Brig Anil Gupta
The Galwan clash that took place on the night of 15/16 June 2020 at the rugged heights of Eastern Ladakh at Galwan, where the icy Galwan river cuts across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to enter into Indian territory, will go into the annals of military history as a unique battle much different from the Battle of Galwan fought in 1962 between the Indian Army and the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA). While the battle in 1962 was fought and won by the PLA using the human wave tactics, the battle in 2020 (Famously known as Galwan Clash) was fought and lost by the PLA using primitive weapons and deceit. It was a battle which not only exposed the duplicitous behaviour of the Chinese leadership and its Army but also made them realise the chinks in the overrated strength of the PLA. The PLA was suffering from a superiority complex driven from the events of 1962 without realizing that much water had flown through Galwan between 1962 and 2020. The valour, grit and raw courage displayed by Col Babu and his men reinforced by the neighbouring infantry unit and the artillery battery shook the Chinese soldiers so badly that many of them were hesitant to perform duty opposite the Indian soldiers once the eyeball-to-eyeball deployment took place. The PLA soldiers were so over-awed by the Unarmed Combat (UAC) skills of the highly motivated Indian soldiers that it became difficult for them to forget the nightmarish 15/16 June night that they refused to rejoin their units till they were also imparted UAC training.
The Rambo-style Chinese action film, Wolf Warrior 2, had not only influenced its diplomacy resulting into an aggressive style of diplomacy under the influence of its supremo Xi Jinping but the style had also been adopted by the PLA, armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a means of crowd control and a tactics to quell minor rebellions against party’s supremacy. PLA developed the tactics of using unconventional weapons like baseball bats, spiked iron rods, spiked chains, spears etc. against unarmed opponents. They were under a misconception that they would be able to scare away the Indian Soldiers, who did not carry weapons in reverence to the prevailing border management protocol, least realizing that even unarmed Indian soldiers were much superior fighters as compared to the conscript soldiers of the PLA who were armed but with unconventional weapons. The PLA soldiers were mauled, boxed and pushed/lifted and thrown into the freezing water of Galwan River. We lost our 20 brave hearts including the Commanding Officer but the revenge for their martyrdom was taken by their fellow soldiers by killing 40 of the enemy including 2 Colonels (including a Regimental Commander) and two junior officers. The fact that a Regimental Commander (equivalent to our Brigade Commander) was at the scene of battle reinforces the theory that the PLA troops were well prepared and it was a planned clash and not accidental. The construction of black-top all- weather road up to DBO has sent shivers down the spine of the Chinese. Aksai Chin is the jugular vein of China, which it perceives to be under threat after construction of this road. In order to keep this road under observation and indirect fire it needs to be in possession of the Galwan height on the watershed. It therefore decided to use deceit by claiming to have vacated the area but instead strengthened it with Rambo-style soldiers to scare the Indians. When the Indian troops led by the CO went for the physical verification, all hell was let loose on them by the PLA as per pre-conceived plan. The lesson taught by the Indian soldiers thereafter to the unexpecting PLA soldiers with a display of raw courage and UAC skills has now become a household folklore in India and a matter of shame and disgrace in China as was evident from the Chinese social media posts and the punishment meted out to a social media activist by the CCP.
The trust deficit that existed between the two armies ever since the incursions took place in the month of April, became absolute “NO TRUST” post the Galwan clashes. At the national level also, the political leadership realized the import of what the military leadership had been talking of China as the major threat and enemy number one. The Indian response hardened both at the politico- diplomatic and military levels. During his morale raising trip after the clash to Leh PM Modi made the famous remark of “Era of Expansionism” is over and “expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back,” letting the whole world know who was the aggressor without actually naming one. He also praised “fire and fury” of Indian soldiers sending an indirect message to Pakistan as well.
India took many economic measures against China to convey the message that the nation was willing to go to any extent to protect its sovereignty and was willing to stand up and face a belligerent China, which so far had been getting away with its “salami slicing” tactics. India’s response was appreciated world-wide and also became a motivator for other nations who were the victim of the Chinese bullying. An unambiguous message was sent to China that India would settle for nothing less than the status quo as it existed pre-April 2020. The Indian Armed Forces were given a clear-cut mandate to ensure sanctity of the LAC and respond with force to any Chinese adventurism. It set in motion rapid buildup of the Indian Army and Airforce in Eastern Ladakh including the mechanized infantry and tanks. It was termed as “mirror deployment.” Indian Navy also deployed its assets in the Indian Ocean to remind China of its “Malacca Dilemma.”
