinese troops took place on the night of Monday, June 15, 2020.

The news of “at least” 20 Indian soldiers including a Colonel and at least one JCO clubbed to death by the PLA in Galwan on the night of June 15/16 has shocked the nation. Number of injured reportedly were 17. These figures may alter if some of the critically injured succumb to wounds. Going by our media the PLA has suffered some 43 killed including a Colonel and another officer. China has not issued any official figures. Notably our protective patrol had been ordered to not carry weapons (sic) while the PLA were equipped with iron rods and clubs with barbed wire wrapped around it in deliberate manner. Our patrols going to meet Chinese, without weapons, has reportedly been in vogue since long. But these orders should have been revised. PLA has earlier used iron rods and stones at our patrol near Pangong Tso on August 15, 2018 and in May 2020 PLA clubbed ITBP personnel using iron rods and bats with iron spikes - photos of injured ITBP personnel lying inert on ground were flashed in Chinese media. In this case, our patrol led by the CO was ambushed by PLA wielding rods and clubs.

We trusted China too much and were laid back. China had adversely commented upon the map of reorganised J&K including Union Territory of Ladakh issued by India last October. China was also watching the song and dance we made about the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) Road and inauguration of the Darbuk-DBO Bridge, prior to which we should have occupied the heights of Galwan, which now PLA is holding. Intelligence sources indicate China had planned these intrusions last year itself which were delayed because of COVID-19. But China did construct a motorable road up to four km short of their Galwan intrusion, which should have been picked up by our satellites. The build up and move forward of PLA was not noticed till the intrusions were sprung on us.

The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) which briefs the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) every week failed to report PLA build up and forward move - similar to what happened during Kargil intrusions. The NSA to whom all intelligence agencies report also had no clue. Whatever surveillance means the Army has too failed. To cover the buildup Chinese media continued to show PLA’s 72nd Division exercising with MBTs in mountains and Zha Liyou, China’s Consul General at Kolkata kept tagging prominent Indian politicians saying this was a PLA exercise that meant no harm to India. This subterfuge worked. Our own exercises in these areas during summer were not conducted and mobilisation got delayed because of the lockdown, which China was watching.

The Kargil Review Committee and the Group of Ministers Report 1999 had recommended CAPF can augment Army at the borders but must be under command the Army. The latter part has not been implemented. ITBP continues to be deployed in sensitive areas in Eastern Ladakh but is not under Army. This creates operational problems with ITBP reporting to MHA through ITBP HQ. During the 16-km deep PLA intrusion in area of Raki Nala in 2013, ITBP was deployed in Depsang and Chumar. The bureaucracy enjoys the ‘divide and rule’ between the CAPF and Army but it is high time we give priority to operational interests. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who was earlier Home Minister must rectify this anomaly.

Post the Corps Commander-level meeting to resolve the tense situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh on June 6, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated on June 7 that both sides had agreed to peacefully resolve border issues in accordance with bilateral pacts and guidance provided by leaders of the two countries. The MEA further noted that peace and tranquility in the India-China border regions are essential for the overall development of bilateral relations. This indicated that the meeting was held in a cordial and positive atmosphere and hinted that it could be the first in the series of meetings, adding that the dialogue will continue at military and diplomatic levels. Ironically, the border row coincided with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China and the two sides had planned to celebrate with 70 events. This was reflected in the MEA statement that had also added, "Both sides also noted that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and agreed that an early resolution would contribute to the further development of the relationship."

How did we place so much trust in China, whose policy is based on ambiguity, surprise and deceit? China treats protocols, agreements and treaties like toilet paper. It did so in barging into Doklam and constructing a road to Zomphiri Ridge defying agreement with Bhutan not to alter staus quo. We should have gauged that given the strategic importance of the heights of Galwan to China for keeping the DSDBO Road under surveillance, interdiction by fire using those heights and launch pad for operations further west, China will not give them up at any cost. China’s plan to capture DBO and all areas south of Karakoram (KK) Pass in future is apparent. In recent years, China has established PLA posts in Shaksgam Valley and is extending the road through it east towards the rear of KK Pass. Pakistan had illegally transferred Shaksgam Valley (part of J&K and Indian Territory) to China in 1963.

Hoping PLA will vacate heights of Galwan and sending an unarmed patrol to oversee their move out was criminal. After the clash, China’s Western Theatre Command issued a statement saying Indian troops crossed the LAC twice and launched provocative attacks resulting in casualties. Most importantly, the statement says that “The sovereignty of Galwan valley has always been ours (read China)”. This means China will not withdraw from Galwan and possibly some other intrusion areas too and has mobilised more troops in Eastern Ladakh. We should expect PLA intrusions elsewhere along the LAC to distract us from Ladakh and ensure our response keeps getting delayed. PLA has mobilised more troops in Eastern Ladakh beefing up the intrusion areas.

Ball is now in India’s court. Our defence policy vis-à-vis China got messed up because of unwanted trust of China. Ironically defence policy continues under the Defence Secretary both in peace and war in the reorganized MoD. One thing is certain - India will have to man the LAC throughout the year, as has happened in the Kargil after the Kargil Conflict.