Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in an eighteen-second video posted on micro-blogging site Twitter asked why Indian soldiers did not carry firearms when they went to the Chinese who had not pulled back in Galwan Valley as was agreed between the two sides.
Rahul Gandhi said, “China has committed a crime by killing India’s unarmed soldiers. I want to know who sent these unarmed soldiers in the harm’s way and why. Who is responsible?”
The same question has been asked by some commentators in different TV debates as well. The answer to the question lies in bilateral agreements between India and China.
Responding to the charge, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar clarified that “all troops on border duty always carry arms, especially when leaving post. Those at Galwan on 15 June did so.”
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) June 18, 2020
Jaishankar referred to bilateral agreements that restrain both Indian and Chinese soldiers from using firearms.
The first meaningful agreement on border disputes and maintenance of peace until final resolution was signed between India and China in 1993. The details of the agreement, which for the first time mentioned the Line of Actual Control (LAC), can be seen here.
The agreement was signed by a Congress government under PV Narasimha Rao, who had actually followed up on what former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi – the late father of Rahul Gandhi – initiated with his China visit in 1988.
In the chilly winters of December, Rajiv Gandhi’s visit broke the ice between India and China. The previous visit to China by an Indian prime minister had been undertaken by Jawaharlal Nehru, the great-grandfather of Rahul Gandhi, in 1954.
The 1993 agreement declared: “Neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other by any means No activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control.”
It also stated, “In case personnel of one side cross the line of actual control, upon being cautioned by the other side, they shall immediately pull back to their own side of the line of actual control.”
This meant that the soldiers of the two countries were to cooperate and ensure peace at the borders and the LAC till the national leaderships of the two countries arrived at a settlement on the core dispute.
This agreement was considered “not enough” by the two countries. They went for another agreement in 1996. It was more detailed and can be accessed here.
This agreement was signed by the HD Deve Gowda government that was in power with the outside support of the Congress party. The 1996-agreement made it binding on soldiers to “exercise self restraint” and opt for “immediate consultation” if a face-off situation arises.
But the most relevant portion of this agreement that explains why Indian soldiers went unarmed is mentioned in Article VI. It says, “Neither side shall open fireor hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometers from the line of actual control.”
This provision led to a practice under which no side even brandishes firearms. This is why there had been videos of jostling, pushing and shoving by the soldiers of the two sides.
The Galvan Valley clash might lead to the change in SOP for the Indian soldiers along the LAC. Some reports suggest that the government may allow using firearms if grievously attacked. The agreement only restrains from opening fire without factoring in a situation where physical force is used to inflict serious injuries.