Srinagar: The armed forces deployed along the 3,500-km de-facto border with China have been given “free hand” to give a “befitting” response to any Chinese misadventure, government sources said after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the situation in eastern Ladakh at a meeting with the top military brass on Sunday.
If caught in a life-threatening situation, the Indian Army has been told not to hesitate in using firearms against any Chinese aggression like the one that took place in Galwan on June 15, sources said.
The meeting was attended by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria.
India has already mobilised fighter jets and sent thousands of additional Army troops to forward locations along the border with China after 20 Indian Army personnel were killed in a brutal attack by Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15.
The clash in Galwan Valley, the worst cross-border violence in 45 years, significantly frayed ties between the two countries, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi sending a strong message to China that “India wants peace but if provoked, India is capable of giving a befitting reply”.
In the meeting on Sunday, Singh told the top military officers to maintain a strict vigil on Chinese activities around the land border, the airspace and in strategic sea lanes, the sources said.
According to protocols decided by the two countries use of firearms is prohibited. However, sources said if lives of soldiers are in danger and they come under a murderous assault like the recent one in Galwan valley in Ladakh, then, “obviously these protocols can’t be followed”.
The Indian troops will no longer be bound by the long-held practice of not using firearms in faceoffs.
The armed forces were told to be fully ready to give a befitting reply to any Chinese misadventure, the sources said, adding a “tough” approach is being adopted to guard the border.
“If firing is self defence is the only option then no protocol can be followed,” the government source said.
Seventy-six Indian soldiers were also injured in the Galwan Valley clash. China’s People’s Liberation Army has not yet talked about the number of casualties it suffered.
The sources said the armed forces have been given full freedom to deal with any act of aggression by China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de-facto border between the two countries.
The two armies had mutually decided not to resort to use firearms during face-offs in sync with provisions of two agreements on border management. The agreements were signed in 1996 and 2005.
“Henceforth, our approach will be different. The ground commanders have been given full freedom to take decisions depending on the situation,” a top military official said on the condition of anonymity.
The IAF has already moved a sizeable number of its frontline Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar, Mirage 2000 aircraft and Apache attack helicopters to several key airbases including Leh and Srinagar in the last five days.
Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria on Saturday said the IAF is “well prepared” and “suitably deployed” to counter any security challenge along the border with China and even hinted that his force has flown combat air patrols in the Ladakh region as part of heightened preparedness.
Under combat air patrols, fully armed fighter jets can be scrambled at short notices for specific missions.
The two armies were engaged in a standoff in Galwan and several other areas of eastern Ladakh since May 5 when their troops clashed on the banks of the Pangong Tso.
The situation in eastern Ladakh deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off on May 5 and 6. The incident in Pangong Tso was followed by a similar incident in north Sikkim on May 9.
Prior to the clashes, both sides had been asserting that pending the final resolution of the boundary issue, it was necessary to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
Singh’s review of the situation in eastern Ladakh came a day before he embarks on a three-day visit to Russia to attend a grand military parade in Moscow to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Germany in the Second World War.