Explained: What Is The LAC That Led To Deadly Galwan Clashes?

The events that led to the Sino-India clashes at Galwan Valley on 15 June in which over 20 Indians lost their lives.

Updated
India
4 min read
Galwan River Valley, oblique view of approximate location of clash relative to road to Indian military base.
i

On 15 June, clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh led to the loss of 20 Indian soldiers. The Indian government claims that over 40 soldiers on the Chinese side were also killed. These clashes are being termed as the most deadly along the Sino-India border since the 1962 war between the two countries.

But what is the Line of Actual Control and why this sudden deadly escalation that led to the loss of so many lives? The Quint explains.

Explained: What Is The LAC That Led To Deadly Galwan Clashes?

  1. 1. What Is The Line Of Actual Control?

    The concept of the “Line of Actual Control” (LAC) emerged from one, in a series of letters written by Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959.

    In these communications, China accepted that there is a border dispute between India and China and that both countries draw separate maps of theirs shared borders. Chou also conceded that a delimitation of the borders needed to be done through bilateral dialogue, but proposed that till that is done, each side should “maintain status quo” at the border.

    In that context, he asked that both the Indian and Chinese troops move 20 kilometres from the “line till which each side exercises actual control”.

    This loose demarcation was the cease-fire line between India and China after the Sino-India war in 1962, until it was officially accepted in a bilateral agreement in 1993.

    The LAC is broadly divided into three sectors- western, middle and eastern. The countries disagree on the demarcation of the LAC in almost 16 locations, to the effect that India says that the LAC is about 3,488 kms long while the Chinese say that it is just about 2,000 kms.

    The LAC goes across land for most parts except in the Pangong Tso Lake of Ladakh where it passes through the water.

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  2. 2. What Happened On 15 June in Galwan Valley?

    The Galwan Valley is the area around the Galwan river that flows from the disputed Aksai Chin region to eastern Ladakh. It originates on the eastern side of the Karakoram and flows west to join the Shyok river.

    On 15 June, many Indian and Chinese soldiers fell into the freezing Galwan River as troops on both sides engaged in man-to-man combat.

    According to a report by NDTV, a small troop of the Indian border patrol party had gone down to Galwan Valley, at 15,000 feet, to remove a Chinese tent that was pitched there. China had agreed to remove the tent after talks between Lieutenant-General level officers of both sides on 6 June.

    The report states that a physical fight broke out after the Chinese side attacked the patrol party led by Colonel BL Santosh Babu. They were attacked with batons and rods fitted with nails.

    The fight lasted six hours during which reinforcements were called in several times and many soldiers fell into the river. Blunt force injuries were also exacerbated by extreme conditions and hypothermia.

    A full-fledged evacuation could only be done the day after, on 16 June.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Led To This Face-Off?

    The recent stand-off along the Sino-Indian border started on 5 May when Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed at Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh through which the LAC passes.

    The Indian and Chinese portions of the lake are not mutually agreed upon. As it stands now, a 45-km long western portion of the Lake is under Indian occupation, while the rest is under Chinese occupation.

    There are reports of another clash in the Naku La sector, a mountain pass in Sikkim, at an altitude of over 5,000 metres, also along the LAC, on 9 June as well.

    According a report by The Indian Express, a Colonel and a Major were among the Indian personnel injured in the Ladakh clash.

    The clash happened on the intervening night of 5 and 6 May and Indian soldiers, like in Galwan, were attacked with batons and nail studded rods. The confrontation continued till senior officers from both sides intervened.

    Since then, China was seen increasing its presence along the LAC. Reports from 23 and 24 May say that the Chinese constructed over a 100 tents in Ladakh and were moving in construction machinery.

    Other reports also suggest that the pitching of tents along the LAC has been a Chinese pattern, whereby they pitch tents, then move back after bilateral military-level talks, but do not remove or destroy the tents.

    The events in Galwan on 15 June was thus a continuation of this stand-off.

    Expand
  4. 4. Why Were Both Sides Fighting Without Arms?

    Responding to questions from the Opposition on why the Indian soldiers did not use arms during the clashes, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said that “all troops on border duty always carry arms, especially when leaving post. Those at Galwan on 15 June did so. Long-standing practice (as per 1996 & 2005 agreements) not to use firearms during faceoffs”.

    The 1996 Agreement is a military confidence-building agreement along the Line of Actual Control which states that “neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometres from the line of actual control.”

    The 2005 agreement, on the other hand, states that “the two sides will resolve the boundary question through peaceful and friendly consultations. Neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other by any means”. This was further affirmed by a 2013 agreement on Border Defence Co-operation.

    The Indian Express reports that during patrolling, therefore, even though the troops are armed, their barrels are always pointing down in order to prevent misunderstanding or accidental firing that may increase tensions.

