Surprisingly, in a deep incursion, Chinese troops have entered the Indian Territory in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector in eastern Ladakh and erected a tented post without digging any trenches, setting the stage for a face-off with Indian troops.
The government in 2001 first announced plans to construct a motorable road from Leh to its end at Daulat Beg Oldi but failed to do so because of lackadaisical attitude of the government towards defence and national security issues.
A Platoon-strength contingent (50 men) of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China came 10 km inside the Indian Territory in Burthe in DBO sector at an altitude of about 17,000 feet, on the night of April 14/15 and established a tented post there. Troops from Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have also established camp approximately 300 metres opposite the location, the sources said.
When contacted, the spokesman of Udhampur-based Northern Command Col Rajesh Kalia said,” due to differences in perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) a few face-offs take place in the eastern Ladakh side. These are resolved amicably through existing mechanism.” He refused to elaborate any further query. The Ladakh Scouts, an Infantry regiment of the Indian Army and specializing in mountain warfare more troops, have also moved towards the area where the situation was described as tense. The place has not been known to have any permanent civilian population.
Daulat Beg Oldi lies at the easternmost point of the Karakoram Range in a cold desert region in the far north of India, just 8 km south of the Chinese border and 9 km northwest of the Aksai Chin Line of Actual Control between China and India. Other than Siachen Glacier military bases, it is India’s northernmost built-up area. The nearest inhabited town is Murgo to the south, which has a small population of Baltis who primarily depend on apricot farming and yak rearing. The government in 2001 first announced plans to construct a motorable road from Leh to its end at Daulat Beg Oldi but failed to do so because of lackadaisical attitude of the government towards defence and national security issues.
Temperature plummets as low as (-) 30 C in the winters. The weather deteriorates frequently with strong icy winds lashing much of DBO. DBO has very little if any vegetation or wildlife. Communication is possible only through INMARSAT (satellite) phones.
The Indian Army maintains helipads and a gravel air strip here, the highest airstrip in the world. Routine sorties are carried out using An-32 aircraft to provide relief and supplies to the troops stationed nearby. The base was established during the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962, with the first landing by Squadron Leader C.K.S Raje who set a record for the world’s highest aircraft landing at the time. It was operated with American-supplied Fairchild Packets from 1962 to 1966, when it had to be closed down suddenly when an earthquake caused loosening of the surface soil, making the area unsuitable for fixed-wing aircraft. Work was undertaken to make the airfield operational again, and was marked on 31 May 2008, when an Indian Air Force AN-32 landed.
Psychologically, India still fears Chinese might after the 1962 crushing defeat. It is sad that even after having been whipped in war, India is winning the peace with China.
The place is named after Daulat Baig Oldi, a 16th century Yarkandi nobleman who is supposed to have died at this place after descent from the Karakoram Pass, which is 17 kilometres to the northwest on the Indo-Chinese border. Caravans of traders travelling between India and Central Asia used this route. It used to be a stopping point for the caravans travelling along the Silk Road. India and China sealed their borders after the 1962 India-China War, ending most of the cross-border trade. In modern times, the place has not been known to have any permanent civilian population.
The recent Chinese incursion was due to differences on alignment of Line of Actual Control, Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Syed Akbaruddin told reporters. He added that incident was a “localised event” in a sector where there are differing perceptions on LAC.
“We see this as a face to face situation between border forces” of both countries, he said. Speaking about the steps taken by the government since the incident on April 15, Akbaruddin said India has asked China to maintain status quo as it was before the incursion.
He underlined that the India-China border continues to remain peaceful. The MEA official said, the brigadier-level meeting was held at Daulat Beg Oldie, the highest airstrip in the world at 5,100 metres that India reactivated in 2008.
However, the flag meeting, which lasted for more than five hours, was inconclusive without many results as the Chinese side stuck to its position that they were within their side of the LAC.
Explaining the technicalities, Akbaruddin said: “Now the term face to face situation is not something that we have conjured up; it is something that is referred to in the 2005 protocol to the implementation of CBMs (confidence building measures) in the military field along the LAC.”
