October 5, 2022

Clashless in Ladakh

By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

The report in Business Standard states that Chin­ese troops have again crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh at several places and that there has been at least one clash between the two sides on the Galwan River. This was reiterated by the author of the report in a video interview.  The Indian Army released a statement refuting the report published in the Business Standard. It was a very unambiguous rebuttal. There has been a lot of hue and cry about the whole issue. However I was taken aback at the malfeasance and rhetoric in the social media about the author, his credentials and intent. What I did not see was an analysis to suggest if it was probable that the incident took place or not. That is what I am doing so now from first principles. I will highlight it with an example of my own experience two decades ago.

I had just taken over command of my unit and had moved it to the eastern sector. Our permanent location was in the Siliguri corridor and our operational area was the Muguthang valley adjacent to the Giagong Plateau. My commander, after the initial formalities and settling in period ordered me to hoof it up to the op area with a suitable team for familiarisation. We shortly did that and parked ourselves at the Lachen transit camp for acclimatisation. During the next one week we acclimatised and carried out our tasks. At that time my course mate was  commanding the battalion on the Plateau. He called me over for lunch one day to bat the breeze before I left the place for my base. I didn’t miss that offer. On the last day of our familiarisation, we drove up to the Plateau. On arrival at the battalion headquarters, I found my friend a little busy. He was in conversation with the brigade and divisional staff. Once he finished with them, he told me that there had been a small incident on the LAC the previous day. We drove up to the post where the incident took place. The post overlooked the Tibetan Plateau and that was a great sight for sore eyes. 

The previous day a PLA patrol led by a cocky young officer had come up to the LAC. He was trying to kick down the cairns which defined the border. Incidentally, the Indo Tibet border is actually a settled border and demarcated by cairns where feasible. Now our boys objected to it. There was a wee bit of chat  in Chinese and Bihari. The cocky young officer was trying to be aggressive. That was when the JCO deliberately and coolly cocked the LMG in the post which was overlooking this cairn. That settled the argument. Immediately the situation was diffused and the PLA patrol went on its way. Soon after the incident, the matter was reported. The JCO narrated the whole incident to me with pride. I shook  hands with the JCO and the rest of the post members  warmly in front of his CO and SM. They were chuffed.  The CO and I went back , had lunch at his mess and recounted our NDA days. Then I set course back to the transit camp. 

The moment I got back to the transit camp, there were calls from the divisional  staff. The GOC wanted my version of the incident as I understood it.  I gave it to them and had a detailed talk with the Col GS.  Next day morning I left the transit camp back to my base. The moment I reached the unit, my own divisional staff was on line. They asked me to file a report. Which I did immediately.  Next day the corps staff was also inquiring. For the next few days everyone wanted to know what happened. The word of the incident had  got around. Why am I telling you this story from over 22 years back? It was a small inconsequential incident. However it was widely reported. Its veracity was being checked at all levels since an independent  double check was available. Taking cue from this, I would say that the chances of an incident or a clash occurring between PLA and Indian Army in Eastern Ladakh and not being reported or coming to light is pretty remote. If it had been reported, it would have come out eventually. 

The next thing is that in the Indian Army, whenever an operational occurrence takes place, a sitrep would have been initiated. In the case of such a purported clash, a special sitrep would have been initiated by the unit. The sitrep is important for many reasons. That is the fundamental document for any further operational action or response. That is also an important document for recompensing any causality or recognising bravery. It is a legal document admissible in court. No CO will or can ever hide such an incident by not reporting it. If it is once reported, it goes all the way to the top and laterally. Such incidents can escalate and hence all should and would have been put on alert. Once it travels up the chain, there is enough transparency to force itself to be made public. Also with a plethora of agencies and forces operating in that area any incident of such nature  would have leaked out completely. This is not a friendly high altitude football match taking place between PLA and Indian Army.  Taking the past experience and the current normal practice into consideration, I find it highly improbable that such a clash  took place and was not reported or brought into public view. There are international ramifications when such an incident takes place. No government can hide such an incident. It might be too costly for it. We are in a democracy and not in an authoritarian system like China. 

Well the Chinese Army can say one thing and do another. Not the Indian Army. In any case the Indian Army has put out in clear terms that such a clash did not take place. Taking all aspects into consideration, it is my considered opinion, that the report in the Business Standard about the clash is not exactly correct. However, it is likely, that some kind of a ‘tu tu main main’ could have happened. Maybe a couple of mavericks on either side might have made ugly faces at each other. Afterall we are in tinderbox situation on the LAC. Also it is not an ‘All Saints Game’ going on out there. Events do occur on the LAC. We should take cognizance of serious events if and when they occur.

Now coming to the report by Business Standard and the reactions thereof. We are in a democracy, every reporter has the right to file in an article based on his sources and if he is convinced  it is true. To that extent, the report is OK. The author is part of a democratic system. We need to tolerate and even respect his views. However, I feel that the author  could have based his report on better diligence and avoided exaggerating the issues. I am not too perturbed that the report does not toe the official line or expectation or if it has political overtones.  Is that not par for the course for a vibrant democracy like India? We do not need all reporters and media to ape to be the ‘Global Times’ of India!   One can understand that the Indian Army is miffed and its reaction indicates so. However this would not have happened if it had a method of regular briefings on issues to keep the public in the loop of happenings. What I do not understand and I do not agree with is the vitriolic reaction within the veteran community.  It cannot be a situation that anyone who is not with us is against us.  We should have the wisdom to analyse such reports and present a balanced view so that those who trust us get to an unbiased expert view based on experience and logic. They should get exactly that.  

(This blog was originally published on www.gunnersshot.com with the link: https://www.gunnersshot.com/2021/07/the-clash-that-was-not-by-lt-gen-p-r.html?m=1 and is being republished with the permission of the writer.)

-The writer is former DG Artillery, Indian Army. He is presently working at Department of Aerospace, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. Views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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