For more than 100 days, tensions have been high between India and China along their disputed Himalayan border. This tension has been most acute in eastern Ladakh, where, in mid-June, 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers were killed in the Galwan Valley, the first fatalities along the de facto Line of Actual Control in 45 years. Even supposing a de-escalation will eventually occur — whether by diplomacy or by seasonal necessity — the likelihood of future cycles of conflict underscores the importance of examining the deeper roots of India and China’s missing border.
The events of May-June along the western sector of our border come as a surprise, or indeed as a shock. The events are only gradually making their way to the public. Questions such as when and where did they start, what exactly was the nature of the events, how did the two sides respond and with what consequences are still not very clear. What we know is the tragedy of what happened on 15 June. There are still considerable haziness about what really produced this outcome leading to the tragic end to the lives of our twenty soldiers and an unknown number of casualties on the Chinese side.
The border agreements and confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the military field along the India-China border areas were based on the premise that maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the LAC is in the fundamental interest of the two countries and will contribute to the ultimate resolution of the boundary question. They also affirmed that neither side shall use/threaten to use force, or seek unilateral military superiority. These existing agreements and protocols now stand completely compromised and negated. There would thus be a requirement to redefine the norms of border management and lay down revised rules of engagement to be followed along the LAC (or the line adopted for defusing the border standoff). Violation of these norms should be made subject to punitive retaliation, as would be expected along a live border.