Jo Hua So Hua
Trust the military
The title may set Chinese searching identities of Jo and So, Hua being a common Chinese name. Indians will understand but we need to address issues that colour our thinking and planning:
- There is no worthwhile opposition (not good for any country) but when you give a view, first question is “do you want Congress back” or “are you a BJP lackey?”
- Any and every issue is seen through prism of domestic politics, precluding methodical examination to arrive at best course of action.
- Wars are fought in media - pre-briefed anchors and veterans defending respective political parties. Every TV channel has an operations room with maps-visuals discussing own movement, deployment and future options - security be damned. During Kargil Conflict a female reporter’s Satcom coordinates helped enemy artillery fire.
- Soldiers are of least consequence to governments because wards of politicians and bureaucrats don’t join the Army.
Many statements were made about the patrol in Galwan being armed or not: “troops are always armed when going to battle”, “they were armed but had orders not to open fire” with the Foreign Minister categorically saying they were armed.
The Congress was accused of Galwan casualties because of the 2013 BDCA Agreement, which was sellout (Google: ‘BDCA – Another Self Inflicted Wound’ - 23 October, 2013 in Indian Defence Review). But why obfuscate that patrols going to meet Chinese counterparts had orders not to carry arms. If these were not MEA orders, why do video clips of scuffles at Doklam plus past and present scuffles in Sikkim and Ladakh show ‘both sides’ not carrying weapons? Isn’t this the precise reason why the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) improvised iron rods and clubs with barbed wire and nails.
CO 16 BIHAR and his party went to verify the PLA de-escalation process after talks at Corps Commander-level. They were not going to battle and were unarmed as per orders. Of many versions, the news ‘UN Chief Urges Restraint As More Than 60 Die in China-India Clash’ states that 12 Chinese soldiers armed with swords and spears attacked Colonel Santosh Babu and 4-5 soldiers escorting him. Colonel Babu and two of his escorts were killed but others ran back to the camp. On getting news of the CO killed, a contingent of 16 BIHAR fixed bayonets and attacked enemy encampments. PLA attacked other patrols also in the area and other Indian Army troops (infantry, artillery and others) went after the PLA.
General VK Singh, former Army Chief and Minister of State Road Transport and Highways has explained that the scuffle went on for hours involving some 600 personnel from both sides because of which fire couldn’t be opened. We suffered 20 killed and PLA at least 43. Both sides took hostages which included a PLA Colonel caught by us. Stating that Colonel Babu and his party were armed implies to accusing the brave CO and his escorts as unable to defend themselves and the two unhurt not opening fire despite extreme provocation – isn’t this sacrilege?
With 600 soldiers scuffling in the dark, firing was out of question but the contingent of 16 BIHAR (fresh from serving in Siachen) that reached first to attack the PLA could have killed many more bat-eating bat-wielding PLA wimps if they had opened fire. But their hands were tied because of existing orders, repeated exhortations of ‘no escalation’ and pressures of politicians. Recall an Army Commander made to apologize for a ‘purported’ fake encounter which finally turned out to be a political machination; politicians wanting soldiers on duty put on trial for shooting at a vehicle and killing occupants after the vehicle jumped two barriers despite warnings, and; a Chief Minister winning elections with terrorist support obtaining permission from the Defence Minister to file FIRs against soldiers who opened fire in self-defence when attacked by hundreds of stone-pelters burning government vehicles and injuring a JCO. What message goes from all this to the rank and file?
Media reports of June 21 say the Centre has changed the Rules of Engagement (RoE) across LAC authorizing the use of firearms and authority to respond to extraordinary situations, using all resources at their disposal. But China had changed the RoE on August 15, 2017 when PLA used iron rods and stones on our patrol at Pangong Tso. Had we changed the RoE then, Col Babu’s patrol would have been armed and we could have inflicted more casualties on PLA wimps in Galwan.
Was this a case of sheer complacency? Can the then Army Chief (now Chief of Defence Staff) tell us why the RoE was not changed in 2017? Most importantly, PLA had clubbed ITBP boys in May 2020 - their pictures lying inert were all over the Chinese media. We still didn’t amend the RoE!
But despite the above constraints, all our troops’, 16 BIHAR included, gave an outstandingly brave account of themselves. Had they been permitted to fire, they would have thrown the enemy out and occupied the high ground in Galwan (not just Patrol Point 14) precluding enemy observation of the DSDBO Road. And yet you have a paid TV channel accusing the Army for the casualties. Little wonder the 2018 World Economic Forum Report ranked India media second most untrustworthy among 38 countries: journalists turned PR agents of political parties, and paid media undermining democracy - reports by statutory constitutional agencies.
Intelligence-wise we have not improved from the surprise Kargil intrusions. Aren’t the NSA and DG DIA supposed to monitor enemy border infrastructure and troop buildup? Isn’t JIC supposed to brief the CCS every week? Media says a senior R&AW officer met the Leh Corps Commander in October 2019 and told him China is upset with the map of Ladakh UT - is that enough? MK Dhar, former joint director IB wrote in his book that irrespective of which government is at power in the Centre, entire intelligence effort is focused on how to bring down the opposition. How much of that has changed?
The Prime Minister has said that no post of ours was captured, which is correct. More of that later but a recently appointed Consultant to OFB was shouting on TV that our post at Finger 4 in Pangong Tso is intact, hiding the fact that we can no more send patrols to Finger 8. Pangong Tso is 134 km long, one-third of which is in India and two-thirds in Tibet. China wants to keep pushing us west taking full control of the lake.
A recent article warns China not to fall into Pakistan’s trap, which is rather amusing. China’s expansionist designs include taking control of maximum water resources. That is why it took Shaksgam Valley from Pakistan and is going after Pangong Tso.
Before Musharraf became army chief, he gave a presentation to Pakistan’s defence ministry saying at the time of Independence per capita availability of water in Pakistan was 6000 cusecs, which had come down to 1000 cusecs per head because of which Pakistan must capture J&K. Siachen Glacier is the fourth largest fresh water source of India. China-Pakistan want to join hands along the Shyok River from Ladakh to Gilgit-Baltistan because their strategic interests coincide; capture maximum territory and water sources including Siachen Glacier.
About PLA not having crossed the LAC, question is which LAC? If it is China’s 1962 claim line which we had never agreed to, then perhaps PLA is on their side of LAC. But it cannot be denied that PLA came miles inside no-man’s land (if we don’t want to call that LAC) to Galwan, pitched tents and have dug down - Patrol Point 14 is not the only issue. This may encourage China to make claims in other sectors too wherever they came in 1962 though China has no sense of territory and any LAC is transitory for them.
There was nothing wrong in acknowledging that the unarmed patrol of Col Babu was attacked by the PLA unexpectedly and China has made intrusions exploiting gaps that would be dealt with appropriately. Could any other government have fared better? The answer is no, given the focus of our bureaucracy who advise the polity and tasking of our intelligence agencies. Border infrastructure was much worse under the previous government. Unfortunately, all governments link development in states to number of voters and number of MPs which are few in border areas - national security is passé.
Finally, Jo Hua So Hua but let us join hands as a nation to face the looming threat, India being the only country in the world fighting both China Virus and the country that released it - China. Batman Xi Jinping’s tail is afire with unemployment and dissent at home. Many others may be happy that the battleground is shifting from Middle East to South Asia. But nothing is insurmountable - policy makers need to trust the military and avoid micromanagement.
Lt General P.C.Katoch is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views are personal.