The Chinese response was typical of long and tiring negotiations. The first round of negotiations was held before the Galwan clash, the decisions arrived in that meeting were dishonoured by the PLA. The series of Corps Commanders level talks were held thereafter with the second one on 22 June, followed by the third on 30 June in which India demanded vacation of all key areas occupied by the Chinese post-April 2020. From the Chinese body language and response, it became obvious that they were not interested in resolving the dispute but buy time. The Chinese demands remained vague and varying indicating that the Chinese were only interested in prolonging the talks by changing their goalposts and taking unreasonable stand after India had made its intent unambiguously clear and firm. Certain cosmetic moves were made by the Chinese opposite PP 14 and Gogra but kept reinforcing Fingers Area on the North Bank and refused to withdraw from there. All this while, the PLA had unleashed all its elements of 3W strategy to put psychological pressure on the Indian leadership through exaggerated reporting of Chinese incursions in the local media and blaming the leadership for lying to the nation. It also resorted to legal warfare to redefine the LAC as per its 1953 claim-line which had been rejected by India. The fifth round of talks held on 2 August also proved inconclusive. Simultaneously, diplomatic level talks were also going on but without achieving the desired result except the firm commitment to continue the negotiations.
In a tactical masterstroke, the Indian troops once again displayed their mastery in super high-altitude warfare, and on the night of 29/30 August and first week of September occupied the heights of the Kailash range on the Southern Bank exposing the Chinese defences in Spanngur Gap and overlooking Chinese camps. The tide had turned and the Chinese were given taste of their own medicine. The move strengthened the hands of the Indian Army and henceforth they would enjoy an upper hand during the negotiations with the Chinese at all levels.
A five-point-plan for disengagement and de-escalation was agreed between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on September 10 last year. After the sixth round of talks on September 21, 2020 both sides for the first time issued a joint statement in which they agreed to “stop sending more troops to the frontline” and “refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground.” The ninth round of Corps Commander level talks were held in January this year in order to work out a phased disengagement and de-escalation plan to end the nine-month-long standoff.
The ninth round of commander-level talks held on 24 January facilitated the disengagement of troops around the north and south banks of Pangong Lake, wherein the armies of both countries stood eyeball-to-eyeball for more than 10 months. The disengagement was announced on 11 February.
The tenth and 11th rounds of talks were held thereafter to convince the Chinese to honour the commitments made by them during the ninth round but without any success. Once again, the Chinese proved that they were not trustworthy. Having successfully secured the vacation of the Kailash Range, they refused to pull back from the other friction areas as promised. Thus, the stalemate continues in Eastern Ladakh with both the armies remain wary of each other and are not letting down their guard. It goes to the credit of Indian government that despite the country facing two waves of the Corona pandemic, it has not cut corners as far as the deployment of troops in Eastern Ladakh is concerned though it is very taxing monetarily, sending a clear- cut message that India was wiling to bear any cost in order to protect its borders and sovereignty.
While politico-diplomatic talks should continue with China, it needs to understand and accept the fact that it would have to negotiate on equal terms and India would not succumb to any pressure. China on the other hand has been making feverish military preparations as well. It for the first time established military camps in Tibet close to the LAC to ensure that its troops remain acclimatized. It has also activated high altitude airfields. It is carrying out exercise with troops to train them in super high-altitude warfare. To keep the concept of two-front war alive, it is carrying out a divisional level joint exercise with Pakistan Army close to the LoC in Toli Peer area. It has also increased its naval deployment. China has also tried in between to harass India through cyber attacks as well as media attack through its mouthpiece Global Times. It is also believed that the second wave of Corona pandemic could be a well-planned bio-agent attack against India. Xi Jinping is also facing an internal rebellion and all is not well within the CCP. Joe Biden Administration has also decided to take China head-on and not compromise. China is also being opposed in South China Sea and East China Sea. Taiwan has refused to toe the Chinese line and is asserting as an independent nation. Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong are restive.
China finds itself globally isolated. The demand to hold China responsible for the spread of Wuhan virus and subsequent pandemic is growing larger by the day. It has hardly any international friends except North Korea and Pakistan. Xi’s dream project of Belt Road Initiative is faltering and meeting resistance at many places. India needs to exploit the situation when China finds itself isolated and beleaguered.
India on the other hand has made it very clear that it looks forward to a peaceful resolution of the dispute through mutual negotiations. But at the same time if forced to a war India would not be found wanting and would not hesitate to go to any length to protect its sovereignty. The consequences of the war would be disastrous not only for China but may prove detrimental to global peace as well.
To this end, India has not only significantly begun to invest in the QUAD but has also begun to arm the Philippines and Vietnam. India has strengthened its relations with Russia and Israel as well. India enjoys considerable global support today. But India also realizes the fact that in case of hostilities with China, it would largely have to depend on its own capabilities and strength. The Indian Armed Forces have been strengthened by providing them the state-of-the-art modern fighting equipment. Many force-multipliers and balance tilters have been added to the inventory of its armed forces. Rafale has made the IAF the most formidable in the region. Tejas is being added to its inventory to make up the squadron strength. Certain battle-winning equipment has been taken on lease. The DRDO has also displayed its prowess through testing of lethal weapons, missiles and other platforms. India is also busy modernizing and reorganizing the armed forces deployment to usher “jointness”. About 100 emergency procurement contracts have been made by the Armed Forces to make up the deficiencies. The drone and UAV inventory of all the three forces is being enhanced manifold. In nutshell, one year after the Galwan clash India has emerged stronger and well placed to negotiate with the Chinese on equal terms and respond appropriately to any misadventure by the Duplicitous Dragon.
(The author is a Jammu-based veteran, political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)
Brig Anil Gupta