India-China Conflict: Baggage From the Past & Bane of the Future
India-China situation may have gotten out of hand due to use of ONLY dialogue to de-escalate, says a war veteran.
The Chinese have clearly come to the Galwan Valley with a large force and have dug in to fight it out. Perhaps around 5,000-6,000 or more (even 10,000). They are there with the express intention of staying put to reinforce their claim to this area, as is further evidenced by the very recent proclamation by China's foreign ministry spokesperson, that Galwan Valley is located on “their side” of the LAC.
The façade of dialogue starting at the Corps Commander level, followed by Major General level and then at the Brigade Commander /Commanding Officer level, was obviously initiated to gain time to build up logistically and deploy artillery and other firepower on their end.
Indian Military Should Have Had Clear Directions To Use Artillery & Air Support When Required
The Chinese also deeply resent the construction of the road planned by us up to the forward airfield at Daulat Beg Oldi, an important strategic airfield, occupying heights overlooking the road which we would most certainly use in the event of war.
The Indian Army had also moved a sizable number of troops in the area along with artillery guns and air support to back up if required, so were ready for a serious response. A Kargil-like situation here indeed, where we had pumped in a brigade size force in the area with artillery and air power to back up.
While we stood our ground, and in the process lost 20 soldiers, many of them pushed into the Galwan river, I find it strange that we were fighting this very serious face-off with sticks and stones. In most similar situations against Pakistan and areas in the Eastern Sector where our troops are facing the Chinese, there are laid-down rules of engagement, which imply the controlled use of fire of artillery and air support if need be.
We should have had clear directions for engagement to use artillery and air support if necessary to show resolve that we mean business and will not allow the Chinese to stay put.
India-China Situation Got Out Of Hand Due to Dependence on Dialogue to De-Escalate
There should have been use of firepower when the situation was getting out of hand with the Chinese not prepared to pull back or move to status quo that prevailed in April when they were not around, and merely patrolled the area. We have been clearly surprised if we thought that we could persuade them to status quo position and send just a platoon-size force that too without arms. Clearly we have landed in a stalemate position, possibly with territory lost! In fact, it is almost akin to the Aksai Chin modus operandi – occupy the area, from where eviction would clearly require a large force level of at least a Division (10,000-25,000 soldiers) and only lead to widening conflict.
In this case, we have been depending more on dialogue to de-escalate the situation. The whole situation was allowed to get out of our hands by dialogue after dialogue rather than strengthening our own posture in the process.
In short, I feel that we should have resorted to more serious response if the Chinese didnʼt pull back. Eventually of course, there has to be diplomatic solution to the resolution of boundary demarcation.
Memories of Battle of Nathula & Chola – Then & Now
Today's predicament brings back vivid memories of the Battle of Nathula and Chola (September-October 1967) to mind. I was a young officer around 9 years into service at the time. The Chinese suffered heavy casualties (almost 300 dead) while around 88 from the Indian battalion were killed. This stand-off had also begun with pushing and shoving, when the Chinese filled up trenches that India had dug. Sikkim was (unfoundedly) a point of contention for the Chinese. The GOC of Div, who had the responsibility of the sector, was the then Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Sagat Singh and the CO of the Batallion at Nathula was Lt Col Rai Singh (later Brig).
While the Chinese stooped so low as to pull over corpses across the border only to then accuse us of border violations, the Indian Army made sure the Chinese withdrew about 3 kilometers away where they have remained stationed till today.
Cho La Pass has firmly and unquestionably been in Indiaʼs grip ever since.
We had indisputably gotten the better of the Chinese and upheld our territorial integrity, all whilst holding true to the virtues of what it means to be soldierly.
Granted that 53 years on, times are different, and that back then the Chinese did open coordinated fire – certain aspects of our conduct at Nathula and Chola, most notably the basic instinct to prevent the careless endangerment of our own troops, should have been called upon at Galwan.
(Maj Gen (Retd) Gurdip Singh, AVSM, SM The author is a war veteran and a well known defence strategist of his time. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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