Indian, Chinese soldiers were engaged in a "violent face-off" in Ladakh on Monday night
India should not attempt to underplay the "violent face-off" with Chinese troops in Ladakh's Galwan Valley, Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retired) told NDTV today.
Describing the situation as "more serious than past stand-offs", the general, who served as chief of the Army's Northern Command, urged the Indian government to tackle head-on an issue that has resulted in the first fatalities involving the two militaries since 1975.
"What has been reported is more serious than past stand-offs. I don't think the government should attempt to underplay what happened. We need to tackle it... say it is serious and look at steps to resolve the problem," General Hooda told NDTV.
"We haven't had any casualties in Army-PLA (China's People's Liberation Army) since 1975 so, obviously, the situation is serious. While we have been talking about de-escalation, the fact is troops on ground are still in close proximity and violence is going on. This is extremely serious," he added.
A senior military officer in Delhi told news agency PTI that the 1975 incident involved the death of four Indian soldiers during an ambush at Arunachal Pradesh's Tulung La Pass.
"Where territories are involved countries will not step back," the general warned.
On Monday night an Indian Army colonel and two soldiers were killed in a confrontation with Chinese troops. Although China has not confirmed deaths on its side, the editor-in-chief of government mouthpiece Global Times tweeted that it too had "suffered casualties".
China, in an aggressive statement after the incident, accused India of crossing the border and "attacking Chinese personnel", news agency AFP reported.
The Indian government has yet to reply to this statement. The Army, however, has said that senior military officials from both sides are currently meeting to defuse the situation.
General Hooda pointed out that the Chinese statement was similar to those made earlier.
"This is something the Chinese have always been saying. The initial statement after the May 5/6 incident (when Indian, Chinese troops skirmished in eastern Ladakh) was that we had crossed into their side. These are standard statements," he said.
The general also stressed that the way forward would have to include both military- and diplomat-level talks, pointing out that one alone could not solve the problem.
"Whether firing or a violent clash, this could vitiate whatever dialogue has been going on at the military level. I have been stressing that military talks are good to ensure there is no escalation, but the earlier this is raised at the diplomatic level, the better," he said.
Monday's night's violent clash was preceded by over six weeks of tension between the two countries and an uneasy stand-off at two locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) - the Galwan River, which was one of the triggers of the 1962 war, and the disputed Pangong Tso glacier, where soldiers were injured in a skirmish in early May.
India had requested senior-level military talks to reduce tensions; these had led to the Chinese pulling back troops from some areas, an action reciprocated by India.
With input from AFP, PTI