Galwan Valley: Understanding the Law of Engagement at the LAC

Two of the Asia’s and World’s Superpower Countries, India and China engaged in a fierce clash on June 15, 2020 in the terrains of Eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, located 14,000 feet above the sea level. It’s for the first time in 45 years since 1975 that a military scuffle has resulted in so many casualties.

The Soldiers from both sides got into a violent clash, however, neither of the side used gun fires or blast operations. Going by the reports and the statement of Ministry of External Affairs, which accused the Chinese of a “premeditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties to which the Indian soldiers had to fight bare handed. Since the clash has taken place, many opposition parties and stakeholders have been questioning the central government, as to why the Indian forces went to confront the Chinese military unarmed without carrying guns.

The reason for the same is series of agreements signed between India and China in an effort to keep the tensions at border under control. These agreements defines the activities which will be allowed along the Line of Actual Control between China and India.

The first agreement was signed in September, 1993, which prima facie says that any sort of border conflict, shall be resolved only through peace and friendly consultations and neither side shall use force against the other by any means. This agreement was based on principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit for peaceful coexistence. The main focus of this agreement was to maintain peace along the border areas and reduce aggression by both sides.

The 1993 agreement was signed by the Congress government, under PV Narsimha Rao, who actually walked on the footsteps of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was able to break the ice between the two countries since the 1962 conflict has happened by engaging in bilateral talks.

The second agreement, signed in November, 1996, acted as an extension of the first agreement to achieve its objectives, which had its basic foundation to ‘foster a long-term good-neighbourly relationship’. Article I of the agreement says that ‘Neither side shall use its military capability against the other side and, no armed forces, shall be used to attack the other side that undermines peace and stability in the region’. This agreement was signed by HD Dewe Gowda government, which was in power with the external support of Congress party.

Article III of the agreement also says that two sides shall reduce the number of field army, 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. This provision reflects that it is added to avoid a full scale war between both the countries by emphasizing on reducing and keeping a limit on deployment and use of weapons.

The most important provision which is prevalent in the present scenario on which the government is being questioned repeatedly is the Article VI of the 1996 agreement which iterates that ‘Neither side shall open fire, within two kilometres from the line of actual control’. One should be very clear that this provision applies to both sides.

Another agreement was signed in April, 2005, which had no new clause added, but was a replica of the previous agreements to abide by and maintain long term friendly relations, to increase confidence between both the sides. This agreement was a sort of formality and relation building as there was a change in government in India in 2004, and to strengthen its foreign policy agenda, the UPA government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh signed on this agreement.

It is pertinent to note that China has used barbaric tactics by attacking Indian Army and resorted to using alternate weapons like stones, nail studded rods, wooden clubs wrapped with barbed wires. This means technically they tried not overrule the agreement as they didn’t used shots or gun firing.

All troops on border duty always carry arms, when they leave their post. At Galwan also, the forces might have done so, but as per these long-standing agreements, they did not used firearms during face-offs.

The Indian Army should be praised and respected for its ‘professionalism’ as it is still followed the agreement and established protocols entered by both the countries, despite their Chinese counterparts using such deadly weapons. But given the present aggression shown by the Chinese, it is now reported that the Indian Government has also changed the Standard operating procedure (SOP) for the Rules of engagement (ROE) across LAC.

As per the new ROE, the Indian Army can use firearms and have full authority to respond to ‘extraordinary’ situations and aggression shown by the People’s Liberation Army of China using all resources at their disposal. The Indian Commanders at the LAC can now give their troops ‘complete freedom of action’ to handle situations at strategic level.

This article is written by Govind Hari Lath, Final Year Student at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. He can be reached at

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