On the 21st Kargil Victory Day, a tale of two intrusions: Strong in 1999, wavering in 2020 - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 26 July 2020

On the 21st Kargil Victory Day, a tale of two intrusions: Strong in 1999, wavering in 2020

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th July 2020

On Sunday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his tri-service and service chiefs marked the 21st Kargil Vijay Diwas (Kargil Victory Day) by paying homage at the National War Memorial in New Delhi. They were commemorating the sacrifice of over 500 Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the summer of 1999 while successfully throwing back Pakistani soldiers who had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and illegally occupied dominating heights in the Kargil sector.

“Indian armed forces’ victory in Kargil on 26 July 1999 is a saga of strong political, military and diplomatic actions,” stated the ministry of defence on Sunday.

Ironically, even as the government underlined its predecessor’s strong actions in 1999, including the almost immediate decision to use armed force, there are no signs of similar action against soldiers from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which continues to occupy Indian-claimed territory in Eastern Ladakh.

True, there are differences between the Pakistani intrusions of 1999 and China’s intrusions today. In 1972, India and Pakistan had delineated the LoC on a map, so infringements are evident. Meanwhile, the LAC remains contested.

Yet, China has clearly changed the status quo. It has forcibly occupied territory it had never occupied before, blocked Indian patrols’ access to areas they had patrolled for decades and, most provocatively, killed 20 Indian soldiers while they were verifying a promised withdrawal. Most countries would regard these as acts of war.

Meanwhile, there are marked similarities between the 1999 and 2020 intrusions, such as the fact that both took place due to Indian intelligence failures. 

In the early winter of 1998, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) warned the government about Pakistani intrusions into the Kargil sector. In December 1998, Ajit Doval, then additional director of the IB and today the national security advisor (NSA), formally wrote to the prime minister’s office (PMO) revealing that Pakistani irregulars, had crossed the LoC and occupied the heights above Kargil. Neither the government nor the military paid attention.

Similarly, in the lead up to the current crisis, Indian intelligence agencies explicitly warned on April 19 about a PLA build-up close to the LAC. The army, whose own intelligence was picking up the same signals, downplayed it and was taken by surprise when the Chinese wheeled across the LAC into Indian territory.

Unlike in 1999, when the use of military force was almost reflexive, this time the government’s strategy involves a combination of containment and dialogue. Containment involves deploying Indian troops at the PLA’s intrusion points, all through the coming winter if needed, in order to block further PLA ingress and force the Chinese to remain too, or to lose their gains.

The second part of the strategy involves dialogue at multiple levels to reach a face-saving solution. Talks have already taken place at the political-diplomatic level on July 5 between the two countries’ Special Representatives – National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi – and on June 17 between Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Wang Yi. 

In addition, the Working Mechanism has been convened several times and is slated to meet again on Friday, while the senior military commanders, who have met four times, most recently on July 14, might meet again for the fifth time later this week.

New Delhi has apparently taken off the table the option of evicting the PLA intruders with military force. With an estimated 5-6 PLA brigades built up within striking distance of the LAC, there is apprehension that use of force by India could escalate the situation uncontrollably.

While Rajnath Singh warned on July 17 that India would respond with force to “attempts to hurt India’s self-esteem”, the Northern Army Commander, Lieutenant General YK Joshi, was more conciliatory on Saturday. 

“We shall continue all efforts to restore the status-quo-ante along the LAC,” he said.

Meanwhile, the status-quo-ante remains to be achieved in all of the PLA’s five intrusion points.

In the Galwan River valley, PLA and Indian troops have both pulled back but the terms of disengagement have shifted the LAC by one kilometre, to China’s benefit. The LAC, which ran through PP-14, now effectively runs through the Y-Nullah Junction.

Troops have also disengaged partially in the Hot Spring-Gogra area. Many of the 1,000 PLA soldiers that were three-four kilometres on the Indian side of the LAC at PP-15 have disengaged, but some remain a kilometre inside Indian territory.

