The commanding officer of the PLA battalion deployed in eastern Ladakh and his second-in-command died in the violent faceoff between Chinese and Indian soldiers in the Galwan area of eastern Ladakh on Monday, people familiar with the developments said on Friday. China has confirmed that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) suffered casualties but has dodged repeated questions from international media about details of the clash.
Twenty Indian soldiers including a colonel-ranked officer were killed in the violent scrap, the first Indian casualties in a clash with the PLA in 45 years.
“This was the first clash of its kind on the Line of Actual Control because India has the capability and the will to stand up to an aggressive China,” a top military commander told Hindustan Times.
Chinese troops, which had mobilised soldiers along the Line of Actual Control and set up a stand-off with India for nearly six weeks, refused to back down in line with the understanding reached between top commanders of the two armies on June 6. What started off as an argument between local commanders of the two sides on June 15 evening after the PLA attempted to build a structure on the Indian side during the de-escalation process soon spiralled into a full-blown fisticuffs.
A senior government official said the PLA clearly was attempting to execute its “Walk in Strategy” in Galwan. But this was contested and China had to pay the price with equal, if not more. According to inputs available with South Block, the PLA had to evacuate nearly 35 soldiers and officers who were either injured or had died in the clash.
“Our information indicates that the Chinese side lost the commanding officer of the battalion deployed near Patrolling Point 14 of the Galwan region where the two armies clashed. The battalion’s second-in-command also died in the incident,” a senior official at South Block said.
India has blamed China for the clash, underscoring that the Chinese side had “unilaterally attempted to change the status quo there” and took “premeditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties suffered by both sides”.
Officials said the bloody face-off at Galwan would be a turning point in relations between the two countries, not just because of the bitterness that is likely to creep into relations between the two giants but also because of the message that it had sent.
“This face-off has demonstrated that Ladakh isn’t the South China Sea where the Chinese would be able to unilaterally change the status quo,” one of them said.
It also marks a perceptible shift in the way India handles issues relating to the border and sovereignty, he said.
“Thus far, undemarcated borders were being managed through protocols and agreements where military actions were not employed. This incident makes it clear that if Beijing disregards agreements and attempts to unilaterally change the status quo, the Indian army is prepared to deal with the situation, firmly,” a senior government functionary told Hindustan Times.
This is the message that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had delivered this week as well. That India wanted and worked for peace but if provoked, was capable of giving “a befitting reply”. PM Modi is expected to underscore the same message on the India-China border at the all party meeting that he has convened.
Political will to take on China, a senior defence ministry official said, is only one of the reasons why it has been possible for India to take this approach. There has been a massive improvement in India’s military capabilities over the last few years, both in terms of force levels, training, procedures and most importantly, battle hardened troops.
The military also has access to better weaponry under the modernisation plan, he said, conceding that it hadn’t moved as fast as the government would have liked it to proceed. The armed forces, he said, also have the advantage in application of air power and superior capability at sea. And a rapidly improving border infrastructure that had, in the first place, irked the Chinese because this would enable the military to exercise better control of the areas along the LAC.