New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: A conflict that began on May 5 over the construction of a road in eastern Ladakh turned into the deadliest face-off seen in 45 years between India and China, after 20 Indian soldiers, including an Army Colonel, lost their lives during a standoff with the Chinese troops. According to a report by news agency ANI, the Chinese side suffered 43 casualties during the face-off with Indian forces at the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh and the Army observed an increase in Chinese chopper activity across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to airlift the fatalities suffered by them. However, there is no official word on the casualties in China.

This is the first time in 45 years when India lost its troops during a clash with Chinese forces along the LAC. In 1975, four Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush by Chinese forces in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tulung La.

But since the 1975 standoff in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tulung La, no casualties were suffered by either side, though there have been several standoffs between the troops of India and China in the recent past.

What led to the clash at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on June 15?

The Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in a standoff in the region over the last five weeks. The first standoff happened on May 5 and 6 when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers objected to the patrol of Indian Army near the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh. According to a report by news agency PTI, around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in the face-off.

On May 9, another clash between the troops of the Indian and Chinese Armies took place near the Naku La region in north Sikkim. According to reports, the troops from both sides were engaged in hand-to-hand combat and pelted stones at each other, resulting in injuries on both sides.

Later, the officials from both the sides held talks to de-escalate the tensions. The two sides held a General-level talks to resolve the situation and restore the status-quo in the region. After the talks, the Indian government said that the talks will continue to resolve the situation and to “ensure peace and tranquillity” across the LAC – the de facto border between the two sides.

Later, Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane also said that both sides have begun disengaging from the Galwan Valley. “We have started from the north, from the area of the Galwan river where a lot of disengagement has taken place. It has been a very fruitful dialogue that we have had,” General Naravane was quoted as saying by ANI.

However, the Chinese didn’t fulfil its commitment of disengaging its troops, following which a team of Indian Army set out to discuss with the Chinese side which turned into one of the deadliest conflicts between India and China in 45 years, reported India Today.   

A look at Sino-India border dispute:   

The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km-long LAC. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet, while India objects it. India and China have fought two major battles over disputed areas while there have been a significant number of standoffs between the two sides.

The border issues between the two sides first emerged in the 1960s. To counter the Chinese, India had initiated the defensive ‘forward policy’ under then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and positioned troops across several areas along Indo-China border, including the McMahon Line -- the eastern portion of the LAC. Over time, tensions between the two sides escalated which led to the conflict of 1962.

After 1962, the Indian and Chinese troops again clashed with each other in 1967 in Sikkim. The conflict is more famously known as ‘Nathu La and Cho La clashes’ where the Chinese troops attacked the Indian Army at Nathu La and Cho La on September 11 and September 15. Unlike 1962, the Indian Army achieved ‘decisive tactical advantage’ and the PLA was defeated and were forced to withdrew from Cho La.

“We often remember 1967, but to say that was the last firing, and that what happened eight years later was some sort of accident does not square with the facts. It was an ambush, plain and simple, and four of ours lost their lives,” The Hindu quoted former Indian foreign secretary and ambassador to China Nirupama Rao as saying.

The third time when India and China clashed was in 1975 when the PLA troops crossed the LAC in Tulung La and ambushed a patrol of Indian Army, leading to India’s troops being killed. “In 1975, Sikkim had just become a part of India, and tensions between India and China were quite high at the time as China saw Sikkim joining India as an annexation,” Boston-based researcher of Sino-Indian relations Saurabh Vashist told The Print.

Things between the two sides remain peaceful but not until 1987. The reason for the escalation this time was India’s decision to grant statehood to Arunachal Pradesh – which China considers as a part of south Tibet – in the last 1986. China viciously protested that, with many predicting a war between the two sides. However, things de-escalated after the then Foreign Minister ND Tiwari met Chinese officials to defuse the tensions. To defuse tensions, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi also visited China in 1988 and met his counterpart, Deng Xiaoping. Gandhi and Xiaoping decided to start a “forward-looking relationship” and border issues were set aside temporarily.

The 1988 deal between India and China allowed the countries to improve the ties and then several border management agreements were signed in 1993, 1996 and 2005.

However, the situation between the two sides escalated once again but this time in Doklam – a trijunction border which is claimed by both China and Bhutan. The Chinese troops entered the plateau on June 16, 2017, and began construction work, following which Bhutan asked India to help it as a part of the treaty between the two nations that was signed in 1949. The conflict continued for over 70 days, escalating tensions between the two sides.

However, on August 28, 2017, India and China agreed to disengage to defuse the tensions. “Our soldiers sit on the top, hold the ridge and can swiftly intervene, as they pro-actively did in mid-June, if the People's Liberation Army once again tries to unilaterally change the status quo by constructing a road near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction,” The Times of India quoted government sources as saying.

Over the years, there have been several incidents that led to a clash between the two nuclear-powered nations but none of them was similar to what happened on June 15. Experts say that the change in India policy has been one of the factors that led to the bloodiest clash between India and China at Galwan Valley in more than 50 years. “China’s intrusions aim to serve three purposes: to stop or slow down India’s border infrastructure development, to restrict New Delhi to South Asia and to weaken the traction the Quad partnership has been gaining,” said Rajiv Bhatia, ex-ambassador, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, as reported by Hindustan Times.

Meanwhile, the two sides held another round of talks on June 22 to defuse the tensions. After the talks, the Indian Army said that the talks were “cordial, positive and constructive” and that there was “mutual consensus” to disengage to reduce the tensions between the two sides in the region.

“Corps Commander level talks between India-China yesterday were held at Moldo in cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere. There was mutual consensus to disengage. Modalities for disengagement from all friction areas in Eastern Ladakh were discussed and will be taken forward by both sides,” the Indian Army said in a statement, as reported by news agency ANI.

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma