|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On the first day of his visit to forward areas, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Ladakh on July 17, accompanied by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane. Before the visit Rajnath tweeted, "Leaving for Leh on a two-day visit to Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir. I shall be visiting the forward areas to review the situation at the borders and also interact with the Armed Forces personnel deployed in the region. Looking forward to it." This was the first visit by the Defence Minister to Ladakh after the India-China stand-off since early May and the scuffle between troops of both sides in the area of Galwan where 20 Indians and some 43-49 PLA were killed.
Both the sides recently held the fourth round of talks on disengagement in Eastern Ladakh. In the talks between corps commanders of the Indian and Chinese armies that started on July 14 and stretched into the early hours of July 15, both sides discussed the roadmap for further reducing tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The focus of the latest round of military talks reportedly was to hammer out a consensus on easing tensions in the Finger Area near Pangong Tso and Depsang plains as well as pulling back weapons and equipment from friction points in other sectors. Similar previous attempts to reduce tensions along the contested border were made on June 6, June 22 and June 30. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was earlier scheduled to visit forward areas including Eastern Ladakh in early July but was postponed because of the unscheduled visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Ladakh on July 3. The Prime Minister without mentioning China has signaled Beijing by saying that the “era of expansionism is over”.
During Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s current visit coming two weeks after that of the Prime Minister, he was briefed by the Army Chief, Army Commander and the Corps Commander on the latest on-ground situation after the disengagement process at the LAC, bringing out further modalities for disengagement and more specifically the relocation of troops at the flashpoints at Pangong Tso and Hot Springs. Thereafter, Defence Minister witnessed an airborne exercise of para-dropping including High Attitude jumping and Low Opening (HALO) drop of free-fallers at Stakna close to Leh. Stakna is a drop zone for airborne exercises, where airborne exercises are routinely held and where a joint India-US airborne exercise has also been held in the past. At Stakna, the Defence Minister also witnessed a mechanised forces’ exercise involving assault by T-90 tanks and BMP infantry combat vehicles. The intensive exercise included Para-Special Forces, Ladakh Scouts, T-90S main battle tank (MBT), ICVs, Rudra attack helicopters and C-130 Super Hercules aircraft showcasing application of integrated combined forces in high altitude terrain. He also witnessed scoping weapons and inspected a Pika machine gun.
The Defence Minister then visited Lukung post located on the northwestern side of the Pangong Tso Lake which is 43 km by road from the Finger 4 area, where the troops of India and China are required to disengage. At Lukung, Rajnath Singh interacted with Army troops and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel. Addressing the troops, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, "Whatever talks have happened so far, the matter should get resolved... but to what extent it would be resolved, I cannot guarantee. However, I want to assure you that not an inch of our land can be taken by any power in the world. If a solution can be found by talks, there is nothing better." He further said, “India is the only country in the world that has given a message of peace to the world. We have never attacked a nation and have never staked claim to any country's land. India believes in the message - 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' (world is one family). "We do not want unrest, we want peace. It has not been our nature to hurt any country's pride. If any attempt is made to hurt India's pride, it won't be tolerated... we will give a befitting reply. We are proud of our army. I feel proud as I stand among our jawans. Recently what happened between troops of India and China at PP14, how some of our personnel sacrificed their lives protecting our border. I am happy to meet you all but also saddened because of their loss. I pay my tributes to them. Our jawans have laid their lives for the country. All 130 crore Indians are saddened by the loss."
After reviewing operational preparedness on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) - the de facto border between India and China, the Defence Minister then flew to Srinagar to review situation on Line of Control (LOC) with Pakistan. The Defence Minister’s admission to what extent the current stand-off would be resolved cannot be guaranteed reflects the criticality of the situation. China continues to accuse India of aggression and claims entire Galwan Valley as Chinese Territory. Chinese intrusion in Finger Areas of Pangong Tso Lake included construction of multiple pill boxes on the spur of Finger 4 overlooking our post. Not only these need to be removed, China must vacate all area up to Finger 9. In Depsang Plains, PLA has intruded to Y Junction which is 19-km deep – same as they had intruded to in 2013. On the Chinese side of the LAC, there is a mechanised division in addition to a border division. India has mobilised enough to block any nefarious Chinese designs towards Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO). India will need to stick to its will for PLA to withdraw to April 2020 line and keep the military option open in case talks do not succeed, which cannot be discounted if China decides to force fait accompli on us and test our will.