Galwan Valley face-off: India changes rules of engagement at LAC

ITBP personnel practise yoga at Thiksay Monastery to mark the 6th International Day of Yoga, in Leh, Ladakh, on Sunday. Photo: PTI
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday told India’s top military brass to be “fully prepared” to take any unprecedented action at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China.

Sources said the government had asked the Army to adopt a different tactical approach in guarding the border — the LAC — with China.

India has already mobilised fighter jets and sent thousands of additional Army troops to forward locations along the border with China after 20 Indian Army personnel were killed in violent clashes with the Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15.

In the meeting on Sunday, Singh told the top military officers to maintain a strict vigil on Chinese activities around the land border, the airspace, and in strategic sea lanes, the sources said.

Following the Galwan incident, military sources said Indian troops would no longer be bound by the long-held practice of not using firearms in faceoffs. Sources said a “tough” approach is being adopted to guard the border.

The meeting was attended by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh, and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria.

At the all-party meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said the armed forces had been given a free hand to take all necessary steps. In the June 15 clashes, 76 Indian troops were injured and 10 held captive, and later released, by the Chinese.

The Opposition had criticised the government when it emerged that the Indian troops did not use weapons. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had then said that while Indian troops carried weapons, they adhered to “long-standing practice (as per 1996 and 2005 agreements) not to use firearms during face-offs”. Sources indicated that this approach now stands changed. 

On Saturday, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria had said the Air Force was monitoring Chinese air activity over Tibet and had also flown combat air patrols following reports of Chinese incursions at multiple sites in Ladakh.

After questions whether the government has given up India’s claims on the Galwan Valley, the Ministry of External Affairs had on Saturday rejected Chinese assertions that the area fell within its side of the LAC.

While the Chinese are yet to disclose the casualties its troops suffered in the June 15 clash, Union Minister and former Army chief General VK Singh (retd) on Saturday told a television channel the number of PLA soldiers killed in the clash in Galwan Valley was more than 40.  “If we lost 20 soldiers, more than double the number were killed on their side,” he said. “China hides numbers. In the 1962 war too, it did not accept the casualties.”   

The Congress, meanwhile, continued to ask the government questions on the Galwan Valley incident.

In a jibe at the PM, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted that Narendra Modi “is actually Surender Modi”. The former Congress president referred to an article published in Japan Times by defence expert Brahma Chellaney, which claimed that India’s “policy of appeasement” has failed to deter China from adopting an aggressive approach towards India.

Congress Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal asked the government five questions on the Galwan Valley attack, including questioning the PM’s statement on Friday that “neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured”.

He said security experts, Army generals, and satellite imagery suggest Chinese intrusion into Pangong Tso Lake is up to nearly 8 km, with construction of over 60 permanent structures, including bunkers and boat pads and occupation up to Finger 4. “Why is the government denying brazen Chinese transgression?” Sibal said.

Demand for Parliament meeting 

A meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on external affairs should be called at the earliest, several panel members from the opposition parties said on Sunday.

Former home minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said: “A meeting must be called and the foreign secretary should brief on the violent stand-off between forces of India and China in Galwan Valley and members must be allowed to call other top officials of the government who can throw more light on this.” 

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu have asked the secretary generals to explore the possibility of arranging a meeting via video conference.

In another development, sources said the defence ministry has extended the financial powers given to three vice service chiefs to purchase ammunition and weapons up to Rs 500 crore per acquisition. The government had increased the amount from Rs 100 crore to Rs 500 crore a couple of years back to help plug shortcomings in weapons and ammunition at the ground level, and this has been extended again.

Minister’s Russia visit 

In the Sunday meeting, the defence minister discussed some critical defence deals that are expected to be inked during his visit to Russia. Singh’s meeting took place ahead of his June 24 visit to Russia. He will attend the Victory Day Military Parade being organised in Moscow on the 75th anniversary of the Russia victory in World War II. 

A tri-service 75-member Indian military contingent has reached Moscow to participate in the parade.

The PM issued a message in the morning on the occasion of the International Day of Yoga. He said yoga helps boost confidence and morale so that we can overcome crises and win. “Yoga is the name of staying the same and staying steadfast in every situation — favourable-unfavourable, success-failure, joy-sorrow,” he said.

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