Empire Diaries Desk
(Updated as on June 19, 2020: After we published this article, Indian politican Rahul Gandhi on his Twitter handle questioned why the Indian soldiers were unarmed at the time of being ambushed by Chinese troops in Galwan Valley on June 15, 2020. In reposnse, India’s external affairs minister S Jaishankar clarified in a tweet that the Indian troops were indeed carrying arms at the site if the attack but didn’t use them.)
June 18, 2020, New Delhi: Were the Indian soldiers unarmed when they were ambushed by Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley?
A lot of people have been wondering this ever since the June 15 massacre took place in the disputed Galwan Valley, where at least 20 Indian Army servicemen were killed following violent skirmishes – or ‘hand-to-hand combat’, in technical jargon – with Chinese soldiers in Ladakh.
The questions come on the premise that if those unfortunate Indian soldiers who were ambushed had been carrying weapons at that time, they would have been able to defend themselves against the onslaught.
Precious lives would have been saved.
The carnage could have been averted.
At the root of the matter lies a deal that was struck between New Delhi and Beijing almost 25 years ago: a deal that calls on troops of both countries to avoid carrying or using guns and explosives within 2km from the LAC.
That deal, struck between the two Asian military giants on November 29, 1996, is called: ‘Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas.’
Basically, the bilateral agreement put in place safeguards along the unstable LAC to minimise the possibility of friction and physical escalation of tensions on the front-lines.
The agreement lists 12 articles. Article 6 (Article VI) comprises 4 points. The first point says: “Neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometers from the line of actual control. This prohibition shall not apply to routine firing activities in small arms firing ranges.”
So, this agreement basically answers the unanswered question of why the Indian soldiers were either unarmed or not using firearms in self-defence at the time of being attacked.
Also, the fourth point of Article 6 of that agreement says if soldiers from the two sides happen to come face-to-face due to border-related differences, then both parties need to ensure that an escalation is avoided at all costs.
The fourth point says: “If the border personnel of the two sides come in a face-to-face situation due to differences on the alignment of the line of actual control o any other reason, they shall exercise self-restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid an escalation of the situation. Both sides shall also enter into immediate consultations through diplomatic and/or other available channels to review the situation and prevent any escalation of tension.”
Although the Galwan massacre is the worst military incident on the India-China border since the 1975 ambush of Indian troops in Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese troops are known to have repeatedly breached various confidence-building agreements that have been signed over the past few decades. This news article details reported violations of three India-China border agreements – 1993, 1996 and 2013.
There is yet another interesting element in the 1996 agreement. Article 8 clearly spells out that in the event of an epidemic breaking out in their vicinity, the two rival countries’ forces posted around the LAC should share that information with each other on an urgent basis.
The second point of Article 8 says: “The two sides shall provide each other, at the earliest possible, with information pertaining to natural disasters and epidemic diseases in contiguous border areas which might affect the other side. The exchange of information shall take place either through diplomatic channels or at border personnel meetings.”
It’s a significant bilateral understanding that now becomes relevant as the coronavirus pandemic is raging, just as the two countries’ rivalry is.