At PP-17A too, many of the 1,500 Chinese soldiers who had intruded across the LAC have now withdrawn, but several hundred still remain in the vicinity of Gogra Post.

In the Pangong Tso lake north bank, most of the Indian and Chinese soldiers have disengaged from their confrontation at Finger 4. However, Indian troops are now more than 10 kilometres from Finger 8, which was the effective LAC till April, and which Indian patrols visited regularly.

Meanwhile, the PLA is refusing to even discuss intrusions in the Depsang sector, where several thousand Chinese soldiers are 15-18 kilometres inside Indian territory. By blocking a choke-point called Bottleneck, Indian patrols can no longer reach five of their traditional Patrolling Points: PP-10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13.


  1. The enemy is not the same. The foe here is much stronger, so its wise to tread carefully.

  2. Scylla & Charybdis26 July 2020 at 21:45

    The later statement of GoI addressing the Citizenry to the effect that it is giving the Armed Forces a 'free hand' in the matter amounts to a specific ,implicit admission that prior to the said statement ,the posture of the GoI was to exercise restraint and not respond in the face of the Exercise build up by the Chinese.

  3. Pakistan would have deployed tactical nuclear weapons at the LAC.

  4. Mr.Victor Gao a top person of the Chinese establishment has made China’s position clear in two articles that were published in The Wire on 23rd and 24th of July. First he explains the Chinese actions in the following words:
    “Pangong lake, at the other end of the road, is 134 kms long and G219 skirts its eastern shore just as the road to DBO skirts its western edge. It therefore provides a swift route for moving large numbers of troops, artillery and armour from deep inside Tibet to places from which they can cut off the road to DBO within hours. Occupying the heights above finger 4, can give the PLA the capacity to interdict any Indian counter-attack on Chinese landing craft in the lake. A similar dominating position in the heights above the Galwan valley can give the PLA a second choke point from which to target the road from Ladakh to DBO. ”
    At another place he mentions that this was a prelude to an attack but China has so far temporarily refrained to give India time to reflect and change course .Then in the second part of his article he asserts that in order to avoid war India must
    (a) Dissociate itself from QUAD
    (b) Recognize Gilgit as a part of Pakistan
    (c) Remove all restrictions from Chinese apps and trade
    (d) Join BRI which last would by itself achieve the above objectives without political turmoil.
    This article coming from a person who was an interpreter to an erstwhile Chinese Prime Minister is clearly an ultimatum to India. Ignoring this article is just like ignoring and downplaying the intrusions in the Galwan valley.It will not change the situation on the ground .It is essential the Government be more transparent about the situation so that the public is not caught unawares if it takes a turn for the worse.

  5. "the LAC remains contested" - the concept of 'LAC' is bogus since China progressively issues maps drawing different LACs that extend their hold. It is the same tactics they used during 1950-60 to dupe Nehru-Menon when they changed maps of Tibet every time there was a negotiation to set the border. I guess China invented that concept of LAC sometime in the 1990s after Sumdorong Chu to lull the Indian state and military to believe that PLA will remain behind their LAC, and gullible India swallowed the bait.
    I do not agree with the term "Indian-claimed" territory in Eastern Ladakh. I would have qualified it as "Indian-sovereign" territory since Ladakh has always been part of Maharajah's Kashmir kingdom. It has been recorded somewhere that after the 1962 debacle when Nehru realized his folly in foreign affairs, he had emphatically stated China claims territory which for ten thousand years did not belong to them, and had India the military power, India would have liberated Tibet.
    In the international world boundary between nation-states have been settled by fighting wars. It does not get into the head of India's political masters in diplomacy, and I would say also commanders of armed forces that India will have to raise the stake to militarily engage China to secure her border, not otherwise. And the sooner that battle comes, the better will be for the future generations of Indians.


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