India has 3488 Km long Line of Actual control border with China, running through J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. It can be divided into three sectors I.e. Western Sector opposite J&K; Eastern Sector opposite Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh and Middle-cum-Central Sector opposite Himachal Pradesh & Uttarakhand. In all three sectors, India has unresolved border disputes with China. Most Indian citizens know about border disputes in East and West but a very few know about Central Sector.
Border dispute in the East is of non recognition of the McMohan line border by China. She claims entire Arunachal Pradesh or some 65000 square kilometres south of McMohan Line, which it considers it as part of South Tibet. It might be recollected that McMohan line border was demarcated by British Indian Government through a treaty with Tibetan Government in 1914. This treaty is not acceptable to china as she asserts that Tibet was not a sovereign to sign such a treaty.
Boundary dispute in the West is about Akasai Chin and Demochek regions of Ladakh in J& K state of India. China had occupied some 35241 sq Kms in Akasai Chin and 350 Sq Kms in Demochek region during 1962 war. China also claims some 150 sq Kms are of Demochek region under Indian Control. Besides, Pakistan ceded to China some 5180 Square Kms of Shakasgam valley of J&K, which it had annexed in 1947.
In the Middle Sector, opposite Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, there is a great chunk of territory claimed by China, which is hardly known to a common man in India. These areas are , Chumar, Kaurik, Shipki La, Nelang and Laptha. It is a 507 Km long belt but thinly held by India. Therefore, this region presents itself as an easy and a soft objective for China to capture in a limited border conflict, which would have larger impact in the current world geo-politics. These areas are Kaurik & Shipki La in Himachal Pradesh; Nelang Valley with areas Leptha, Pulam Sumda and Sang etc in Uttarakhand. These are claimed by China as a part of the Ngari Prefecture of the Zanda County of Tibet.
However, in the Middle Sector, there is another very significant region, called Barahoti Grass Land, in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, whose grazing fields extend over some 80 Kms. This is also claimed by China. Recently in the first week of June 2017, two Chinese Attack helicopters intruded into this area. They were probably on a reconnaissance mission.
Barihoti is some 397 Kms from Dehradun. Nearest Roadhead is at Rimkhim, which is three km short of Barihoti Ridge line. Thereafter, it is 700 Meters of descent to reach the Barihoti Bowl, which has a Parvati Kund and two temples of Lord Shiva and goddess Kali. Chinese troops frequently intrude into the bowl and destroy the temples but they are rebuilt by the locals.
The McMohan line runs North of Barihoti Bowl but China claims this grass land. Indian Government, in an 1958 agreement with China, had declared this area as a No-Man’s land ,which was forbidden to be patrolled and occupied by two armies. This was a strange concession by Nehruvian Government. It is generally not known to general public. However, since 2000, Indian Government has allowed deployment of ITBP men in civil clothes without weapons.
In 2013, Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna told in an internal security meeting in Delhi that China made 37 incursion attempts between 2007-2012 in Barahoti. In 2015 and 2016 too Chinese troops intruded into Barahoti. What is worrisome is the fact that between March 2017 and first week of June 2017, there have been four intrusions. The last intrusion by two helicopters is worrisome as it was by Zheva class Attack Helicopters. The question arises whether China was contemplating of annexing this 80 Kms of grassland without major effort with great international mileage.
It must be noted while Arunachal Pradesh and J& K parts of borders were well defended, it is the Middle Sector of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, inclusive of Barihoti Grassland, which was the Achilles heel in the Indian defence of her borders with China. In view of recent warnings by China, we need to take a serious view of what might happen in this sector.
Without involving in a major conflict, but to teach India a lesson and cast aspersions on her international image of rising regional power, China may strike in this region in a swift punitive action because of low priority accorded to this sector by India. China knows that militarily , India was more focussed on the Eastern and Western sectors. Limited offensive in the Middle Sector contains a surprise factor with minimum input but maximum output. Any territorial annexation by China in this region would pose a shortest and direct threat to Indian heartland. India might be complacent because of rough and tough terrain for a meaningful military offensive by China but military genius lay in doing the unexpected and impossible. China can do this.
Prime Minister Narender Modi’s recent boast, in Russia in May 2017, asserting that not a bullet has been fired over the last 40 years on Sino- Indian borders despite border dispute is no guarantee that border skirmishes cannot take place in future. Repeated Chinese intrusions in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Barihoti areas might spark a bigger event one day. In 1960-62 period of Nehru – Chou En Lai bonhomie, India sang songs of Hindi- Chinese brotherhood (Hindi -Chini Bhai – Bhai) but still a major military conflict took place in 1962. All this happened despite the facts that India accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. What was more appealing was that India declined the US offer of permanent membership of UN Security Council and recommended China first. The result was the military debacle of 1962. No bullet fired over the last 40 years is no certificate for a future serenity and tranquility over the borders. This must be seen in light of clashing and competing interests and series of Chinese threats and warnings in the recent months.
By launching such a military disgrace on India, China can silence Indian opposition to Belt Road Initiative (BRI), more particularly, CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor). The best part is that it would not require any major military effort. Worst thing is that India had herself accepted this as a “Disputed area” in the 1958 agreement. Therefore China would not be accused of border violation or aggression across international border by international community. India has to guard itself against any such surprise offensive by China in this region. It must get equal weightage. In fact, it gives India an opportunity to outflank Aksai Chin from the East. It won’t be wrong to preposition some fire power elements of newly raised Mountain Strike Corps in this sector.
In conclusion, one would say that time has come to take these intrusions seriously lest the nation is found wanting. Anticipation and preparation is the best safeguard against military humiliation and disgrace. Nation is getting enough signals of malafide intentions of our neighbours, particularly northern adversary, it would be suicidal to turn a blind eye to China ‘s ongoing activities. China knows that it cannot be friend with India. This fact has to be acknowledged by India. Sooner it is , better for India.