Clouds of war are hovering over Ladakh though downplayed. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is said to have intruded 4 km in Galwan Valley. They are fully entrenched and strongly fortified at Chang-Chenmo as reported by the media. Our bridges and observation posts on the Galwan Nala are reported to have been destroyed and our routine patrolling in that area blocked. Tanks and fighter aircraft have been positioned close to the intrusion. It is far more serious an aggression than Depsang or Doklam.
The 489 km stretch of LAC, is frequently transgressed by both sides (un) knowingly to put across their ownership claim over disputed areas. But there hasn’t been any prolonged and aggressive standoff except Depsang transgression which happened when President Xi Jinping was on official visit to India. However never-ever has any side set up any military camp on the LAC or in the disputed area as currently done by the PLA in the Galwan valley. Hence the alarm and the heated debate nation wide.
There is nothing surprising about it because when J&K was reorganised after abrogation of its special status, China outright threatened India and raised the issue at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). While we have been parroting for settlement of differently perceived LAC through dialogue, China had been encircling India and flexing its muscles globally. Currently Ladakh is very vital to her strategic and economic interests.
The importance of Ladakh is not new to any defence analyst. It was so well known to Dogra Rulers and the State Forces military commanders right from early thirties of the past two centuries. Hence the kingdom of Ladakh was conquered by the Dogras led by legendary general Zorawar Singh and made part of Jammu empire in 1834.
It was lost to Sino-Tibetan forces in 1841 after Gen Zorawar Singh’s martyrdom on 12 December 1841 during the Tibet invasion but was restored by Raja Gulab Singh. In 1947 Ladakh was almost lost to Pak invaders but the Dogra Regiment of the Indian army saved it.
In 1962 Kumaonis under Maj Shaitan Singh fought to the last man to defend Ladakh. In 1999 Indian army threw out strongly entrenched Pak invaders from its Kargil heights. Since Ladakh is an integral part and strategically so vital to India’s security, it has to be defended.
It better be defended aggressively as before. Therefore Indian forces should have been building posts on the LAC or across it in Ladakh to check further PLA incursions instead of positioning Tanks and aircraft's in depth. When most of the world is targeting China for causing the global doom and gloom for hiding a deadly threat of Wuhan Virus, army should have made the best of it.
Otherwise also it is a critical time, possibly most dangerous, for China when its aggressive forays in South China Sea and Taiwan Strait are being fiercely countered by the US 7th Fleet and suppression of human rights in Hong Kong being criticised world over.
It is never too late. India should exploit Chinese criticalities for a tactical advantage in Ladakh. On 6th May itself a Battalion should have gone deep into disputed area and entrenched there to see the Chinese reaction. Ironically it might become another Dokalm. But the great foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is no more to resolve it.
Indian Army allowed PLA do it little realizing that China has an eye over Ladakh for its CPEC and Diamer-Basha Dam in Gilgit-Baltistan. It deserves criticism irrespective of Corona constraint. I have seen Indian Army Patrol Boats aggressively chasing away Chinese Patrol Boats in Pangong Tso in July-August 1971 while we camped at Finger 4 for a month to establish an ‘Observation Post’ at Ane-La to keep watch over their Rima Regimental (Bde) garrison.
We must learn from the history. The Dogras ruled over Ladakh for 113 years before independence. Ladakh was used as firm base for the conquests of Gilgit-Baltistan and Western Tibet. Chinese better know that J&K State Forces had defeated a large Sino-Tibetan army in Ladakh in 1842. When the news of Tibet Debacle and death of Gen Zorawar Singh reached Raja Gulab Singh in February 1842, he was leading Sikh Forces during the first British Campaign against Afghanistan.
He was shaken. He requested the British to relieve him so that he could retrieve the situation. It wasn’t agreed to because British had no faith in any other Sikh or Dogra Commander. They however offered to mediate between Tibetan and Dogras to have Ladakh vacated.
But Gulab Singh was determined to throw the Tibetan out with his own strength to keep the British out of his state affairs. Ultimately he was permitted to leave Peshawar in May 1842 after he had made all the arrangements to ensure British success despite his absence.
In the meantime Raja Dhian Singh had rushed to Jammu and raised an army of 6,000. After Gulab Singh’s arrival and blessings, the force moved to Srinagar under Wazir Ratnu and Dewan Hari Chand for despatch to Ladakh in batches of 500 each. In the meantime Chinese Emperor had accepted Ladakh’s and Gilgit-Baltistan’s allegiance to Tibet. Additional 5000 Tibetan troops had left Lhasa for Leh. Orders had been issued to Chinese forces in Western Tibet to move to Leh.
Thus a showdown between Dogras and combined Sino-Tibetan forces was unavoidable. While the Tibetan and Chinese forces descended to Leh unhindered, Dogras had to fight all the way through while passing through areas where open rebellion had taken place and population turned hostile. Seeing Dogras had reached Leh, Ladakhi rebels and Sino-Tibetan forces were terror stricken.
They lifted the siege of Leh Fort and fled towards Rudok. They couldn’t risk taking on the Dogras prior to the onset of winter. Main fight took place at Lung-Wu in which Dogras got pushed back to Pangong Lake. Dogras executed an innovative strategy. They erected a dam upstream Drangste.
On 10th August 1842 they caused enemy positions to be flooded which forced them to abandon the fortifications. Thereafter they were fiercely attacked and chased beyond Chushul and disintegrated as a fighting force. This was a most significant victory of state forces (Dogras) which marks a historic milestone of the military history. (Will the Indian army dam the Galwan and Shyok Rivers and drown Chang-Chenmo).
From a position of strength, a treaty of peace and friendship was signed on 14 September 1842, called the ‘Treaty of Chushul’. Wazir Ratnu and Dewan Hari Chand signed the treaty on behalf of Raja Gulab Singh while Chinese Gen Saicho was a signatory on behalf of Chinese Emperor. Dogras legitimacy over Ladakh was recognised and traditional boundaries between Tibet and Ladakh restored with undertaking that they will never commit any aggression on Ladakh.
Had our army attacked the aggressor at the very outset at Galwan or infiltrated elsewhere behind it, this treaty was the safeguard. (A British historian has said, “men learn nothing from history except that they learn nothing from history). Since the surprise is lost, military option is out and for the diplomacy it is too early. In the meantime let us bask in the glory of young Lieutenant Sahib who punched the Chinese Major in Sikkim to profusely bleed him from the nose.
(Views expressed by the author are personal and do not necessarily reflect the view of Mission Victory India)