This is the first part of a series of article titled ‘A Savage Turn in India – China Relations’ on the India-China stand-off on the Line of Actual Control at Galwan valley by Major General Jacob Tharakan Chacko, Sena Medal (Retired).
June 16, 2020 was like any other day for Indians, till the martyrdom of Colonel Santhosh Babu, Commanding Officer of 16 Bihar, along with a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) was splashed across TV screens. The previous night was the longest night for 16 Bihar and the units deployed in the location. It was also the bloodiest and cruelest night Galwan valley had ever seen.
Martyrdom at Galwan
The Colonel had gone to inspect the status of the mutually agreed disengagement process in the Galwan valley and was met with treachery. Even as news channels were abuzz with discussions on how it happened, another stunning news broke. Seventeen more soldiers were declared martyrs. A total of 20 Indian soldiers had made the supreme sacrifice to defend the sovereignty of the motherland and attained ‘veergati’. The Chinese suffered significant losses, reported to be above 40 including their commanding officer, his second-in-command and soldiers. The Galwan soil turned red soaked in blood as brave Indian soldiers gave their adversaries a lesson they will never forget.
As chilling details of the brutality emerged, it was revealed that the casualties were not from gunshot wounds but from physical injuries sustained in hand-to-hand combat between soldiers of the two nations nuclear powers. The Chinese had prepared well for the ambush, stockpiling primitive means like iron rods studded with nails, clubs wrapped with barbed wires, pipes stones and boulders. What the Chinese were not prepared for was the ferocity of resistance and fight back by the Indian soldiers. Though heavily outnumbered and surprised, the Indians not only inflicted much more casualties on the Chinese than they themselves suffered but even proved that they are the most battle-hardened fighters of the world, whom Chinese can’t match. This huge casualty, where not a single shot was fired, seemed bizarre in the context of a modern-day combat, between the armies of two nuclear powers. Even more bizarre was the fact that they were in the process of disengaging to de-escalate tension at the borders and mandated not to use weapons.
Tensions had been brewing at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) for some time. There were earlier instances at the location where troops had got into pushing, shoving and even exchanged blows. Consequently, the two countries got down to discuss means to de-escalate tension at the border. The process of disengagement was said to have commenced after a meeting at Border Personal Meeting Point at Moldo opposite Chushul on June 6 between Lieutenant General Harinder Singh General Officer Commanding 14 Corps and Major General Liu Lin, Commander, Tibet Military District. The talk was required since 12 rounds of talks between local commanders of the two armies and three rounds of talks between Major General level officers failed. Some headway seems to have been made and disengagement was to be completed, but suddenly things seem to have gone wrong, and terribly wrong.
The countrymen naturally became worried and started seeking information.
They wanted to know the actual ‘what and why’ of the incident.
The LAC Dynamics
India has three types of land borders with its neighbours. The first is fully settled, well-marked and mutually accepted non-disputable ‘International Boundary’ (IB) with manned and controlled crossing points and check posts, where movement of goods and people are officially allowed subject to conditions set by the two countries. India has IB with Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. This is mostly manned by the Border Security Force. The Second type, called Line of Control (LOC or LC), though identifiable and well-defined is manned and controlled by Army. We have LC in Jammu and Kashmir Sector.
India and China, is separated by LAC. The term first used by Zhou Enlai in 1959, LAC came into existence after the ceasefire in 1962 and came to be officially accepted in the bilateral agreement of 1993. The western sector of the LAC is ahead of Ladakh, the middle sector ahead of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and the eastern sector separates India and China in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.
Since both countries still differ in perceptions about the boundaries between them, borders have not been finally demarcated. While India remains steadfast on what it believes is the actual boundary, China periodically stakes claims on some or the other territory across the LAC. This has been happening for many years. To manage this contentious issue, three well-articulated mutually binding agreements that deal specifically with the two militaries at the border between India and China have been drawn up.
Agreements About Military at the LAC
The first agreement signed on September 7, 07 Sep 1993 at Peking (Beijing) relies heavily on the principles of ‘Panchsheel’’. Referred to as ‘Peace and Tranquility Agreement’, it is considered to be the breakthrough in diplomacy between the two countries after prolonged hostilities and animosity. Clause six leaves it open for both sides to consider the alignment of the LAC as perceived by each.
The second agreement signed on November 29, 1996 at New Delhi, aims at “ultimate resolution of the boundary question”. It incorporates 12 articles drawn up purportedly to stipulate ‘Confidence Building Measures’ (CBM). This is just a detailed version of the first. Article 10 of this agreement leaves enough ambiguity for either side to claim areas they believe is theirs. It also prohibits firing and use of hazardous chemicals. Article XII of the agreement provides for both countries to revoke the agreement with six-month notice.
The third agreement with 10 articles, called the The Border Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed on October 23, 2013 at Beijing. It deals with the same issues and gives no further clarity on contentious issues. All three agreements, based on principles of Panchsheel, are still operative.
In addition to the three agreements, primarily military related, there is the declaration on ‘Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation between India and China’ signed on June 23, 2003, at Beijing. More of a political document, it summarises the discussions between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President Wen Jia Bao.
The fifth agreement dealing with border issues was signed at New Delhi of April 11, 2005. Through its 11 articles, it stipulates the “political parameters and guiding principles for the settlement of India China boundary question”. This agreement refers to the agreements of 1993, 1996 and 2003. It also delineates the boundary question from all other bilateral relationship.
To be continued
Major General Jacob Tharakan Chacko, Sena Medal (Retired) is an author, blogger, facilitator, freelance management consultant, organisational synergiser, trainer and NLP practitioner. He regularly contributes to newspapers and writes extensively on management issues in his blog