There has been a lot of criticism and doubts have been raised in the media, some by very learned luminaries, regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address during the all-party meeting on the border stand-off in Ladakh on June 19, 2020. There are allegations that the address “sparked more questions than it answered”.
The brave sacrifice of our soldiers in Galwan Valley and the bloody nose we gave to the Chinese has been drowned in the cacophony of negative comments from the doomsayers. This has caused severe distress to the veterans and serving soldiers alike. The India-China boundary dispute and management of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are complex issues. My personal experience with the Chinese during the 2013 Depsang stand-off as General Officer Commanding of the Ladakh Division, has spurred me to bring some clarity to the whole debate and also to put to rest some very negative and vile comments in the media related to the entire issue. I intend to examine some major issues covered by our Prime Minister in his address.
The PM said, “Neither have they intruded into our border nor has any post been taken over by them (China)”. The area of Ladakh is a major contentious issue in the Sino-Indian boundary dispute. The Chinese are in illegal occupation of 34,000 square kms of our territory in Aksai Chin. There is no concept of defined boundary here, which implies a politically agreed and jointly demarcated line. Pending resolution of the dispute, what we work on is the LAC. That is the so-called “border” between the two nations. Unfortunately, the LAC has not been defined and agreed upon by the two nations. The Chinese go by their perception and we go by our perception. In areas where there are differences in perception, as was referred to by our RM, the problem occurs as both the border-guarding troops endeavour to exercise their sovereignty which is usually done in terms of domination by patrolling, improving accessibility, habitat and defensive capability. The patrolling is done till earmarked Patrol Points (PP) which roughly corresponds to our perception of the LAC.
I shall now make a specific reference to the two areas of Ladakh where the standoff has occurred.
Pangong Tso Area
In Pangong Tso, we were conducting patrolling till our claim line and the Chinese were conducting patrolling till their claim line. If the two patrols faced each other during the patrolling, drills were followed for disengagement peacefully, as laid down in the Agreement for management of LAC signed in 2005. Now that the Chinese have deployed at Finger 5, and our troops are deployed at Finger 4, the endeavour is for both sides to fall back to their original positions, that is, the Chinese go East of the Finger 8 and we move back West to our original position, thus restoring status quo ante as obtaining on 20 April 2020. This difference in perception of the LAC has caused this problem and needs a resolution. So when the PM refers to there being no intrusion in our “borders” it is technically a correct statement.
The Galwan Nala
The Galwan Nala originates in the higher glaciated/ permafrost areas of Panglung and Samzungling, which lie approximately 50 km to the South East of the Junction of the Nala with Shyok River. Our Patrol Post (PP) 14 is approximately five-six km East of the Shyok River from the Junction. Our perception of the LAC is close to the Patrol Point. Hence, it is to be appreciated that approximately 45 km of the Galwan Nala is extending beyond the LAC. Therefore, the Chinese claims that the Galwan Valley belongs to them. The Chinese are probably disputing our activities at PP 14 and had occupied this patrol point. After the June 6 meeting between the military commanders, they have agreed to pull back from PP 14. Hence, in this area also there is technically “no intrusion on our side of the border”, the location of one patrol point is being disputed by the Chinese. This again needs resolution through a diplomatic-military dialogue.
The PM has stated that there has been tremendous improvement in the infrastructure which has improved our domination of distant and inaccessible Patrol Points along the LAC. A part of this endeavour — in terms of improving access, domination habitability — is the major reason for Chinese misadventure. In 2014, we had no access by surface means to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and Sub Sector North for almost half of the year. Now, we can drive from Darbuk to DBO in approximately six-eight hours, and it has given us major benefits in terms of domination of Depsang Bulge in the DBO area. It may not be an overstatement to claim that we will be at par or better connected than the Chinese within the next couple of years if the present momentum is maintained. This has given a quantum jump to the morale of the forces operating in this area in extremely difficult, super-high altitude terrain with substantial areas in permafrost. The equipment we have, too, has improved considerably and is the best available in the world.
I daresay, our fighting capability is unmatched and the Chinese just got a taste of it. They were given a bloody nose in a misadventure which was premeditated and pre-planned by them in Galwan.
The writer is former Director-General of Military Training and General Officer Commanding 3 Infantry Division.
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