A trust deficit persists between the Indian and Chinese armies a year after their soldiers were involved in a brutal clash along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the remote Galwan Valley, and the lack of confidence in each other has hampered the disengagement of rival troops from friction points in eastern Ladakh, people familiar with the border row said on Monday on the condition of anonymity.

The Galwan Valley clash of June 15, 2020 was the first deadly skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops along the LAC in more than five decades, and pushed the bilateral relationship to breaking point -- it left 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops dead.

“It will be extremely hard to bridge the trust deficit created by the actions of the Chinese PLA in Galwan Valley. The damage to the military relationship has been done. The current generation of soldiers will never forget what happened in Galwan,” said an official who has commanded troops in the sensitive Ladakh sector.

India and China have been locked in a standoff in the Ladakh sector for over a year, and are currently negotiating a withdrawal of troops and weapons from friction points on the disputed border.

Indian soldiers, led by Colonel B Santosh Babu, fought off numerically superior Chinese troops in the seven-hour conflict near Patrolling Point 14 in Galwan Valley. Babu, 37, was among the 20 Indian soldiers killed in action.

Babu, the commanding officer of 16 Bihar, and five other soldiers who displayed outstanding courage during the skirmish with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were awarded wartime gallantry awards. While Babu was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the other five got Vir Chakras (VrC). MVC is India’s second-highest war-time gallantry award, followed by VrC. Only one of the VrC awardees is alive.

The lack of trust has cast its shadow on the disengagement process, said a second official.

“Both armies have not thinned their deployments in their depth areas because there is no trust. Both sides can deploy more troops to forward locations if needed. They are also building infrastructure to support military deployments in the Ladakh theatre,” he said.

The Indian Army and PLA have held 10 rounds of talks between corps commander-ranked officers after the skirmish, but the negotiations have only had limited success in hammering out an agreement for disengagement of rival soldiers from friction points. The first round of talks took place on June 6 before the Galwan Valley clash.

The only significant outcome of the military dialogue so far has been the disengagement of front-line troops and weaponry in the Pangong Tso sector in mid-February.

On May 28, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that trust levels are bound to be low when a major standoff takes place between two countries leading to casualties on both sides. “However, it is always our endeavour that this trust deficit should not hinder the negotiation process. As two professional armies, it is imperative that we resolve the situation and make progress to restore trust at the earliest,” he said.

The Chinese PLA cannot be trusted it will exploit any opportunity that comes its way, said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal (Retd).

“The Chinese in their ancient philosophy have a content of deceit. The same philosophy has been continued by the present strategists and planners of China…In Galwan, the Indian armed forces stood up to the Chinese and sent a clear message that we shall defend our territory at all costs,” Jaswal added.

While disengagement from Pangong Tso has been completed, talks have not yielded any results in resolving the problems at Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang.

Also, both armies have 50,000 to 60,000 troops each in the Ladakh theatre and the deployments haven’t thinned after the disengagement in the Pangong Tso sector.

Naravane earlier said his soldiers were on high alert as PLA continued to base its troops and mechanised elements including tanks in its “immediate depth” across the LAC from where they could be deployed to forward areas at short notice. (Immediate depth in the context of the Ladakh sector refers to a distance of 150km to 200km from the LAC.)