In the fog of war, a lot of misinformation flies. Ill-informed but self styled defence experts and politicians always push through home made theories. Some of these so called experts had perhaps never ever seen high altitude terrain in their entire life or service careers. But they must appear on TV channels to narrate true lies. This is what had happened about the scuffle that ensued between Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan valley of Eastern Ladakh on 15-16 June 2020.
Galwan in Kashmiri dialects means ‘Strong Man’ or a ‘Pehelwan’ (Wrestler). The river emanates at Aksai Chin and flows East to west for 80 km through gorges of high mountains upto 17000 feet. It joins the Shyok River in the Shyok Valley. The Galwan River valley is named after Gulam Rasool Galwan of Leh, who, as a young boy, had accompanied British expeditions in the Himalayas as a guide in the late 19th century.
In one of the expeditions in 1899, led by Lt Col. Charles Murray to the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, the party had lost its way due to bad weather. It was young Gulam Rasool Galwan, who found the way through this river valley. Thus, the river was named Galwan after him.
The Galwan River Valley was the flash point of the 1962 war. In its 1959 claim line China had claimed the entire valley upto Shyok River confluence of the Galwan River. The Valley became a flashpoint after China constructed a road between Xinjiang and Tibet, without India's consent. The highway is now known as G219. After building the road, the Chinese lay a claim to the area, first in 1959.
The valley was defended by a company of the Gorkha regiment of Indian Army in 1962 after China had constructed G219 through Aksai Chin. And then suddenly this Gorkha locality was surrounded by PLA on 6 July 1962. The brave Gorkha troops remained cut off for three months. On 4 October 1962, a Company of 5 JAT was sent to reinforce Gorkha company by the Indian Army. PLA fired on this company and killed 36 men of the JAT coy. This was the starting point of the 1962 war.
Ever since 1962 , the Galwan valley has been under occupation of China. Protective Patrol - 14 is the only point in the mouth of Galwan valley that India controls, it is on theLine of Actual Control (LAC). The significance of this PP-14 is that it screens Chinese peep into the Shyok River confluence with the Galwan River. India has recently built a bridge over this confluence. Besides, a Link Road to PP-14 is being constructed from this bridge on the DSDBO Road, which is probably the bone of contention. See the Satellite images below.
It must be noted that LAC/border with China is not marked. The Galwan valley had been on the Eastern side of LAC, which is under Chinese control, and this has been the case for the last 58 years. Galwan valley was lost during the Prime Ministership of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, and it has been status quo since then.
Therefore, if Prime Minister Narendra Modi says that China has not entered our side of LAC, he is right. Those who make noise that he has surrendered to China, have no idea of history and also the ground situation. Most of them forget what Nehru had said of Aksai Chin, to remind these forgetful minds, it is reiterated that he had surrendered it by saying: “Not a blade of grass grows there.” As of dste India has not surrendered its claim either on Aksai Chin or Galwan valley. It has only said the obvious reality that LAC since 1962 is well under Indian Control, and it includes PP-14.
Anyway, let me reiterate the significance of Galwan valley, as I have brought out earlier that India had constructed a road to DBO from Shyok and Darbuk. It is 255 km long, and it has strategic importance of logistics support and also switching of forces to DBO. The point of issue is not this but the Link Road being built to PP-14. This is giving a headache to China. Chinese think that India could launch an offensive towards Aksai Chin using Galwan Valley. PP-14 obstructs their direct view. Even China has built a road from Aksai Chin to this valley. Unconfirmed reports say China was building a dam over this river to flood the area in times of crisis.
The present crisis of 15 June 2020 was due to Chinese attempt to come up to PP-14. In fact they had created a tented camp below it around 10-12 June 2020. This camp was forcibly removed by India on 12/13 June 2020. Probably, Some fatalities were suffered by PLA in this action. This perhaps had enraged the Chinese and again by 14 June 2020, they set up a fresh tented camp in 14 June 2020. This was detected by India on 15 June 2020 and it led to a deadly scuffle. Tell tale marks of the true incident have now begun to appear in many accounts and they have opened up a Pandora’s box of many lies. One has to just join the dots to visualise a true picture.
