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Chinese President will not forget June 16 any time soon: Gen Naravane on Galwan Valley clashes

Chinese President will not forget June 16 any time soon: Gen Naravane on Galwan Valley clashes
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New Delhi: China followed “wolf-warrior diplomacy” and “salami-slicing” tactics with impunity browbeating smaller neighbours and it took the Indian Army to show to the world that “enough is enough” and challenge the “neighbourhood bully”, says Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane, the 28th Chief of Army Staff, recounting the Indian response to the Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh in 2020.

In his memoirs ‘Four Stars of Destiny’, Naravane, providing a rare insight into the deadly Galwan Valley clashes, says Chinese President Xi Jinping will not forget June 16 any time soon as China’s People’s Liberation Army suffered “fatal casualties” for the first time in over two decades in the fighting.

Naravane, one of the foremost Army Generals, provided a gripping account of the India-China confrontation before and after the deadly Galwan Valley incident, India’s overall response to the Chinese action and how it served as a catalyst to firm up the Army’s combat readiness along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“It was one of the saddest days of my entire career,” says Naravane recalling the death of 20 Army personnel in the Galwan Valley clashes in June 2020.

His tenure as the Army Chief from December 31, 2019 to April 30, 2022 was primarily marked by the Chinese challenges along the contested border as well as the rolling out of long-term reform measures to enhance the combat capabilities of the force.

“June 16 is (Chinese President) Xi Jinping’s birthday. This is not a day he will forget any time soon. For the first time in over two decades, the Chinese and the PLA had suffered fatal casualties,” Naravane writes.

“They had been following wolf-warrior diplomacy and salami-slicing tactics everywhere with impunity, browbeating smaller neighbours like Nepal and Bhutan, while staking their ever-increasing claims in the South China Sea, without having to pay any costs, especially in terms of human lives.”

“It took India and the Indian Army to show to the world that enough is enough and to challenge the neighbourhood bully.”

Delving into the overall situation along the frontier, Naravane, at the same time, suggests having a “non-aggression” pact between the two countries pending the settlement of the overall boundary dispute, saying it would go a long way in restoring confidence and pave the way for de-escalation and de-induction of forces.

‘Four Stars of Destiny’ published by Penguin Random House India will hit the stands next month.

On the Galwan Valley incident, Naravane says it occurred in view of the Chinese PLA refusing to remove two tents that it had erected in Patrolling Point 14 (PP-14), adding following the adversary’s refusal, the Indian Army decided to pitch its own tents in the same general area.

The eastern Ladakh border row began in May 2020. Naravane says flag-level meetings had been continuing at other locations then, including at PP-15 and PP-17A, where troops fell back over agreed distances, thereby reducing the chances of violent face-offs.

“At PP-14, however, whenever we asked the PLA to remove their tents, they kept changing their stance. From ‘some more time was needed’, to ‘we will check with our superiors’, to it ‘being beyond the mandate of the talks’.”

“From this stonewalling, it became evident that there had been no intention of removing those tents in the first place. To counter this, we also decided to pitch our own tents in the same general area,” he writes.

Naravane says when Indian Army personnel went to pitch the tents, there was a violent reaction from the Chinese side.

“Col Santosh Babu, Commanding Officer of 16 BIHAR, went forward with a small party of troops to attempt to defuse the situation but the PLA were in no mood to relent and attacked the CO’s party too,” he says.

“Thereafter, it became a free-for-all. With darkness setting in, both sides rushed in additional troops and a see-saw engagement continued throughout the night,” he recounts.

Although armed, neither side opened fire, instead using batons or clubs and throwing or rolling down stones on each other’s positions, he says.

The former Army Chief says due to better connectivity on their side, the PLA were able to move troops forward in armoured personnel carriers which changed the balance in their favour.

Naravane says he told then Northern Army Commander Lt Gen YK Joshi during a phone call at 1:30 am on June 16 that the Army must hit back and make the PLA pay the price for their misadventure. “Daylight revealed a not-so-favourable situation.”

“Few jawans who could not make it back at night or who had been separated started trickling back. Five jawans had died of injuries in the melee. The next morning, as the head count was taken, we realised many were missing,” he says.

“As tense negotiations began, many of our boys, who had either got disoriented or had been briefly detained by the PLA without food or medical aid, returned to base,” he says.

“However, 15 of them succumbed to the combined effects of their injuries and hypothermia. It was one of the saddest days of my entire career.”

The Galwan Valley clashes on June 15, 2020 marked the most serious military conflicts between India and China in decades and the full extent of the deadliest confrontation was known the next day.

“We are in a profession where death is always lurking around the corner.

“Every patrol or ambush can be your last. As a Company and Battalion Commander, my unit had suffered casualties, and I was always stoic in the face of adversity or bad news. Yet, losing 20 men in a day was hard to bear,” he notes.

About the casualties on the Chinese side, Naravane says it was evident that they “too suffered substantially”.

“Our men who were in Chinese hands had been kept out in the open and they had seen several bodies being fished out of the river. Whenever that happened, they were subjected to a fresh round of beatings,” Naravane writes.

“The sheer savagery of their response was in itself indicative of the losses they had suffered. Initially, they did not admit to any casualties at all; then many months later, admitted to four or five killed, including the CO on their side,” he says.

Naravane also mentioned a report by a group of Australian researchers that put the figure of Chinese fatalities to at least 38, A separate Russian (TASS) report put the figure closer to 45 killed, which was consistent with other intelligence reports, including those from the US, he says.

Naravane says the time is ripe for the resumption of the special-representative level talks to settle the border question between the two sides.

“Pending the settlement of the boundary dispute, which is likely to be time-consuming, articulation of a ‘non-aggression’ pact between the two countries would go a long way in restoring confidence, paving the way for de-escalation and de-induction of forces from Tibet/Ladakh,” he said.

“Such a pact would be somewhat akin to what China and the ASEAN countries are attempting to formalise,” he said.

The former Army Chief says the crisis in eastern Ladakh served as a catalyst for the Army’s rebalancing to the northern front. The Army moved many key units to the northern front from other parts following the Chinese aggression.

“Though still inadequate, the increase in force ratios on the Northern Front will definitely make the PLA think twice before embarking on any misadventure, especially now that we have the offensive capability to take the battle into Chinese territory,” Naravane says.

“In our posture against China, we have moved up from dissuasive deterrence (defensive) to credible deterrence (offensive defence). With these developments, the PLA must have realised that a military solution to the border problem is improbable,” he adds.

‘Wolf-warrior’ diplomacy is a term used for a kind of assertive diplomacy. Salami Slicing is a tactic used to capture territory piece by piece.


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