Soldiers stand sentinel in Ladakh


The recent stand-off between the Indian and Chinese soldiers at the Galwan Valley in Ladakh has brought to limelight the decade long dispute over territory between the two military superpowers in the high altitude, largely uninhabited region. Reminiscing the decade-old conflicts Kamal Baruah gives an anecdote about India-China conflict and his experiences as a soldier when he was posted at Ladakh.

Ladakh is the disputed region between India, Pakistan and China. It has been claimed that the Chinese have been living for several hundred years in “Aksai Chin” at the western border. The uninhabited areas have never been demarcated and sharing of Line of Actual Control, LAC maps are never agreed by either side. After the year of 1962 aggression, both countries hold its position along the LAC, thus the conflict mitigated by the withdrawal of 20 km along the entire front line and maintained it as 1962 status quo.

Former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s path breaking visit in 1988 and PM Vajpayee’s visit in 2003 helped to set up a dedicated mechanism to resolve the border dispute. Over the years of enhancing confidence at the military level, it failed to agree to a border settlement and troops come into conflict/faceoff regularly. However, there have been no fatalities on either side of the LAC for over four decades.

They recently engaged in the standoff in PangongTso, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie in Eastern Ladakh and Naku La in Sikkim. But on the night of Jun 15/16, 800 People’s Liberation Army, PLAs wearing protective gear and armed with stones, nail-studded sticks, iron rods and clubs confronted and ambushed the Indian Patrol Party at Galwan. India now considers Red Dragon to be devious and untrustworthy.

Did Chinese troops attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in Galwan region? The dominating height of the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road has probably threatened the Chinese, that connected to Karakorum Pass. The Galwan River flows from the disputed Aksai Chin region to Ladakh and joins the Shyok River. Another road goes across the Galwan River for India’s border patrolling areas near to Chinese border post near Karakoram range. Also, IAF has high landing ground in Daulat Beg Olide where C17 the biggest aircraft courier can land. All these strategic happening might hamper China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) at POK.

Air Force helicopters can now land at Siachen, the highest battleground of 20,000 ft where India and Pakistan have a permanent military base. India has 2500 km of territory with Sia La, Bilafond La and Gyong La where Pakistan occupies Saltoro Ridge. To protect the Bahadur Post Chulung, Pak copters were gunned down by an Indian IGLA Missile where Brig Commander and other boarding troops were killed. That triumph led Indian Air Force to form an IGLA Squadron at Ladakh region and they were recalled for missile formation.

The recent faceoff at Galwan, has brought back the memories of the heyday at Ladakh. Field duties are another battle that required persistence of courage. With destination unknown yet soldiers have determination, euphoric joy and brightness for a new assignment.  They got the willpower and continue fighting till the end of the war. Life is all about the moment of victory that is to offer for his motherland.  It was a joy of firing IGLA Missile sounding sonic boom at the lonely valleys at the land of high passes.

Man-Portable Air Defence System IGLA is Surface-to-Air Missile that is lightweight of 28 to 55 pounds with launcher enough to be operated by a single soldier. It can strike airplanes up to an altitude of 15,000 feet at a range of 3.2 miles at a speed of Mach 2 aiming through a laser beam. Developed in the 80s IGLA is the most sophisticated Missile the Soviets ever made. Sophisticated military planes are not easily jammed by IGLA electronically but passenger planes are vulnerable.

Humanity cannot afford war for any reason but soldiers have to move on an emergency that we called it as Flash Signal. Passive Air Defence (PAD)was called on while General Pervez Musharraf orchestrated the infiltration of troops and terrorists into Indian Territory. Indian Army launched Operation Vijay 1999, the Kargil War had begun.

Soldiers were aerodynamically lifted by an MI-8 copter although troopers counteracted drag in forwarding flight. Boarders peeped through the window to take a fond look and sang along the line from a soldier’s tear. The huts waved them for prayer while the copter whisked away within a few seconds. Airfield operations take place in the forenoon only owing to the presence of mountain winds. The landing has one of the world’s most scenic approaches located between the Mountain ranges. They landed India’s highest commercial airport Leh at 10,682 feet.

While Mig and Mirage bombarded the Tiger Hills, Army recaptured Kargil with Bofors guns to silence it and we were busy launching missile in Ladakh region. It was no Hollywood thriller but we moved hills and vales for the live mission. Soldiers might get wounded, broken but they always stand tall out of fear.

The Galwan episode speaks about the supreme sacrifice of Indian soldiers who faced off with barbaric Chinese PLA for protecting territorial integrity for their country. To be honest, we did not get the opportunity to lock and fire any enemy aeroplanes as a target or a decoy. But we swam ashore across the lonely rivers at Zanskar, Shyok, Suru and Nubraeasily while targeting shoulder launched IGLA Missile. We lived across the Ladakh then.

Views are personal.

The writer is a former air warrior and now works for SBI. He can be reached at [email protected]


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