At the risk of repetition, it is a known fact that the bone of contention in the Galwan River valley and not the Darbuk - Shuyok - Dolat Beg OLDI (DSDB) Road and a bridge over the River Shyok and River Galwan confluence. To be frank, it was the 12 14 km link from this Bridge to Protective Patrol Point 14 (PP14) . This point is at the LAC and has been under Indian Control since 1962, and like 1962, it might become the flash point of another war if China does not desist from its aggression. Perhaps, it does not realise that millions of cubic acre feet of water had flown through the Galwan River over the last 58 years. The year 2020 is not the year 1962.
The significance of this Link Road is that it is a pincer aimed at the Galwan valley which could further be linked to a Chinese Road going to China’s Western Highway (G219) passing through Aksai Chin. The more important tactical advantage of PP 14 is that it screens Chinese overview of Shyok river and DSDBO Road. This was the advantage China wanted to deny to India. From the left edge of the bridge see a black streak of road going North. This is the link to PP 14. China had pitched a tented camp just a few hundreds meters from PP14.
On 6 June 2020 , an agreement was reached between the Chinese and Indian commanders (Major General Liyu Lin Commander of South Xinjiang Theatre of China and Lt Gen Harinder Singh of 14 Corps of India) to appropriately withdraw from present locations. India was to fall back 1.5 km Westward and China by 2.5 km Eastward. The disengagement was to be completed by 15 June 2020.
Indian troops before pulling out wanted to ensure that Chinese too had pulled out. Information available from various accounts suggests that a patrol of 10 men under a Major from 4 Mahar/16 Bihar was sent to ascertain this fact. They found the tent and burnt it, as they were returning they were surrounded and captured because Chinese were fully armed.
As soon as CO 16 Bihar, Col Santosh Babu learnt this, he rushed to the spot with 30 men to negotiate this. It is learnt that Chinese were on a higher ground and Indian patrol party was slowly climbing. We must know that at 15,000 feet and so, the foot movement is very sluggish and slow. One can not rush and climb. One loses breath, also the track was so narrow that one could only move in a single file — one man behind the other. This is why the road to PP-14was constructed. The news is that the job has been done.
As the Col Santosh ‘s party was some 60-100 meters from Chinese tent , they shouted at him to come alone if he wanted to negotiate about the patrol. . Col Santosh agreed and moved up with two Men. It may be noted that CO and his two men were unarmed, as is the norm in all such flag meetings. After reaching they had a heated exchange for 4-5 minutes but Chinese gave in and agreed to withdraw. As soon as the CO and his men turned, Chinese attacked him with nailed Clubs and all three fell badly wounded.
Seeing this rest of the CO party radioed it to the base and charged towards the Chinese. A hand to hand fight began. Indians had bayonets charged to rifles as an answer to Chinese nailed Clubs and Iron rods. It may be noted that Indians are well trained in close combat and bayonet fighting.
In the meanwhile, Chinese reinforcements of 400 men joined but so did 200 men from 16 Bihar and adjoining units. Thus it became a joint operation of mixed troops also from Arty, Mahar and Punjab Regiments. Accounts now filtering out are that 16 Bihar men and other Indian troops had gone berserk. The Ghatak platoons (Commandos) of other battalions had joined in. Chinese were running a halter smelter. The troops were 16 Bihar, 3 Punjab, 4 Mahar, 3 Med Regt and 181 Field Regt. It was a joint operation.
A Deccan Chronicle report of June 19, 2020 gives out a survivor participant’s account to say that a minimum of 18 PLA soldiers' necks were snapped —— they could be seen with their necks dangling from their bodies.
