New Delhi: A senior member of the National Security Advisory Board has said media reports about Chinese military construction and troop incursions in Galwan, Pangong Lake and Depsang are exaggerated and “none of it is true”.
Lieutenant General S.L. Narasimhan, who is also director general of the Ministry of External Affairs’ think tank, the Centre for Contemporary China Studies, says the Galwan clash of June 15 began on Indian territory but, because in a melee both sides are pushing each other around, it could have ended on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control. He categorically said there were no Chinese troops on India’s side of the LAC when the June 15 clash ended.
In a 40-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, General Narasimhan confirmed that the structure Colonel Santosh Babu destroyed was on the Indian side of the LAC. As he put it, it was “a few metres on this side”.
General Narasimhan said he could not confirm whether the structure demolished by Colonel Babu had been reconstructed by the Chinese. As he said: “I won’t say yes or no.” He said he just did not know. At one point in the interview he said that at or around Patrolling Point 14, satellite images show some white or pink spots which could be a consequence of the process of disengagement or, perhaps, some new Chinese-built structure.
However, with this exception, General Narasimhan categorically, confidently and repeatedly dismissed newspaper reports about Chinese developments in Galwan, Depsang and Pangong Lake. He said reports carried by papers that the Indian Army had agreed to a no man’s land or buffer zone on the Indian side of the LAC in Galwan are not true. As he put it: “I’m not aware of buffer zones.” He also did not accept newspaper reports that there is no Indian Army camp or post in the Galwan River Valley.
Referring to the 1960 claim lines, he said that part of Galwan is claimed by China. The whole problem is one of how we interpret the Line of Actual Control which is not demarcated on the ground. However, he added, the Indian Army knows the actual ground position as far as India’s territory or Indian claims are concerned.
Speaking about newspaper reports that the Chinese have built substantial defensive structures in Pangong, which have denied India access to 50 square kilometres where previously it would patrol, General Narasimhan told The Wire he doesn’t know where this information about defence structures has come from. He added that “none of it is true”. He said there had been a tussle there on May 5 but reports about Chinese structures between fingers 4 and 8 are either exaggerated or untrue.
Speaking to The Wire about newspaper reports Chinese soldiers have intruded into Indian territory in Depsang, possibly up to Jeevan Nullah or Raki Nullah or Y-junction, and could threaten the Darbuk-Shyokh-Daulat Beg Oldie Road and perhaps also the Daulat Beg Oldie Airstrip, General Narasimhan categorically said of these reports: “I think they are very exaggerated”.
Questioned by The Wire about reports Chinese troop levels on their side of the LAC have increased by perhaps 30%, General Narasimhan said there had been some increase in some areas between June 15 and 22 but he specifically added not thereafter. In fact, he suggested, in the last five days (June 22-26) Chinese troop levels on their side of the LAC have probably diminished.
However, General Narasimhan made one further point. He said if Chinese troop levels are increasing so are Indian troop levels. He said Indian troops levels have gone up equally on our side.
Asked specifically by The Wire whether, as of June 16, the India-China situation was improving or, as newspaper reports suggest, deteriorating, General Narasimhan said, “I think the situation is improving today.”
Questioned about Chinese casualties in the Galwan clash, General Narasimhan said he believed they were “substantial”. He said it was possible they were greater in number than what India suffered. Asked specifically whether a Chinese commander had been killed, General Narasimhan said it was very possible.
General Narasimhan told The Wire the overall picture that emerged from Galwan, Depsang and Pangong is that “China is putting pressure on the LAC”. He said he did not believe this was because India has successfully constructed the Darbuk-Shyokh-Daulat Beg Oldie Road because the Chinese have known of that road for many years. They have never protested or objected to it. They know it’s on Indian territory.
However, General Narasimhan said he believed Chinese concerns have been aroused by other Indian infrastructure development on our side of the LAC. The closer Indian infrastructure gets to the LAC the more uncomfortable the Chinese feel, he said. It was also possible that the Chinese were reacting to some Indian patrolling patterns, he added.
Asked by The Wire if he was confident negotiations can restore status quo ante as of April, General Narasimhan said we must be patient and not expect immediate results. Citing Sumdorong Chu, which took seven years to resolve, he said we must give disengagement a chance whilst, of course, monitoring it very carefully.
General Narasimhan said he did not blame the media for their exaggerated or untrue reports about Chinese behaviour in Galwan, Depsang and Pangong Lake because the media believed the reports to be correct. As he put it, the media is gleaning information from wherever it can and trying to piece it together. Sometimes, he explained, the impatience of the media to find out more and publish quickly leads to speculation and reports which are either unconfirmed or untrue.
General Narasimhan was questioned by The Wire about criticism of the government’s handling of this crisis. He began by saying: “I do understand the concern … we’re groping in speculation which is why doubts of handling occur.” However, he firmly said the government and armed forces are handling the situation well and we should place our trust in them.
Asked whether the problem arose out of the government’s prolonged silence during the first six weeks of the crisis and the inadequate information made available thereafter, General Narasimhan said the government was making information available whenever it can.
Finally, General Narasimhan was closely questioned about the prime minister’s comment on June 19 when he said, “Na koi wahan hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai aur nahi koi ghusa hua hai”. General Narasimhan did not accept the prime minister made a mistake and said that the PMO had explained the position the next day. When it was pointed out that the PMO had edited the prime minister’s words, leaving out the first half of his statement, and that the Chinese, on the other hand, were using the prime minister’s statement to prove they are in the right and India is in the wrong, General Narasimhan suggested this was just Chinese propaganda which should not be taken seriously.
The above is a paraphrased precis of General Narasimhan’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire. The interview will go up between 9 and 10 pm tonight.