20 Indian soldiers including one commanding officer were killed and many more injured by Chinese troops at Galwan Valley, Patrol Point 14 on June 15. The Indian troops were unarmed while the Chinese had bats wrapped with barbed wire, iron rods etc.

On other occasions when the Indian troops are armed, they are not allowed to open fire and their weapon barrels must face downwards. This policy is based on an agreement reached between the two countries, during various meetings held in 1993, 1996, 2005 and 2015.

Even so, at various scuffles between the opposing troops the Chinese have been using sticks embedded with nails etc, while the Indian troops though armed with weapons could not use these.

Consequent to the killing of 20 unarmed Indian soldiers on June 15, and the consequent nationwide uproar, both the Prime Minister and Defence Minister of India gave the military freedom to take appropriate action during such incidents.

Obviously such freedom implies action at the local, tactical level at best. This simple and appropriate permission to the military has been severely criticised by a former foreign secretary of India, who argues that it amounts to abdication of political responsibility and opens doors for future crises in India-China relations, in other similar conflict situations.

In such situations as now prevails on the India–China border, the military must have the necessary freedom to respond to aggressive and hostile acts by the Chinese. Surely in every such incident the local commanders should not be required to refer the matter to Delhi or else let their troops be thrashed and or killed.

This brings to mind an incident on the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistan army was generally quite aggressive and were keeping the border alive, in which India lost quite a few soldiers and civilians. The Pak army knew that to open artillery fire the Indian commanders required permission from Delhi. From various intelligence inputs and activity in that area, it appeared they were planning to capture a particular Indian post, which was at a much lower height, and the attacking troops could just roll down to it.

It was around 3 am one night that the Corps commander’s telephone rang and the divisional commander at the other end said that the enemy could be seen forming up for an attack on that particular post, and wanted to know the orders for him. The simple response from the Corps commander was, “Open up with every thing.”

Seven artillery fire units (batteries) opened fire. Thereafter, for the next two years complete peace prevailed on the LoC in that sector.

No one questioned the corps commander for using artillery at such a scale. Perhaps, what can be done on the LoC is not fully applicable across the LAC – but all the same, local commanders must have the freedom to take appropriate action in the event the Chinese open fire or mount an attack on our own positions. Where troops are in an eyeball to eyeball situation, our own troops’ hands cannot be tied behind their backs.

Military commanders must have the freedom, at the tactical level to respond to opponents’ aggressive actions. Now, such an action may sometimes escalate the situation. That risk is always there, and is something inherent to the type of situation that prevails on the India–China border. But it is a chance that has to be accepted, else it could result in loss of face and adverse impact on the morale of troops, besides loss of territory and lives.

Indian diplomacy has somehow remained totally detached from the imperatives of linking it with national security, especially with countries on the immediate periphery. Our foreign policy has been overlooking this basic diplomatic imperative, and China taking advantage of it has gained overwhelming influence amongst all our neighbours.

We seem oblivious of China’s ongoing efforts to woo even Bhutan. We have been investing both money and diplomacy in Afghanistan, where once America completely pulls out, the Taliban with the help of Pakistan will be back in power and India will simply have no place there.

Our foreign policy experts, rather than meddling in smaller issues at the LAC, should brief the nation as to how we have fallen foul of China when India is a major market for its exports, businesses, projects and investments – especially when the USA, European nations and some others are restricting imports from China.

China is known to pour money into the right quarters in foreign countries to gain influence and access to their markets, and in all probability did the same in India: so it appears.

How have all our agreements with China related to the Line of Actual Control fallen foul? Why in spite of innumerable meetings at the diplomatic level have we failed to resolve the simple issue of LAC?

It is for our diplomats to explain as to how these skirmishes in Ladakh and the high handedness of Chinese troops at the LAC were not taken up at the diplomatic level, and why the foreign ministry did not summon the Chinese ambassador in Delhi on the killing of 20 Indian soldiers and violating the LAC.

Why have we never leveraged China’s trade with India into our diplomatic parlays?

While China continues to claim Arunachal Pradesh, objects to the Indian PM and Defence Minister visiting that state, has been opposing India’s inclusion in the UN Security Council, objected to our doing away with Articles 370 and 35A, making Ladakh a union territory, etc, we have been throwing wide open our doors to Chinese imports, businesses, contracts and startup investments.

For India there appears to be no link between the country’s economy and foreign policy. But Economy, diplomacy and national security are interrelated, whereas India seems to treat these as independent and totally unconnected turfs. Indian diplomats have never considered the importance of the link between national security, economy and diplomacy. This is one area that calls for a review and a consequent reorientation of national policies.

Lt General Harwant Singh is a veteran of the Indian Army