Another report from a JCO, as an eye witness of Arty, who came with the mortal remains of another Arty JCO to Patiala, corroborates the ferocity of all men charging the Chinese. He gave the story of 16 Bihar men going berserk and blasting the life out of PLA soldiers. In this melee Chinese Bulldozer caused a landslide and with it many PLA Soldiers went hundreds of feet into the icy Cold River Galwan and probably died.
Upon talking to OC Rear of 16 Bihar, it turned out that Lt Col Maninder Nagpal (2IC), Capt Arjun dDeshpande (3 yrs), Capt Manangma (2 yrs) of 16 Bihar were the most daring and they ferociously led their troops to avenge the death of their CO. Another soldier of the Arty regiment, Sepoy Surinder Singh is stated to have killed 10 PLA Soldiers with his sword. He is an Amritdhari Sikh. He too got wounded in the head and is convalescing in Leh Hospital.
Though India declared 20 dead including Col Santosh Babu, China too suffered heavy casualties. China did not give out the number of casualties. Global Times claimed that it did not give out a number of casualties because it did not want confrontational sentiments to escalate. This is a typical lie of a Communist regime.
Some Indian estimates put the Chinese casualties at 43. This they estimate from the helicopter trips coming to collect the casualties, which India allowed . But American report from intercepts suggests that there were 35 dead, possibly a few officers including Cols and Majors. This does not include the soldiers who went down in the river when the landslide took place. Therefore some estimates say that China suffered between 128 to 150 casualties.
What about the Indian patrol of one officer and 10 men which was taken Prisoners by China on 15 June. A hush hush report in some papers like The Guardian and The Dawn of Pakistan suggested that they were released on 18 June 2020 in exchange of Chinese soldiers held by India. But it was unduly denied both by Indian Army and Chinese Foreign Ministry.
However there is an interesting twist in the tail. It is that on the said night, a patrol from 3 Medium Regiment of Indian Army, had captured a Chinese Colonel and a few men who were running away from the scene of action where 16 Bihar soldiers had gone aggressive. The release of 10 men of Indian patrol is a give and take of this Chinese Col and his men. Chinese definitely learnt a lesson so as not to mess with Indian soldiers.
Finally, a word about three treaties India had signed with China on Border Management in 1993, 1996 and 2013 which prohibits the use of firearms on the border. This is a joke. There are more casualties due to physical fights with swords, nailed bats and iron rods which both sides carry. India should free its soldiers of such restrictions.
But what about the treaty signed by Congress Party and Sonia Gandhi with Communist party of China in 2008 ? Is it not strange that some of the leaders of this party are now obliquely questioning Indian soldiers and their bravery . In fact they are supporting the Chinese narrative which is full of lies. The president of this party had dinner with Chinese envoy in July 2017 when the Doka La crisis was on. They should realise that in matters of national security, nation comes first always and every time — no matter how deeply one is befriended with foreign nationals.
Indians happily stay alive; some do their business, some sit in the Parliament and assemblies, most Chit chat peacefully on social media platforms but some do verbal aerobatics with their lungs in TV rooms. All this is possible because the soldiers play with their lives on the borders. The Galwan River episode must shake their conscience. It is the sacrifice of the soldiers which make the netas and commentators safe. A grateful nation must honour the Galwan Heroes of Night 15-16 June. Their raw courage displayed against a well prepared enemy must rule the nation's soul!
(Col Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into the 3 Bihar Regiment in June 1971 and was the Commanding Officer of same unit in insurgency environs in Assam in 1990-93. Has vast experience in CI Ops from North East to Punjab and J&K. A prolific writer-cum-critic on defence and security matters, he has authored the book, ‘Kashmir: A Different Perspective’. His second book on Assam was released in April 2018. Held prestigious appointments in the army including as an instructor at a premier army institute, Col GS, Col Adm of an Infantry Division and Col "Q" works at a Command HQ. He can be contacted on e-mail: [email protected])
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')