After the violent clash between the armed forces of India and China at the Galwan Valley near the LAC in Ladakh, which saw the death of more than 50 soldiers from both the sides in a fight without firearms, the Congress party has launched an attack on the Modi government questioning operational decisions made by the armed forces. The party leaders and workers have started asking why the Indian side went to confront the Chinese military without carrying guns.
Today former Congress President Rahul Gandhi also asked the same question, when he asked who and why Indian soldiers sent unarmed to a dangerous a situation, and who was responsible for this decision.
Although it is natural that the general public will not know the details of the India-China border issue, it is a surprise that Rahul Gandhi is surprised about soldiers not carrying arms at the LAC. Because it is agreements signed by governments led and supported by his party that prevents the soldiers from using firearms on the border with China.
Rahul Gandhi headed the party that ruled India for half a decade, he keeps meeting Chinese officials behind the curtains often, and therefore, he should know why Indian soldiers were unarmed.
The reason for the same is a slew of agreements signed between India and China, in an effort to keep the tension at the border under check. Both the nations have signed border agreements in 1993, 1996 and 2005, which defines the activities which are allowed and not allowed along the Line of Actual Control between India and China.
The first agreement signed in September 1993 says that both the sides entered into the agreement based on five principles, mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence, and with a view to maintaining peace and tranquillity in areas along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas. The main focus of this agreement was to maintain peace along the LAC and reduce aggression both the sides.
The second agreement signed in November 1996, defined the detailed protocols to achieve the goals set in the first agreement. And this is that agreement that bars soldiers from both the sides from using firearms on each other. The Article I of the agreement says that “neither side shall use its military capability against the other side. No armed forces deployed by either side in the border areas along the line of actual control.”
The most relevant provision in the context of the current situation is Article VI of the 1996 agreement. Section (1) of Article VI says that neither side can open fire guns or use explosives within two kilometres of the LAC. This means that both sides have agreed to not use weapons within the two kilometres of the LAC on both sides.
The Article III of the agreement says that both sides will reduce or limit combat tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns (including howitzers) with 75 mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120 mm or bigger calibre, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles and any other weapon system mutually agreed upon along the LAC.
A detailed reading of the 1996 agreement shows that it was aimed at avoiding a full scale war erupting between India and China by reducing use of weaponry an aggression at the border. And being one of the most professional armed forces in the world, the Indian security forces were not carrying firearms to respect the agreement signed by the government of India. It may be noted that although the Chinese sides showed barbarism by attacking Indian soldiers using primitive weapons like stones, sticks studded with nails and wrapped with barbed wire, even they technically respected the agreement by not firing shots.
Another agreement between India and China was signed in 2005 when Manmohan Singh led UPA-I govt was in power, and this agreement had reiterated the commitment of both the nations to abide by and implement the 1993 and 1996 agreements.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar also fact-checked Rahul Gandhi by informing that it is a long-standing practice to not use firearms as the agreements signed by India and China. He informed that the soldiers do carry arms while leaving their posts, but they don’t use them as per agreed protocols.
Rahul Gandhi’s party was in power when the 1993 agreement was signed, and his party was supporting the HD Devegowda government when the detailed 1996 agreement was signed. Moreover, not only Rahul Gandhi keeps meeting Chinese officials secretly, his party actually signed an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party to ‘consult each other on important issues’. During UPA1 in 2008, the Congress party and the Communist Party of China (CPC) had signed a deal in Beijing for exchanging high-level information and co-operation between them. The memorandum of understanding (MoU) also provided the two parties with the “opportunity to consult each other on important bilateral, regional and international developments”.
The MoU was signed by the then Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and on the Chinese side, it was signed by none other than Xi Jinping himself, who was then the Chinese vice-president and standing committee member of the CPC’s politburo. The MoU was signed in the presence of his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi. Therefore, Rahul Gandhi should not pretend that he does not know about the agreements between the two countries to ask why the Indian soldiers were unarmed.
At present, Indian soldiers are following the agreements signed between the two sides, and the soldiers should be respected for that, not question their judgement like Rahul Gandhi is suggesting. Given the recent aggression by China, it is possible that Government of India may decide to not follow the disarmament provisions of the agreement. But until such a decision is taken by the union government, the armed forces will act on the established protocols agreed between the sides.