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Clouds of war are thundering over Ladakh. China claims Ladakh as part of Tibet. PLA has intruded 3/4 kms in Galwan Valley. They are fully entrenched at Chang-Chenmo. Our assets have been destroyed, routine patrolling and road construction blocked. Their tanks and fighter aircraft have been sighted close to the intrusion. It looks far more serious than Depsang or Doklam.
489 kms stretch of LAC, is frequently transgressed by both sides to put across their claim but never-ever any side set up any military camp as currently done. Hence the alarm and the heated debate.
There is nothing surprising because when J&K was reorganised after abrogation of its special status, China threatened India and raised the issue at the UNSC. While we have been parroting settlement of disputed LAC through dialogue, China has been flexing its muscles. Currently, Ladakh is very vital to her strategic and economic interests. Importance of Ladakh is not new to any defence analyst. It was so well known to Dogra Rulers of J&K and their military commanders right from early thirties of the 19th century. Hence the kingdom of Ladakh was conquered by the Dogras led by legendary Gen. Zorawar Singh and made part of the empire in 1834. It was lost to Sino-Tibetan forces in 1841 after Gen. Zorawar Singh’s martyrdom on 12 December 1841 during the Tibet invasion but was restored by Raja Gulab Singh. In 1947 Ladakh was almost lost to Pak invaders but the Indian army rescued it. In 1962, Kumaonis under Maj. Shaitan Singh, PVC fought to the last man to defend Ladakh. In 1999, Indian army threw out strongly entrenched Pak invaders from its Kargil heights. Since Ladakh is strategically vital to India’s security, it has to be defended aggressively. Infact Indian forces should have been building posts on the LAC or across it in Ladakh to check further PLA incursions instead of positioning Tanks and Aircrafts in depth.
When most of the world is targeting China for causing the global doom and gloom for hiding a deadly threat of Wuhan Virus, army should have made the best of it. Otherwise also it is a critical time, possibly most dangerous, for China when its aggressive forays in South China Sea and Taiwan Strait are being fiercely countered by the US 7th Fleet and suppression of human rights in Hong Kong being criticised world over. India should exploit Chinese criticalities for a tactical advantage in Ladakh. On 6th May itself a Battalion should have gone deep into disputed area and entrenched there to call a spade a spade. Ironically it might become another Dokalm. But the great foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is no more to resolve it. Indian Army allowed it little realizing that China has an eye over Ladakh for its CPEC and Diamer-Basha Dam in Gilgit-Baltistan. Army can’t skip criticism irrespective of Corona. I have seen Indian Army Patrol Boats aggressively chasing away Chinese Patrol Boats in Pangong Tso in July-August 1971 while we camped at Finger 4 to establish an ‘Observation Post’ at Ane-La to keep watch over their Rima Regimental (Bde) garrison.
We must learn from the history. Dogras ruled over Ladakh for 113 years and used it for the conquests of Gilgit-Baltistan and Western Tibet. J&K Forces had defeated a large Sino-Tibetan army in Ladakh in 1842. When the news of Tibet Debacle and death of Gen Zorawar Singh reached Raja Gulab Singh in February 1842, he was leading Sikh Forces during the first Anglo-Afghan War. He was shaken. He requested the British to relieve him so that he could retrieve the situation. It wasn’t agreed to because British had no faith in any other Sikh or Dogra Commander. They however offered to mediate to have Ladakh vacated. But Gulab Singh was determined to throw the Tibetan out with his own strength. Ultimately he was permitted to leave Peshawar in May 1842 after he had made all the arrangements to ensure British success.
In the meantime Raja Dhian Singh had rushed to Jammu and raised an army of 6,000. After Gulab Singh’s arrival the force moved to Srinagar under Wazir Ratnu and Dewan Hari Chand for despatch to Ladakh. In the meantime Chinese Emperor had accepted Ladakh’s and Gilgit-Baltistan’s allegiance to Tibet. Additional 5000 Tibetan troops had left Lhasa for Leh. Orders had been issued to Chinese forces in Western Tibet to move to Leh. Thus a showdown was unavoidable. While the Tibetan and Chinese froces descended to Leh unhindered, Dogras had to fight all the way through while passing through areas where open rebellion had taken place and population turned hostile. Seeing Dogras at Leh, Ladakhi rebels and Sino-Tibetan forces were terror stricken. They lifted the siege of Leh Fort and fled towards Rudok. Main fight took place at Lung-Wu in which Dogras got pushed back to Pangong Lake.
Dogras executed an innovative strategy. They erected a dam upstream Drangste. On 10th August 1842 they caused enemy positions to be flooded which forced them to abandon the fortifications. Thereafter they were fiercely chased beyond Chushul and disintegrated. This was a most significant victory of state forces (Dogras) which marks a historic milestone of history. (Will we dam Galwan and Shyok Rivers and drown Chang-Chenmo). From a position of strength, ‘Treaty of Chushul’ was signed on 14 September 1842. Wazir Ratnu and Dewan Hari Chand signed the treaty on behalf of Raja Gulab Singh while Chinese Gen. Saicho on behalf of Chinese Emperor. Dogras legitimacy over Ladakh was recognised and traditional boundaries between Tibet and Ladakh restored with undertaking that they will never commit any aggression on Ladakh. Had our army evicted the intruder or infiltrated elsewhere behind it, this treaty was the safeguard. Since the surprise is lost, military option has out and for the diplomacy it is too early. In the meantime let us bask in the glory of young Lt who punched a Chinese Major to profusely bleed him
Author: Col J P Singh (Retd.)
The Author is a columnist and write for local and national papers and periodicals.On commissioning joined the Bn (BIHAR REGT) at Darbuk, Ladakh and did extensive patrolling along Pangong Tso and Shyok Valley. Awarded Commando Dagger in the very first professional course i.e Commando Course with instructional grading in various other courses. In operational tenures served for 6 years on the LoC and two and half years in Op Pawan (Srilanka).