File photo of Indian & Chinese army troops during a joint Army exercise in Jaipur

China had been witnessing our soldiers being periodically stone-pelted in Jammu and Kashmir by paid mobs, and even when they opened fire in self-defence with injuries to own personnel and government property destroyed, FIRs were lodged against them

by Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd)

It is doubtful if anywhere else in the world soldiers of two opposing armies indulge in physical jostling, as has been happening between our soldiers and that of China in the past several years. This type of pushing each other and elbowing is commonly witnessed in protests political rallies world over and in parliaments of many countries as seen on electronic media but certainly not between two armies. If this strange activity was only limited to jostling each other, there would have been no need to pen this article. But things have gone far beyond.

On August 15, 2017, PLA soldiers resorted to stone pelting and using iron rods on our patrol in the vicinity of Pangong Tso lake, a video-clip of which had gone viral on electronic and social media. This was the first time PLA indulged in stone-pelting and why would they not do so? China had been witnessing our soldiers being periodically stone-pelted in Jammu and Kashmir by paid mobs, and even when they opened fire in self-defence with injuries to own personnel and government property destroyed, FIRs were lodged against them. The readers can imagine what would happen to individuals pelting stones at security forces in China or Pakistan. In Israel, a stone-pelter can be jailed for 20 years.

The Kargil conflict was brought to our homes by the electronic media. So it is no surprise that some clashes on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) can be viewed by the public at large. Whenever such incidents occur, both sides resort to videotaping for sending reports up the chain though more video cameras are visible with PLA soldiers. Interestingly, a closer examination of video recording of the incident on August 15, 2017 proximate to Pangong Tso shows it was shot from a height on the Chinese side.

In May 2020, PLA made intrusions in the areas of Galwan, Fingers proximate to Pangong Tso and Demchok in Eastern Ladakh, and Naku La in Sikkim. At places, they came in large numbers and reportedly used clubs with iron spikes and iron rods, in addition to stone-pelting. Our troops would have responded with stones at best. This is not about how many casualties occurred on each side and in which area. This is also not about videos on social media by Indians and foreigners and responses in support and denial — one side saying there is no physical fight now and the other side saying we know troops have physically disengaged that but these clips are not shot in studio. This is simply to reiterate that grievous inquirers have occurred using the type of implements-cum-weapons that are worse than non-lethal weapons.

The psyche of the PLA soldier has been under discussion with voices within China calling them “wimps” as a result of the one-child policy. A counter view is that after all they won the 1962 war. But in 1962, the Chinese used ‘human waves’ tactics, our troops ran out of ammunition, and China infiltrated sizable forces via Tulung La, Mago, Poshing La and established roadblocks at Nyukmadong and Sapper, paralysing poorly equipped Indian forces that were poorly led because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s idiosyncrasies. Still, PLA suffered 2,419 casualties, including 722 killed officially, and the actual figures may be more. Interestingly, for the 1962 invasion China had conscripted a large number of Tibetans and Uyghurs.

The real worth of PLA emerged in 1979 when China invaded Vietnam “to teach Vietnam a lesson”. By that time, the one-child policy had started taking effect. The war lasted three weeks and six days (February 17 to March 16). According to Vietnam, PLA suffered total of 62,500 casualties, 550 military vehicles and 115 artillery pieces were destroyed. China naturally contests these figures. Xi Jinping (now China’s President) was a Secretary in China’s Ministry of Defense then. With Chinese withdrawal from Vietnam, Vietnam continued to occupy Cambodia till 1989. Border clashes between China and Vietnam continued till 1990.

There is no doubt one should never underestimate the enemy, but fact remains that the PLA has never won a war other than the unequal one in 1962 and current crop of PLA is without any battle experience. The question is, why are we resigned to our soldiers being subjected to this utterly ridiculous behaviour by the PLA? Are we training for WW-IV which is thought to be fought with stones? Do we not understand the damage being done to the pride and fighting spirit of the Indian soldier? Isn’t it a shame that we hide behind the usual cover of protocols and mechanisms when PLA honours none in using clubs with iron spikes and iron rods? Unfortunately, our defence allocations have been poor, sometimes even lower than 1962, but do we have to subject our soldiers to this ignominy while we duck behind ‘differing perceptions of LAC’, terming intrusions as transgressions so no one questions the hierarchy?

A veteran General says, “It may be interesting to go back to the Nathu La Incident of 1967. The Chinese kept on encroaching and we kept on demolishing. The Billi Patrol along the LAC was very aggressive between both the armies. Finally, the Chinese retaliated and in strength and we gave them the bloody nose.” The 2017 incident at Pangong Tso when PLA resorted to stone-pelting and using iron rods happened when the present Secretary Department of Military Affairs and CDS was Army Chief. Orders to our troops should have been reviewed then itself but nothing happened. There was no comment by him then and none now. Earlier, video clips also showed PLA soldiers walking up to our defences or wall and kicking it. Why is such pussyfooting acceptable? A clear signal needs to be given to the Chinaman or are we too scared to call their bluff? There is an urgent need to rethink orders in such situations. Additionally, it is time to rectify the stupidity of CAPF deployed at the LAC following their own chain of command rather than being placed under command of the Army.