With the Chinese removing the four tents pitched in Indian Territory at an altitude of 17,500 feet, a few kilometers South of Daulat Beg Oldi(DBO) in the Depsang Plains in Eastern Ladakh a potentially explosive situation has been diffused. However, as India’s border with China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region in Eastern Ladakh and with Tibet opposite Arunachal Pradesh is neither demarcated nor delimited, the potential for conflict remains. China sees no urgency in resolving the border issue in terms of the “guiding principles” that Prime Minister’s Dr Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao agreed to in 2005.
The intrusion in Depsang in Eastern Ladakh was clearly on the Indian side of the LAC even on the basis of the Macartney-MacDonald Line. It was hence a clear violation of India’s territorial integrity.
Historically, in Ladakh, two points in the border remain well defined. These are the Karakoram Pass and the Pangong Tso about 200 km further South. The Johnson Line of 1865 put the Aksai Chin within India. Subsequently, the Macartney-MacDonald Line of 1899 put parts of the Aksai Chin within the Xinjiang province of China. British maps used both these lines, but since 1908, the Johnson Line was taken to be the boundary. However, the border was not demarcated. Today, China is in illegal occupation of the entire Aksai Chin area. The Macartney-MacDonald Line generally conforms to the present day LAC in eastern Ladakh. In Arunachal Pradesh, the McMahon Line defines the border. Here, while there are differing perceptions of the McMahon Line, the Chinese quite inexplicably claim the whole of Arunachal Pradesh! We thus have both a border problem as well as a territorial problem with China.
The intrusion in Depsang in Eastern Ladakh was clearly on the Indian side of the LAC even on the basis of the Macartney-MacDonald Line. It was hence a clear violation of India’s territorial integrity. As India’s border with China’s Xinjiang Province in Eastern Ladakh and the Tibet border with Arunachal Pradesh remain un-demarcated on the ground and as both sides do not use common maps, disputes on the boundary will always remain. These disputes are unlikely to be resolved until both nations agree to demarcate the line on the ground and then have similar maps of the boundary. Differing perceptions of the boundary can lead to a faceoff between Chinese and Indian troops with potential for conflict escalation, which could even lead to full-scale war. In addition, China may unilaterally try to resolve its territorial dispute with India through force. There is thus a requirement to ensure effective border management to both avoid potential conflict as also be the better able to deal with it should such an eventuality arise. This assumes greater significance when viewed in the context of military related infrastructure development by China in Tibet, Chinese defence modernisation and the vast financial outlays allocated for that purpose. While India may be willing to cooperate with an increasingly affluent China, she must factor in the fact that Chinese defence doctrine is getting increasingly assertive. The best way to counter Chinese designs remains in being prepared to defend our national interests.
Considering the above, it is essential that duality in border management be avoided. As of now, while the Indian Army is responsible for the border, the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which comes under the Home Ministry, also looks after some segments. The ITBP reports through its channels to the Home Ministry and remains outside the Army’s chain of command. This is a sure fire recipe for disaster. It must be remembered that prior to the disastrous 1962 conflict with China, the border was under the control of the Ministry for External Affairs and the Army was not in the loop. The army took responsibility of the area only when the situation became untenable. This was one of the major reasons for the 1962 debacle and we cannot allow that to happen again.
It must be remembered that prior to the disastrous 1962 conflict with China, the border was under the control of the Ministry for External Affairs and the Army was not in the loop.
The ITBP is a police force working under the Home Ministry. If the border were demarcated, then perhaps there was a justification for giving this force a border guarding responsibility. In the present case however, we have a semi-active un-demarcated border with Chinese troops continually overstepping their brief and patrolling in Indian Territory. To presume that such activity is only confined to the extent of Chinese perceptions of the LAC is being naïve. An undefined border with maps of each other’s claim lines also not having been exchanged gives the Chinese the leeway to continually patrol deeper and deeper into Indian territory and keep changing their perception line! India has a Peace and Tranquility Agreement with China but how long tranquility will remain is a moot question. The infrastructure build up by China in Tibet and the huge sums of money being put into modernisation of Chinese Armed Forces holds dangerous portents for India. The need for effective border management therefore assumes urgency and towards that end, two issues must be urgently addressed.
First, the sole responsibility for the border must rest with the Army. As of now, the ITBP, which is under the Home Ministry is holding some segments of the border and is tasked to prevent violations, encroachments and other threats such as smuggling, movement of goods etc. It has been suggested that the ITBP deployed on the border should be placed under the operational control of the Army. This step will not find favour with the Home Ministry and the turf wars that will ensue will dilute the border management effort. The better option is for the ITBP to be totally de-inducted from the border and border guarding at the LAC made the sole preserve of the Indian Army.
The Army has the troops and the wherewithal to man the border and single point responsibility and accountability will lead to more effective and efficient border management. In any case, Army and ITBP posts are often co-located but operate independently. This is a wasteful duplication of effort. Till such time as the border is demarcated, the responsibility for border management must remain with the Army only. This step will give two immediate payoffs. First, it frees the ITBP for other tasks under the ambit of the Home Ministry. For operations against Left Wing Extremism (LWE), the Home Ministry has been repeatedly asking the Ministry of Defence for Army units to combat insurgency in affected areas. The Raksha Mantri has rightly turned down such requests. However, once the Army takes on the complete responsibility of border management on India’s borders with China, the ITBP becomes readily available to the Home Ministry for counter insurgency tasks. The ITBP is well trained and is a potent force to tackle LWE in any of the states where deemed necessary. The Army could assist the ITBP in training complete battalions for counter insurgency tasks. This simple bifurcation of duty would result in better border management against China and lead to more police forces being immediately available to tackle LWE.
The Army could assist the ITBP in training complete battalions for counter insurgency tasks. This simple bifurcation of duty would result in better border management against China…
For effective border management on the India-China border, a border management doctrine must be formulated. A key component of the doctrine would be the requirement of continuous all weather, day and night surveillance over our area of interest to keep a watch over all activities across the LAC and to ensure that potential intrusions are detected well in time and are responded to immediately. This would encompass assets available with the army as also all resources available at the national level such as satellite imagery, aerial and electronic surveillance, photographic reconnaissance, UAVs, radars and the like along with human intelligence.
The doctrine must also look into issues of responding to crises through quick reaction teams acclimatised for operations, having adequate mobility to respond to border situations in near real time. Drills for various contingencies would have to be rehearsed so that we are not caught on the wrong foot. A comprehensive doctrine, which reflects national will, is the best guarantor of peace. In the case of Pakistan, the Indian Doctrine of Proactive Defence has proved to be an effective deterrent in the conventional domain. It must however be remembered that it is not armies which go to war but nations. While military aspects are important, the doctrine must also focus on national response mechanisms to include all facets of national power. This would lead to developing comprehensive capability to ward off external threats, thereby ensuring peace on our frontiers.