Defence Ministry must fill up the acute shortage of 14,500 officers in the armed forces by making the services more attractive so that the youth opts for preserving the sovereignty and integrity of the nation against outside offensive.
According to him, article 4 of the protocol says that if the border personnel of the two sides come to a face-to-face situation on the alignment of the LAC, they shall exercise self-restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid an escalation of the situation. “And then there are a whole listing of procedures that need to be followed and when we say face to face this is what we are referring to,” he said.
Listing out steps taken by India after the incident was reported April 15, Akbaruddin said: “This came to note on April 15 and April 16. Gautam Bambawale, joint secretary East Asia, who chairs the working mechanism for consultation and coordination on India-China border affairs spoke to his counterpart who is director general border affairs of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs.”
Apart from summoning the Chinese Ambassador to South Block, the Joint Secretary in MEA, who is heading the India-China joint working mechanism to deal with issues on the boundary from the Indian side, spoke to his counterpart in Beijing last week, emphasising on the need to resolve the issue. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had summoned the Chinese Ambassador Wei Wei to South Block and stressed the need for resolving the issue, the sources said.
The Chinese side said they would look into the issue and respond accordingly. However, when contacted the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi reiterated the comments made by their Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying had said, “China’s frontier troops have been abiding by the agreement between the two countries and abiding by the LAC agreed by the two countries”.
Psychologically, India still fears Chinese might after the 1962 crushing defeat. It is sad that even after having been whipped in war, India is winning the peace with China. Factually, China, despite having “taught India a lesson” in 1962, and having subdued Tibet with a brutal occupation, feels challenged today from both sides of the McMahon Line — the disputed border in the Eastern Himalayas between Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh. Tibetans are protesting in Tibet against the Chinese occupation by self-immolation and rising tide of protests since 2008.
…reorganise these formations into mobile offensive strike brigade groups that are geared, trained and equipped to retaliate against any Chinese incursion with counter-incursions into Tibet.
In contrast, India’s restraint and sensitivity and reluctance to use military force puts it to be a soft state scared of Chinese might, the fact very well known to the Chinese. India has to remain prepared, as China is the most undependable neighbour, the fact well known to Russia, Japan and Vietnam borders with China dominating.
India’s military has made a convincing case for raising four new mountain divisions to defend the eastern sector; including two divisions that will be part of a proposed mountain strike corps. The two defensive mountain divisions are already functional, while the mountain strike corps and an armoured brigade are currently being raised.
But no amount of soldiers can provide a foolproof defence along 4054 kilometres of rugged mountain terrain though only 2000 KM claimed by China as the rest is usurped. And in raising division after division of defensive troops, India risks falling into the Pakistan trap: getting involved in a competitive military build-up against a giant neighbour that has far greater resources of money and military power and political will to capture the disputed territory unlike India.
Instead, the Indian Army needs to rethink its strategy, relying on local partnership. This must involve a fourfold action plan: firstly, recruit at least 20-30 army infantry battalions from local tribes, which will defend their homeland fiercely against the Chinese, rather than relying on regular army battalions that are posted into these unknown areas from their bases thousands of kilometres away. These local tribal battalions must form the first line of defence.
Secondly, rather than committing the bulk of our regular army battalions into defensive deployments aimed at stopping the Chinese at the border, reorganise these formations into mobile offensive strike brigade groups that are geared, trained and equipped to retaliate against any Chinese incursion with counter-incursions into Tibet.
Thirdly, create the infrastructure of roads and railways in Arunachal and Assam that will be needed to mobilise the offensive strike groups and transport them to the border areas fast enough to pre-empt any Chinese counter-deployment. This is perhaps the most essential step needed, since it will serve both a military and civil purpose. In providing road connectivity to villages along the McMahon Line, we are providing a lifeline that ties them to India.
Fourthly, Defence Ministry must fill up the acute shortage of 14,500 officers in the armed forces by making the services more attractive so that the youth opts for preserving the sovereignty and integrity of the nation against outside offensive. The best of the armed forces with the best of weapons and equipment cannot defend its country unless they have a motivated junior leadership, which the country needs to commission at the earliest.