At a height of 14,000 feet in Galwan Valley, two nuclear powers exchanged fisticuffs and threw stones at each other. India lost 20 lives, including a commanding officer, in this lethal game. India claims China lost 43 lives as per radio intercepts.
A host of Indian generals, politicians and China-centred media gurus claimed that China was out to alter the status quo ante. Planet Lab imagery ‘corroborated’ pre-incursion and post-incursion positions.
Indian fears of Chinese intentions?
India’s Maj Gen G G Dwivedi, who commanded a Jat battalion in this sector in 1992, said: “It is part of China’s ‘nibble and negotiate policy’. Their grand aim is to ensure that India does not build infrastructure along the LAC, change the status of Ladakh, cosy up to the US and join the anti-China chorus caused by Covid-19. It is their way of attaining a political goal with military might, while gaining more territory in the process.’’
He added. “We used to patrol up till Hot Springs and so did they. The Ladakh Scouts controlled the Galwan valley and did not encounter any problems either’.
His troops learned of Chinese patrols from graffiti on the rocks that read ‘Chung ko (This is China)’. Indian troops retaliated by scribbling ‘This is India’ on the rocks.
He interpreted China’s current belligerence as a reaction to India’s recent actions of reorganising [disputed] Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and improving infrastructure in the region.
He further said: “It [China] has high stakes in PoK [Azad Kashmir] as the $60-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) traverses through it, and it is also the site of the proposed $9 billion Diamer Bhasha Dam, a joint project of China and Pakistan.’’
He says China’s aim is to `dominate Durbuk-DBO road, strengthen its position in the Fingers area, halt the construction of link roads in Galwan-Pangong Tso [salt lake] and negotiate de-escalation on its terms.
Chinese media insisted that it is India, not China, who has outstepped the Line of Actual Control. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, however, reiterated China’s allegation, squarely blaming the Indian troops for the incident. “The right and wrong of this case is very clear and responsibility doesn’t lie with the Chinese side”.
Has Modi surrendered to Chinese position?
The Indian side says an analysis of high-resolution satellite images of the Pangong Tso area in Ladakh shows that not only have the Chinese changed the status quo at the Fingers, the mountain spurs along the lake, but also built substantial structures in the contested region of the Line of Actual Control.
The hills protrude into the lake like fingers and are numbered 1 to 8 from west to east. According to India, the LAC lies at Finger 8, but China points to Finger 4.
The May 27 images by Planet Labs show dozens of new structures, most likely tents, that have come up between Finger 8 and Finger 4 on the north bank of Pangong Tso, one of the main points of contention in the current standoff.
However, the Chinese view was confirmed by Prime Minister Narender Modi. While addressing an all-party conference, Modi said, “Neither have they intruded into our border nor has any post been taken over by them (China)”. He added, “no one can take even an ‘inch of the land’.
However, the media alleges that China had taken over 640 kilometers of Ladakh territory. This fact had been recorded in former foreign secretary Shyam Saran in his 2013 report. But this allegation was rebutted, not only by Saran himself, but also by former defence minister AK Antony.
Can India threaten China in Ladakh & Indian Ocean theatre?
Since 1962, India has been building bridges and constructed roads in the disputed border area. India wanted faster access to feeder roads to LAC. Under the phase 2 of the India-China Border Roads (ICBR) project, 32 roads will be built along the India-China border. As per sources, now the government has asked concerned officials to accelerate the construction of these roads.
Coupled with improved road links, India constructed many air bases and airfields in forward locations. Following Galwan melee, India alerted its forward airfields and moved its fighters/bombers there. Even the Indian Air Force chief undertook whirlwind tours of forward fields, including Leh. The IAF is also upgrading its fleet in this regard.
It may be noted that the first of the 36 Rafale jets will physically arrive in India only in May next year after India-specific enhancements are made to the aircraft. The Rafale jets will be based at Ambala Air Base in Punjab and Hashimara Air Base in West Bengal.
China is worried also about Indian Navy’s activities in the Indian Ocean as well. India is developing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a strategic outpost to monitor rival Chinese naval activity in the Eastern Indian Ocean. It has set up an integrated surveillance network there.
The Indian Navy has been developing the anti-access capabilities in the Andaman Islands. In the coming days, we could expect a volte-face; re-agitating claims over Galwan Valley or Pangong Tso.
China has already achieved what it set out to achieve, which is control over Galwan Valley and Finger 4. Modi told the political parties that China did not move an inch across LAC. Shortly after he announced that he would not recognize the Chinese occupation of Galwan Valley.
The situation on Ladakh is calm but tense. A viral video of Zakir Hussain, a councillor from Shakar constituency in Kargil district, hints that Indian army and government is concealing the bitter truth of their humiliating defeat at Galwan.
Indian casualties were around 200. No Chinese was killed. The councilor has been arrested on charges of sedition.
India is trying to plug its shortcomings on land and in the air. India may get tough with China in August when it becomes President of the Security Council. India should hope Pakistan would remain aloof owing to the United States’ pressure if there is an armed confrontation with China.
Mr. Amjed Jaaved is an editor to The Consul. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space