A group of 144 Armed Forces veterans on July 2 issued a statement calling for a revamp of India’s intelligence system following the clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Galwan Valley in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control on June 15, in which 20 Indian soldiers died and 76 were wounded.

“The incident at Galwan could only have happened because of failure at one or more levels in the political, civil and military establishments, especially in continuous intelligence acquisition and dissemination,” the signatories said. “While we accept that failures can happen in any system, in the current instance either our intelligence system was found wanting, or the intelligence which it obtained did not reach the field units in time.”

The letter was signed by former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, Air Marshal Nanda Cariappa, and former medical services chief of the Navy, Rear Admiral Subhash Chandra Anand, among others.

The veterans also said that a formal statement by the central government or the Army soon after the incident would have laid to rest all confusion and doubts about the clash. The veterans said this would have prevented China from taking advantage of ambiguous or inaccurate statements made later by Indian politicians. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on June 20 told a meeting of Opposition leaders that Chinese troops had not entered Indian territory, but the claim was later expunged from the official minutes of the meeting.

The signatories said on July 2 that India needs a concrete neighbourhood management policy, especially for Pakistan and China. They said the formulation of such a policy has been neglected by successive governments. “Having an over-arching national policy and strategy will reduce casualties among our troops, which occur due to the heightened risk of being reactive to conflict situations created by China or Pakistan,” the signatories said.

The retired military officers asked the government to create a fact-finding body to investigate intrusions, incursions and encroachments by China in Aksai Chin and at other places on the India-China border, up to Arunachal Pradesh. They also said that the report of this fact-finding panel should be tabled in Parliament within a particular time frame.

‘Release Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report on 1962 war’

The veterans called for declassification of the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report on the 1962 war with China, so that the military, politicians and the public can learn from past mistakes. The ex-officers said there is no sensible reason for keeping the report under wraps even after 57 years.

The letter asked the government to take first steps to resolve boundary disputes with Pakistan and China, through diplomatic means and pressures, and by using India’s membership position in the United Nations Security Council for 2021-’22. “This does not in any manner imply reduction in deployment of our Armed Forces or let-up in our intelligence systems, but it will enable us to better attend to development for our people within our country,” the letter read.

Specifically addressing President Ram Nath Kovind, the letter said dependence on foreign sources for critical hardware and critical software used by security forces makes India vulnerable to cyber attacks, which could be designed to hamper military operations. “We urge that India needs to urgently invest in indigenous human, material and financial resources to manufacture its own hardware and software in adequate volumes, so as to avoid purchase from international vendors, especially for the command and control structure of the Armed Forces and Intelligence services,” the veterans said.

‘Need political solutions for conflicts with neighbours’

The letter also told the president that political solutions need to be found for conflicts with neighbours, as the continuous deployment of the military cannot be a long-term solution.

The veterans further added that divisions in the Armed Forces on the basis of religion, caste or creed should be discouraged as a matter of policy, as the Indian military is a secular institution. “We urge our political leadership to adhere unwaveringly to the vision and spirit of the Constitution of India, which spells out the framework for our nation and its people,” the letter read. It assured the government that the signatories stand in solidarity with the country, the Army and the Constitution.