MIlitary and strategic experts have been warning the government all along that all is not well in India’s northern border. A spot report, commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on the India-China border issue, has confirmed their worst fears though the government is tight-lipped about its contents.
The ground situation report, submitted by National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) chairperson Shyam Saran to Prime Minister on August 10, 2013, underlines that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops are not allowing the Indian border patrol parties even to come anywhere near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) let alone guard the borders. The most vulnerable area is said to be eastern Ladakh, which actually witnesses exchange of fisticuffs and jostling of the Indian army jawans by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Shri Saran, asked by the PM to visit and report on the border infrastructure development in the eastern Ladakh and Siachen sectors and the LAC, has reported a grim scenario of Chinese transgressions in the Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) sector, Depsang Bulge and Chumar. Shri Saran’s earlier report of his May 2007 visit was never made public by the UPA while this time the government discussed the report in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). In a knee-jerk reaction, the UPA Government is said to have set up an inter-ministerial committee headed by Home Secretary Anil Goswami to monitor the LAC situation and the existing empowered committee on border infrastructure development, led by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, has been asked to remove the bureaucratic bottlenecks in Ladakh. Ironically, the Ministry of Defence recently scrapped a proposal to raise two new
mountain strike force based in North-East citing ‘lack of funds’.
Jolted by the stark and uncomfortable realities mentioned in the report, the UPA hurriedly called up sections of the media and suggested them not to publicise the findings.
According to the report the “limits of patrol” line has become the new LAC for India in certain areas of Ladakh sector. The PLA is showing maps which are part of the then Chinese premier Zhou En-Lai’s letter of November 7, 1959, to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to mark the LAC in eastern Ladakh. As a result, the Indian assertion of the LAC, as claimed by the China Study Group (CSG) in 1976 on the basis of the 1962 cease-fire positions, is in contrast enormously from the Chinese claims on at least 12 pockets from DBO to Chumar, where the PLA is making frequent transgressions, claiming 85 sq km of Indian territory despite the international border defining the two countries.
Yet, the CSG — which comprises the foreign, home and defence secretaries, the army vice-chief and two IB officers — restricts the Indian Army’s “limits of patrolling” to maintain border peace, nothing more. As of now the patrol line is about 20 kms deep inside the Indian side in some sectors. Indian troops were “allowed” to go only up to the patrol line in Depsang with the area marked as “bulge” with Chinese PLA. The April 15, 2013, Depsang incursion at Raki Nullah was strategically designed to prevent the Indian patrols from reaching Points 10, 11, 11A and 13 with Point 12 outside the patrol line, says the report.
The Chinese have built a motorable road to a sensitive Track Junction area in the DBO sector, thus changing the position on ground and in violation of the 2005 protocol, the report mentions. The former foreign secretary and former northern army commander Lt Gen PC Bhardwaj also surveyed Pangong Tso, a saltwater lake intercepted by the LAC. They ran into a fully armed PLA contingent firmly entrenched in their position in the Srijap area.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently carried out an integrated ground-air combat military drill on the Tibetan plateau, the fourth such exercise held by the Chinese military in Tibet since March as part of fine-tuning plateau combat competence, to test its capabilities in the region’s challenging high-altitude terrain. A report in the Beijing owned PLA Daily says that a division of the PLA Air Force and a mountain infantry brigade under the Tibet Military Command, functioning under the PLA’s Chengdu Military Region, one of seven military administrative districts tasked with guarding the eastern and middle sections of disputed border with India, and the Lanzhou Military Region in Xinjiang, carried out a joint drill with J-11 fighter jets and armed helicopters.
The PLA has held four major drills in the Tibetan plateau since March and early July. The Lanzhou Military Region was reported to have carried out a high-altitude drill with a new surface-to-air missile on the Tibetan plateau. This followed live-fire drills for anti-tank units in June and a ground attack training drill for the PLA Air Force’s J-10 fighters in March.
War room experts in India see the series of military drills as a move by China to test capabilities as a possible response to recent Indian plans to boost deployments in border areas while the PLA Daily says the drills were “pinpoint strikes” at various ground targets against a “defensive enemy”.
Indo-China defence ties were suspended in 2010 after the PLA refused to host the then head of the Northern Command, Lieutenant General BS Jaswal, on the grounds that he was serving in the “disputed and sensitive” region of Jammu &Kashmir. However, in August, in a rare gesture the Chengdu Military Region reportedly hosted a military delegation from India on visit to Tibet, though in the past the PLA has Indian delegations were taken only to regions considered less sensitive.
Defence budget and military strategy in China are always wrapped in enigma though the US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) expects China to spend US $ 96.60 billion on defence by 2020 (and US $ 775 billion by 2050) while India would spend around US $ 37.40 billion. Given China’s projected power-gain plans, the army is all set to play a greater role in devising and expanding strategies. Yet, the last few years were testing times for the Beijing dispensation which faced strong backlash on South China Sea issue with Japan. The Washington-Sydney axis prompted the US to shore up its combat capability in the Pacific increasing its naval assets manifold. While the economic indices slipped, China faced uncomfortable moments in Tibet and domestic unrest in Xinjiang. But for some strange reason, New Delhi chose to ignore the border aggressions and PLA’s shenanigans.
Sometime in April this year, US and Japanese naval officials approached New Delhi with an ambitious plan for a trilateral naval exercise. The MoD indicated a preference for holding the exercise off the coast of the Japanese island of Okinawa while US and Japan suggested a naval exercise in India.
Suddenly in the midst of consultations MoD withdrew from the proposed plans, ostensibly for fear of Chinese opposition, deciding to conduct separate naval drills in “geopolitically less sensitive” zone. Then the MoD abruptly decided that war games should be done at bilateral level for the time being “keeping in view the Chinese sensibilities”. Finally the MoD totally withdrew from all naval drill discussions.
(The writer is secretary general of Forum for Integrated National Security)
Antony denies China occupying 640 sq km Indian territory
Defence Minister AK Antony on September 6 rubbished the reports that Chinese troops had in April occupied 640 sq km of Indian territory near the border in north-east Ladakh and assured Parliament that “there is no question of India ceding to China any part of Indian territory.”
“This government keeps a constant watch on India’s security and takes all necessary measures to safeguard it…it will do all to protect India’s integrity,” he said. The minister made the statement in Lok Sabha after media reports about the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) headed by former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran’s report.
Shri Antony said the NSAB report made no mention of a Chinese incursion. “Shyam Saran’s report has not said China has occupied, or has denied access to any part of Indian territory,” he asserted; the report focuses on border infrastructure and development, he said.
“Since 1962, most Chinese portrayals of India and Indian leaders in conversations with other world leaders… have been starkly negative. An Indian would find it quite infuriating to read some of the exchanges…in recent times, Indian aspirations are dismissed as a dream. There are repeated references to the big gap between the ‘comprehensive national power’ of the two countries. It is easy to accuse the Chinese of betrayal, as Nehru did after the 1962 war, but a clear awareness that deception is, after all, an integral element of Chinese strategic culture, may have spared us much angst in the past…there is no moral or ethical dimension attached to deception and the Chinese would find it odd being accused of betrayal, in particular, if the strategy of deception had worked. What is required from our strategists and diplomats is to understand this important instrument in the Chinese strategic tool-box and learn to deal with it effectively.”
(Excerpts from second annual K Subrahmanyam memorial lecture on ‘China in the 21st century: What India needs to know about China’s world view’)