Disorder at the border: On India-China face-off

Agreements with China on disengagement at LAC have lost meaning in the brutal clashes

June 18, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:08 pm IST

With the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers , and reports of Chinese soldier casualties in clashes at the Galwan valley in Ladakh, India and China have entered uncharted territory on the Line of Actual Control, the first combat deaths since 1975 , and the first such in the Galwan Valley since the 1962 war. The brutality of the clashes, with severe injuries and deaths incurred despite the fact that no shots were fired, is all also unheard of thus far. The deaths occurred when the two armies had agreed to “disengage” and “de-escalate” the month-long stand-off, which makes the clashes particularly shocking. China has now claimed sovereignty over the entire Galwan Valley, indicating that it is unlikely to pull back from this crucial and hitherto non-contentious area, unless it is forced to. In his talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi appeared to countenance this new position, and even called on India to “punish those responsible” for crossing the LAC, prompting India to accuse China of attempting to “alter” the LAC with this “premeditated and planned action” by its forces. Meanwhile, reports that Chinese troops continue to be well entrenched in the Fingers area (Finger 4-8) or the ridges around Pangong Tso (lake) that India has always patrolled, and remain inside the LAC at Nakula Pass are worrying indicators of a hardening Chinese position. While Prime Minister Modi’s strong statement on Wednesday of a “befitting reply” and of the sacrifices of the soldiers that “would not go in vain”, is a much needed expression of the national sentiment, simply extracting revenge does not appear to be the answer to the altered situation across the LAC.

In order to prepare its response appropriately, the first step the government must take is to apprise the nation of exactly what has occurred since late April along the LAC, including incidents in Ladakh and Sikkim. Monday’s clashes have put an end to claims that Chinese troops have not entered Indian territory (they have), that troops have disengaged, and that the situation was being de-escalated. The government must conduct a full investigation of the Galwan clash and put out clearer details of the lives lost. A true tribute to those soldiers will not only include ensuring accountability from Beijing but also enforcing a full troops withdrawal from all the areas occupied in the last few weeks. Both the MEA and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs have reaffirmed their commitment to dialogue as a means of restoring peace. Both sides must also acknowledge that the situation is precarious, and that the recent days in particular have undone decades of painstakingly negotiated confidence-building mechanisms. Without a full restoration of the status quo ante , reparations for the casualties, as well as some honest commitment to abide fully by any agreement, talks with Beijing at this point might not mean more than empty words.

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