‘Let’s hurt them economically’: General VK Singh on India-China border row
Minister of state for road transport and highways and former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General VK Singh said the latest transgression by China into Indian territory has created a trust deficit. He also said war is the last resort, but there are many ways, including an economic boycott that can be an apt response to China.
Here are the excerpts of Singh’s conversation with HT
Q: As an ex-army chief what is your reading of the ground situation?
A: It is firmly in control of the Indian troops. There are no intrusions. There are transgressions, not intrusions. Where PP 14 is concerned, there is no intrusion whatsoever. Where PP 15 area is concerned, every year they have been trying to transgress and every year we push them to go back.
Where Pangong Tso is concerned, this is not just a yearly feature, but happens in the summer and sometimes in the winter also. These have been happening, the only difference this time is that the transgression has involved a certain amount of stealth in the Pangong Tso area, they’ve done things which they have never done earlier.
Q: Like what?
A: Trying to land some troops behind Finger 4, this they did for the first time. And the aim is clear - they want to push us from Finger 4. Our people, however, will take care of that.
Q: Is that what the negotiation and talks were about?
A: The talks were about wherever there have been transgression - like at PP 14 where they said the LAC is not this way but is a different way. They have been told that we’ve been sitting here on this for decades now, where is the doubt. Same is true for other regions including Chumar. They try and come to the Heights opposite the DBO. All this is very old it’s not new. What is new is as the infrastructure becomes better they try to overawe us by more strength or vehicles.
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Q: There are questions about why there was ambiguity about the Chinese being on our territory and now them claiming the Galwan.
A: They are not on our territory. The LAC is an interpretation from a map given in 1959 and the Chinese keep advancing some claim or the other. The LAC is not marked on the ground, there is no agreement on it. There is a certain amount of flexibility that exists out there. But there are places where both sides know their sides and ensure these are protected. Where there is no man’s land, which comes up because of these perceptional differences, is where these patrol face-offs take place.
Q: What details do we have of the casualties on the Chinese side? Did we detain any PLA soldiers and how many?
A: In the 1962 war, they never told anybody how many casualties they suffered. It was sometime in the 2000s when they said we suffered a few hundred (casualties), but people who fought know exactly how much they had suffered. They are good at deception because they don’t want the people to get anti-government or raise objections.
I’m quite sure they must be disposing of the dead also in a manner that others don’t come to know. There was talk of 43 persons in the beginning, in the media. I would say whoever put out that figure, based on what the troops had said, is the minimum. There may be more.
Since we did not cross the Line of Actual Control, they were on one side of the river near PP 14. So, most of the things were on each side, it was not something that was on our side. What happened was that people got separated. In the melee, where there are over 600 people just jostling, scuffling, pushing and hitting each other and in a dark night some people got separated; their people on our side and our people on their side. But in the morning they were exchanged. I was told that one of their chaps said we have treated your people well and our chaps said we have also treated your people well. Matter ended there with no brouhaha about it.
Q: Do we have a number?
A: As per my information we had some people.
Q: On Friday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi at the all-party meeting asked if this was an intelligence failure.
A: I am not in a position to respond because intelligence is a domain that is looked after by the R&AW. What I can refute is that it is a military intelligence failure, because they have been debarred from looking across the LoC and the LAC. This happened in 2012 and Sonia Gandhi should have known about it.
Q: There are questions about the policy of using arms at LAC too.
A: In the dark of the night… you are among 600 people carrying weapons, you don’t know where your people are. What happens if somebody fires breaking the agreement? These agreements have been there and both sides are adhering to it, if one side breaks it then the other side will also break it.
So far, we haven’t had any problems. That is why this pushing and jostling took place, otherwise firing would’ve taken place. Just like what happened on the Line of Control that we don’t have an agreement of a similar nature but other agreements. There are protocols that have come into being over a period of time after negotiations of the border peace and treaty agreement and unfortunately, you have to follow them. [If] You want to break them, then somebody should take a decision. If Congress is so concerned about it, they should have broken it and not gotten into it.
As a military man, I can say, I don’t think the military wanted it and I don’t think the military was even consulted on it.
Q: What has changed after Monday’s conflict?
A: The only thing that has changed is that we knew they were deceitful but they will engineer such a big deceit on us... it leads to loss of confidence. And we will think 10 times before believing them that they will do a particular thing. We will be more prepared for any eventuality that will follow.
Q: You also said China did this to deflect attention. Would you explain?
A: Why would China try to do things at the border, it is there any reason? In China nothing happens at the local level, it all comes from the top and who is the head of the military commission, Xi Jinping. So this is not like India where broad instructions are there and commanders do their own things. What is it that they want to divert attention from? They are in the firing line of all the countries in the world because of Covid-19, they are having problems in Hong Kong, they have problems in the South China Sea, they have trade problems with the United States, everybody is blaming them for everything. It means they want to divert attention from something.
Q: The PM said the sacrifice of our soldiers will not go in vain. What do you think will be an apt response to China?
A: If you’re going to tell about the response now then the response is of no use whatsoever. I am sure the required people have been tasked to think of what can be done, what cannot be done and what all measures have to be taken.
The first thing that has been given out is to boycott Chinese goods, let’s start with this. Let’s hurt them economically other things will follow. War and use of force is the last resort always and every time. When all other means fail then you resort to this. There are many means available.