    However, this has meant that physical combat or man-to-man combat has become routine along the LAC. Therefore, every weapon short of firing has come to be acceptable- this includes rocks, sticks and as mentioned earlier, batons fitted with nails. While till the recent skirmishes, no one has died on these kind of physical clashes, the clash in Pangong Tso on 5 May, for example, left over 70 Indian soldiers critically injured.

    Since the clashes on 15 June, both the Chinese and Indian leadership have sent across strong messages and are using military and diplomatic avenues to de-escalate the tensions along the LAC.

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    Expand

What Is The Line Of Actual Control?

The concept of the “Line of Actual Control” (LAC) emerged from one, in a series of letters written by Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959.

In these communications, China accepted that there is a border dispute between India and China and that both countries draw separate maps of theirs shared borders. Chou also conceded that a delimitation of the borders needed to be done through bilateral dialogue, but proposed that till that is done, each side should “maintain status quo” at the border.

In that context, he asked that both the Indian and Chinese troops move 20 kilometres from the “line till which each side exercises actual control”.

This loose demarcation was the cease-fire line between India and China after the Sino-India war in 1962, until it was officially accepted in a bilateral agreement in 1993.

The LAC is broadly divided into three sectors- western, middle and eastern. The countries disagree on the demarcation of the LAC in almost 16 locations, to the effect that India says that the LAC is about 3,488 kms long while the Chinese say that it is just about 2,000 kms.

The LAC goes across land for most parts except in the Pangong Tso Lake of Ladakh where it passes through the water.

What Happened On 15 June in Galwan Valley?

The Galwan Valley is the area around the Galwan river that flows from the disputed Aksai Chin region to eastern Ladakh. It originates on the eastern side of the Karakoram and flows west to join the Shyok river.

On 15 June, many Indian and Chinese soldiers fell into the freezing Galwan River as troops on both sides engaged in man-to-man combat.

According to a report by NDTV, a small troop of the Indian border patrol party had gone down to Galwan Valley, at 15,000 feet, to remove a Chinese tent that was pitched there. China had agreed to remove the tent after talks between Lieutenant-General level officers of both sides on 6 June.

The report states that a physical fight broke out after the Chinese side attacked the patrol party led by Colonel BL Santosh Babu. They were attacked with batons and rods fitted with nails.

The fight lasted six hours during which reinforcements were called in several times and many soldiers fell into the river. Blunt force injuries were also exacerbated by extreme conditions and hypothermia.

A full-fledged evacuation could only be done the day after, on 16 June.

What Led To This Face-Off?

The recent stand-off along the Sino-Indian border started on 5 May when Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed at Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh through which the LAC passes.

The Indian and Chinese portions of the lake are not mutually agreed upon. As it stands now, a 45-km long western portion of the Lake is under Indian occupation, while the rest is under Chinese occupation.

There are reports of another clash in the Naku La sector, a mountain pass in Sikkim, at an altitude of over 5,000 metres, also along the LAC, on 9 June as well.

According a report by The Indian Express, a Colonel and a Major were among the Indian personnel injured in the Ladakh clash.

The clash happened on the intervening night of 5 and 6 May and Indian soldiers, like in Galwan, were attacked with batons and nail studded rods. The confrontation continued till senior officers from both sides intervened.

Since then, China was seen increasing its presence along the LAC. Reports from 23 and 24 May say that the Chinese constructed over a 100 tents in Ladakh and were moving in construction machinery.

Other reports also suggest that the pitching of tents along the LAC has been a Chinese pattern, whereby they pitch tents, then move back after bilateral military-level talks, but do not remove or destroy the tents.

The events in Galwan on 15 June was thus a continuation of this stand-off.

Why Were Both Sides Fighting Without Arms?

Responding to questions from the Opposition on why the Indian soldiers did not use arms during the clashes, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said that “all troops on border duty always carry arms, especially when leaving post. Those at Galwan on 15 June did so. Long-standing practice (as per 1996 & 2005 agreements) not to use firearms during faceoffs”.

The 1996 Agreement is a military confidence-building agreement along the Line of Actual Control which states that “neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometres from the line of actual control.”

The 2005 agreement, on the other hand, states that “the two sides will resolve the boundary question through peaceful and friendly consultations. Neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other by any means”. This was further affirmed by a 2013 agreement on Border Defence Co-operation.

The Indian Express reports that during patrolling, therefore, even though the troops are armed, their barrels are always pointing down in order to prevent misunderstanding or accidental firing that may increase tensions.

However, this has meant that physical combat or man-to-man combat has become routine along the LAC. Therefore, every weapon short of firing has come to be acceptable- this includes rocks, sticks and as mentioned earlier, batons fitted with nails. While till the recent skirmishes, no one has died on these kind of physical clashes, the clash in Pangong Tso on 5 May, for example, left over 70 Indian soldiers critically injured.

Since the clashes on 15 June, both the Chinese and Indian leadership have sent across strong messages and are using military and diplomatic avenues to de-escalate the tensions along the LAC.

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

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