Gyamtsho Topden, Leh / S.Govindan, Delhi
Indian Army chief Gen M M Naravane has reviewed the de-escalation process agreed upon by the Indian and Chinese commanders at a marathon 11-hour meeting on Monday (June 22).
After reviewing the contours of the agreement with senior commanders , Naravane visited injured soldiers at Leh and lauded them for ‘holding high the great Indian military tradition through sheer grit and bravery’ .
It is reliably learnt that the Army chief advised ‘maximum caution’ in monitoring the disengagement process , alluding to the surprise Chinese attack on unarmed Indian ‘verification patrols’ on June 15 .
It was not yet clear whether all Indian –and Chinese — patrols would carry arms , albeit in a downward mode to signify no desire for combat, or whether they should still have to leave them behind in bunkers, as per BDCA protocols, to avoid firefights and possible escalation.
But Naravane advised commanders to ensure that regardless of Chinese nit-pricking, Indian patrols should be equipped with ‘sufficient protective gear and deterrence capabilities.’
Indian Army sources have said that Corps Commander level talks held at Moldo-Chushul on Monday (June 22) were held in ‘cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere’ and that both nations arrived at a ‘mutual consensus’ on disengagement’ to disengage from eastern Ladakh.
It said that modalities for disengagement from all contested areas in eastern Ladakh were discussed at the meet.
This was the second Commander-level meeting between the two nuclear-powered nations after the first one held on June 6 to diffuse tension at the Line of Actual Control.
Army sources said the Indian delegation strongly raised with China the ‘premeditated’ assault by Chinese troops on Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley and demanded immediate withdrawal of Chinese troops from all friction points in eastern Ladakh.
The focus of the deliberations was on finalising modalities for disengagement of troops from various areas including Pangong Tso where the two militaries are on a bitter standoff for six weeks.
Tension between India and China escalated significantly in the region after 20 Indian Army personnel were killed by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in a violent clash in Galwan Valley on June 15 that New Delhi termed as a ‘premeditated and planned action’ by the Chinese troops. Many Chinese also died in the Indian fightback during the assault and also in revenge attacks on Monday night.
Field assessments say that final casualties on the Indian side was likely to touch 40 , accounting for missing soldiers who possibly were swept away by the Galwan river after they jumped into it to escape the surprise Chinese attacks.
The Chinese casualties would touch 70 , accounting for the 18-20 killed in the evening brawls , the revenge attacks at night and the landslide which the Chinese feel was triggered by explosions orchestrated by Indian sappers.
Since the capital-based India media , fed ‘sanitized versons ‘ beneficial for disengagement but not an truthful version of unfolding events, only focussed on the evening brawls where the Indians were clearly the losers because of the Chinese surprise, a media whisper was initiated by interested quarters that Lt Gen Harinder Singh would be removed from 14th Corps.
A curtain was deliberately drawn on the revenge attacks by some quarters who have had problems with Lt Gen Singh when he was DGMI. But Army Chief Naravane and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh scuttled the moves because Singh , popular among troops for his no-nonsense tasking and instant rewarding, is a brilliant strategist who has been held back from aggressive area domination and psy-domination by repeated headquarter briefs of 3Ds– defuse, de-escalate, disengage.
But in the dark hours of 15th June, with Indian troops trapped by the Chinese in a treacherous assault, Singh pulled off a brilliant counter-attack led first by the Sikh troops of the Medium Arty7 regiment and later by the Ghatak platoons in the 16th Bihar reserves.
“This was like the India-Zimbabwe match in 1983 — India down 5 for 30 in first 15 voters before Kapil Dev swings around with a unbelievable 175 to win the match,” said a cricket-loving senior officer .
The Chinese social media chatter seemed to be enthusiastically following Indian media stories of Harinder Singh’s possible removal from command , projecting it and welcoming it as Indian efforts to reduce tensions , evidence of which was also sought by Chinese netizens in PM Modi’s ‘no-intrusion’ speech. Their version was Modi is keen on good relations with China but hawks are derailing the process and Harinder Singh was one of them.
“But Naravane’s visit to Leh and his endorsement of Singh’s leadership has put an end to the engineered gossip of Harinder Singh’s removal. The Chief knows only someone like him with a wealth of staff,combat and intelligence as well international and thinktank exposure can handle a foxy opponent like PLA Wstern Theatre commander Gen Zhou,” said a retired senior officer who, by his own admission, closely follows ‘army politics’.
“Singh is chief material, ” he said. “Successful disengagement and ensuring the Chinese move to April status would reinforce his status.”