Some Good News from the Border Front
C-17 lands in Manchuka
First the Indian Air Force successfully carried out a test landing and take-off of C-17 Globemaster-III at Mechuka’s Advanced Landing Ground (ALG).
A couple of years ago, I visited Mechuka which is strategically located in Arunachal Pradesh just 29 km from the border. (See The last village in ‘our’ Arunachal)
After the upgradation of Mechuka’s ALG, the giant Boeing C-17 could land. It should eventually ensure transport of men and material in the remote border village of West Siang district of Arunachal, which was invaded by the Chinese in 1962.
Let us not forget that Dibrugarh the nearest air/rail head is located some 500 km away (practically 2 days drive).
India Today reported: “The aircraft was received by the Detachment Commander Fight Lieutenant S. Dixit on its maiden landing in Mechuka. The aircrew who, were part of this historic landing, included Group Capt TR Ravi, Wing Commander P Sisodia, Wing Commander AK Patnaik, MWO Tripathi and WO Nirana Ram. In the event of a disaster in the region, C-17 operations to the remote ALG can enhance the speed and quantum of national relief effort.”
This is a great step for the defence of the border in Arunachal and for the welfare of the local population.
The other good news
India did not back out when confronted to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is Demchok village in South-East Ladakh.
The national press reported that the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Indian Army were caught in an eyeball to eyeball situation with PLA on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Demchok.
As mentioned on this blog, in April, the residents of Demchok had appealed to the Deputy Commissioner in Leh for their resettlement elsewhere in the district because of continuous obstructions to any developmental work in the area by the Chinese troops.
Quoting some Army sources, Scoops.news, a Ladakhi website says that “nearly two platoons of PLA came close to Indian territories in Demchok village and objected to laying of a water pipe for use irrigation and drinking purpose, a project being carried out by the state Rural Development Department (RDD) in the area.”
The same source explained: “Both sides have been holding their respective positions. On Wednesday [November 2], PLA personnel appeared on the scene and raised objection to ongoing civilian construction work and stayed there for whole day and returned in the late evening. Surprisingly, they appeared once again next day morning.”
The PLA asked the local people to immediately stopped the work; the Chinese quoted the agreement between India and China, which says that either side needs prior permission before undertaking any construction work.
This argument did not fool the Indian Army who pointed out to the Chinese that the Indo-Sino border agreement specifically says that information about the construction needs to be shared only in case the development was meant for defence purpose and not otherwise, particularly NOT for civilian works.
While both sides denied incursions or transgressions, the Indian side clarified that issues, if any, can be resolved at a local level with the Chinese officials at Border Meeting Point (Chushul in this case).
Meetings are regularly held to sort out of contentious issues between the two sides.
The interesting point is that despite the Chinese presence, the local population continued to work on the irrigation channels.
The work is completed
Finally on the third day, local engineers could finish laying a water pipeline for irrigation of the remote Indian village. The pipeline is nearly a kilometre long. The stalemate ended on November 5 in the evening.
India Today says that “the formula of ‘active patrolling’ adopted by the ITBP and the Army ever since 2013’s fortnight-long stand-off near Daulat Beg Oldie [DBO] has been reaping rich dividends and Chinese have been cautious in carrying out incursion especially in Ladakh sector.”
The Army and the ITBP personnel did not allow the PLA guards to erect a hut and the Chinese ultimately had to take the material back to their base camp in Tibet.
The scene witnessed the holding of ‘ritual’ banners: “It is my territory, Go back”.
The fact remains that the work was done.
Historically Demchok has always belonged to Ladakh and has never been part of Tibet. I am quoting here from one on my articles on the subject.
On August 14, 1939, as he camped near Gartok, one of the three British (Indian) Trade Agencies in Tibet, Rai Bahadur Dr Kanshi Ram, the British Trade Agent (BTA) in Western Tibet, found finally time to write to the Political Agent of the Punjab Hill States in Simla: “I have the honour to submit herewith the following report of my journey from Simla to Gartok via Srinagar and Leh, Kashmir,” Ram started.
He had left Simla on May 20 to reach Srinagar on May 27; after a week-long stay in the Valley, he began his journey to the Tibetan border. He was accompanied by the Wazir Wazarat of Ladakh; both were to meet the Garpon or Governor of Western Tibet for a tripartite inquiry into the alleged murder of a Tibetan, Champa Skaldan by Zaildar, a Ladakhi of Rupchu. The crime had been committed in Ladakh a few years earlier.
After a week-halt in Leh, they started for Demchok, the last Ladakhi village before the Tibetan border. They reached Demchok on July 17, 1939, where they were to meet the Senior and Junior Garpons; the inquiry started three days later.
Dr Kanshi Ram, in his report to Simla, notes: “On the night of July 21 the stream by the side of which we were camping suddenly rose to higher level and began to flow over our camping ground at midnight. We were abed as alarm was raised and we then got up and took our luggage and other belongings to a place of safety, and had to keep awake throughout the night. The rain which began to pour down since morning was still continuing. The next morning we crossed the stream and camped on the Tibetan border at a place of safety. The Wazir also renewed his camp some yards away from the stream amongst the boulders. This stream forms a natural boundary between Tibet and Kashmir at Demchok.”
This is interesting because it shows that before Independence, the Indo-Tibet border in Ladakh was well defined and agreed upon by the government of British India (represented by the BTA), the State of J&K (the Wazir) and the Tibetan Government (the Garpons).
It is not true anymore; since the end of the 1950s, a very large area around Demchok is claimed by Beijing though no Chinese had ever been seen in the area. The fact is that soon after invading the Tibetan plateau, the Communist regime in Beijing started claiming more and more of India’s territory in the Himalaya.
Demchok is in fact a case study of Chinese ‘advances’ which resulted in what today is called a ‘difference of perceptions’ on the LAC.
The building of the Aksai Chin road
The Chinese ‘advances’ in the Demchok sector began with the objective to protect a new road linking Tibet to Xinjiang in the Aksai Chin area.
Though the issue would only become public through a debate in the Lok Sabha in August 1959, in the early 1950s already, Delhi was aware that China was building a road, but South Block was not ready to acknowledge it.
The Official Report of the 1962 War published by the MoD states: “The preliminary survey work on the planned Tibet-Sinkiang road having been completed by the mid-1950’s, China started constructing motorable road in summer 1955. The highway ran over 160 km across the Aksai Chin region of north-east Ladakh. It was completed in the second half of 1957. Arterial roads connecting the highway with Tibet were also laid. On 6 October 1957, the Sinkiang-Tibet road was formally opened with a ceremony in Gartok and twelve trucks on a trial run from Yarkand reached Gartok. In January 1958, the China News Agency reported that the Sinkiang-Tibet highway had been opened two months earlier and the road was being fully utilised.”
In his book The Saga of Ladakh, Maj Gen Jagjit Singh mentions that in 1956, the Indian Military Attaché in Beijing, Brig Mallik received information that China had started building a highway through Indian Territory in the Aksai Chin area. Mallik had reported the matter to Army Headquarters in New Delhi which passed the report to South Block.
Other examples could be given, but the fact that the road lies close to Demchok, triggered the Chinese claims on the area.