Indian veterans have accused China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of “barbarism” and of violating protocols by using crude weapons against unarmed Indian soldiers, after 20 were killed on the inhospitable terrain of the Galwan Valley in Ladakh on the night of June 15.
“Our people do not carry any sticks or any kind of such equipment, but the Chinese, in a premeditated manner, were carrying clubs—you know, metallic clubs, [including ones] with spikes on them, or wooden clubs which had barbed wire on them, and knuckle dusters, and all of these kinds of equipment—and they hit the commanding officer and our people,” retired Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, who previously served in the Indian army at the same location, told The Epoch Times over the phone from New Delhi.
On June 18, retired Col. Ajai Shukla, a defense and strategic analyst, shared an image on Twitter of the weapons that were used.
“The nail-studded rods—captured by Indian soldiers from the Galwan Valley encounter site—with which Chinese soldiers attacked an Indian Army patrol and killed 20 Indian soldiers,” he wrote. “Such barbarism must be condemned. This is thuggery, not soldiering.”
Lt. Gen. Gurmeet Singh, a retired army deputy chief of staff who had served for 40 years and visited China seven times in his role, told The Epoch Times over the phone that the PLA has violated the military protocols it signed with the Indian army and that the attack shows its lack of professionalism.
“Is it the work of an army? Is it the work of a soldier? It indicates that the PLA actually is not an army like nations have,” said Singh. “They don’t appreciate the way combat troops operate. And rightly so, because the PLA is a political party’s army.”
In the wake of the killing of the soldiers, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a message to the nation on June 17 said that “under all circumstances,” India will protect “every inch” of its land.
“To protect our country’s integrity and sovereignty is our priority, and no one can stop us from doing it. No one should be in doubt or illusion about it. We want peace, but if provoked, under all circumstances we are capable of giving an adequate reply,” he said.
Though the Chinese authorities haven’t made an official statement about the casualties on the Chinese side, the Indian Hindi newspaper Navbharat Times on June 17 reported that 43 Chinese soldiers were also killed in the incident. Sharma said that, based on the helicopter activity on the Chinese side, the Indians estimate the number of Chinese soldiers killed to be 30 to 43.
What Happened in Galwan?
Indian veterans say it’s important to understand the terrain and the activity happening on the disputed border, called the Line of Actual Control (LAC), between India and China to understand the incident that resulted in the deaths of so many soldiers.
According to Sharma, the incident happened one to two miles away from where the Galwan River, a tributary of the Indus, joins the Shyok River. This Himalayan terrain, over 17,000 feet above sea level and with sub-zero temperatures, is extremely inhospitable. The Indian military is building a road in the region that the Chinese don’t like.
He said neither the Indian nor Chinese sides have road access to the Galwan River, and both sides have been patrolling on foot until recently.
“In the course of the last three to four years, we constructed a major artery which goes along the West of the River Shyok, and created a bridge on the Shyok River,” said Sharma.
The recent escalation started a few weeks ago, after India began building a feeder road to the Galwan Valley. On June 15, the Indian military saw that the Chinese had crossed to the Indian side of the LAC and “occupied areas,” sparking a face-off between the two militaries.
Sharma said the two countries have signed five treaties between 1993 and 2013 that define protocols of engagement on the disputed LAC whenever a controversy or conflict occurs.
“We are supposed to disengage and go back to our own area and then meet at the other personal meetings to resolve issues, and this has been continuing from 1993 onwards. However, in the last five to six years, the PLA has not been following this protocol,” said Sharma.
On June 15, the Indian commanding officer, who was one of the 20 killed, had gone to the LAC and seen Chinese soldiers on the Indian side. “He promptly requested those people vacate and go back … and that’s the time the PLA decided to take the offensive” and attacked, Sharma said.
The skirmish happened on a “small ledge … above the banks of the river,” and when the unarmed Indian soldiers were attacked, it was nighttime, and temperatures were below freezing. Many fell off the ledge and died, according to Sharma, who added that more information is still coming in.
Another Indian veteran, Brig. Amul Asthana, who has served in similarly inhospitable terrain, told The Epoch Times by phone that China wants to take high positions on the LAC for strategic military advantage.
Many of these advantageous positions are currently under India’s control. While the Chinese have built up infrastructure on the LAC, India until recently in many locations was mostly foot-patrolling and has only recently started to build infrastructure there.
Asthana said the terrain becomes increasingly inaccessible after October, and foot patrols become impossible in 20 feet of snow—India also has “winter vacated posts” and “winter cut-off posts” in the region because it doesn’t have adequate infrastructure and logistic feasibility to support a year-round presence.
“If I have access, why should I vacate,” he said, explaining why the PLA creates problems whenever the Indian army tries to build infrastructure on the LAC.
Indian analysts say the incident will change the way the two countries engage with each other in the disputed territory and will lead to more military buildup on the Indian side.
Sharma said it will change the way India handles such issues with the PLA and will lead to serious debate within the Indian army as to how to protect its troops.
“Since the Chinese were prepared with all these, the medieval type of weaponry, which people used two centuries ago, and they were prepared for it at a time when we were just going to negotiate and talk to them, then I believe we need to think in future about why this happened,” said Sharma. “I’m sure that’s an issue of serious debate with the army.”
Girish Kant Pandey, a professor of Defense Studies at Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, in Central India, told The Epoch Times that the incident will push India to develop more infrastructure on the border and will lead to an increase in mountain strike troops.
“India is increasing its mountain strike corps to 200,000. There are possibilities of this to further increase,” said Pandey.
He also mentioned that India will likely increase its long-range missile capabilities as well as its eastern naval fleet.
“There are fewer possibilities that this conflict will escalate,” said Pandey. “A war is not in either country’s interest. The greater an economy, the greater the loss it will suffer due to war.”