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18 June, 2020 07:33:16 PM

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DATELINE INDIA: Enemy at the door

Both India and China establish their claims to territory, by heavily militarising the region: roads, airstrips and other infrastructure have come up and there is heavy patrolling along the disputed border.
Kumkum Chadha
DATELINE INDIA: Enemy at the door

As if the existing problems, be it corona or other natural disasters, were not enough for India to combat, yet another enemy is knocking on its door: China. 
 
But first the facts: 
Early this week as many as 20 Indian soldiers were killed in clashes between the Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan Valley in the disputed Ladakh region.
Fighting broke out on Monday evening when an Indian patrol came across Chinese forces on a narrow ridge. During the confrontation an Indian commanding officer was pushed and fell into the river gorge.

This followed troops from both sides fighting with rocks and clubs leading to casualties. 

This is how it panned out:
There was token disengagement after the official level talks between the two countries on June 6 but the Chinese, in total disregard set up camp on the Indian side. Scuffle broke out when India dismantled the camps leading to injuries to the soldiers. The Chinese troops retreated but only to return in larger numbers. This led to stone pelting and clashes on both sides. On June 15, clashes broke out and escalated resulting in Indian soldiers falling into the Galwan river. Failure of the Chinese troops to move back, led India’s Colonel Santosh Babu and his regiment to hold discussion with the Chinese side but the Chinese troops attacked the delegation with boulders, rocks wrapped with barbed wire and wooden log with nails around them. Hand to hand fighting continued for several hours with casualties on both sides. 

Reports said that no shots were fired and the “fight” was  with bare hands, iron rods and stones. China accused Indian troops of crossing the border twice, "provoking and attacking Chinese personnel" and claimed casualties though there is no confirmation of the same.

What is confirmed and worrying is that tempers are high and the situation threatening to escalate even as efforts are on to diffuse the crisis. 
It is the first fatal clash since 1975 and the most serious since 1967. India and China fought a war in 1962 over their contested border in the Himalayas. The war ended with both sides agreeing to a de facto boundary, known as the Line of Actual Control. There has been an uneasy calm and the region has been marked with hostility and occasional clashes. 

Both countries establish their claims to territory, by heavily militarising the region: roads, airstrips and other infrastructure have come up and there is heavy patrolling along the disputed border. 
China claims more than 90,000sq km in the eastern Himalayas and another 38,000sq km in the west, both of which are disputed by India.

The Indian and Chinese armies come face to face at many points along the 3,440km shared border given that both sides see the area as strategically important. 
Tensions have mounted since April, when China sent thousands of troops into the disputed territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), bringing artillery and vehicles. The crux however is China being hell-bent on not letting India upgrade coupled with its refusal to leave disputed areas, including the Galwan Valley inside Indian territory. Despite a commitment to disengage, stone throwing and fist fights have been happening along the contentious border.

Even while Major General-level talks between the two countries following the face-off yielded little, both the Foreign Ministers India’s S. Jaishankar and Wang Yi respectively, “agreed that the overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner and both sides would implement the disengagement understanding of 6 June sincerely”. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in a statement, said, “Neither side would take any action to escalate matters and instead, ensure peace and tranquility as per bilateral agreements and protocols.”

Jaishankar, the statement said, conveyed India’s protest on the violent face-off in Galwan Valley in the strongest terms. Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart that the “unprecedented development” will have a serious impact on the bilateral relationship.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India wants peace but will respond appropriately if provoked. He said the sacrifice of the Indian soldiers will not go in vain.
 
In a televised address, he said India will firmly protect every inch of its land and defend its self-respect. Modi said India would not “compromise with its integrity and sovereignty”.

The Prime Minister said India has culturally and historically been a peace-loving country. “We have always worked with our neighbours in a cooperative and friendly manner. Always wished for their development and welfare. We have always tried to ensure that differences do not turn into disputes. We never provoke anyone. But we also do not compromise with the integrity and sovereignty of our country. Whenever the need arose, we have demonstrated our power and proved our capabilities in protecting the integrity and sovereignty of the country,” he said.

PM Modi said India’s “integrity and sovereignty is supreme for us and no one can stop us from protecting that.” Modi said the country should be proud of the fallen soldiers as they died fighting (Woh maarte maarte marein hai).
 
The mood of the nation too was one which spewed venom at China. Anger spilled on the streets with protestors burning effigies of Chinese President Xi Jinping and demanding boycotting of Chinese goods. 
 
Veterans of Indian Army gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi in protest while ABVP and Swadeshi Jagran Manch supporters raised anti-China slogans and displayed posters condemning the Chinese government. Locals in Modi’s home state Gujarat too burned Jinping’s photos. 
The risk of escalation stares hard in the face of both countries with India making it clear that it would retaliate if necessary and will not take things lying down.

Yet it needs to tread with caution. China is a potential threat to India because it has stronger and better equipped forces. Add to that China’s alignment with Pakistan which is a potential threat and real challenge to India. China can also buy off India’s smaller neighbours and use them to be irritants enough to keep India on its toes on all fronts. So even while keeping the diplomatic channels open, India needs to step up building its military capabilities which would decidedly deter China to use force against it. Even though the Indian Army is formidable its engagement is not singularly focused with its involvement in counterinsurgency operations in Kashmir and also the insurgency afflicted states in the north east. These are challenges that China would like to cash in on and ones that India must counter. It cannot afford to be complacent.

That India is overstretched is a given, in its battling the coronavirus, but that is not reason enough to lower its guard or let the enemy creep in. In this context, Modi’s words of protecting every inch of territory and responding appropriately if provoked are a kind of balm to the wounds China has and continues to inflict physically on India’s soldiers and mentally on the psyche of its people.

 Yet even while China did inflict a humiliating defeat in the sixties it must now understand that India stands tall and resolute in the face of any aggression and even while promoting peace will not cow down to any threat. Even while the Government treads cautiously as every Government must do, the anger among the people first with China’s role in the coronavirus and now on the border, killing our men is spilling and sends a clear message that India and its people will fight any enemy that raises its head. 

The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist and a columnist of The Independent.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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