Government strangely downplays unabated Chinese intrusions into India
The director general, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, V.K. Joshi has publicly said that there have been 140 intrusions by the Chinese troops (People’s Liberation Army) into Indian territory in 2007 alone. He should know what he is saying as his troops hold the first line of defence on the 4,056km long disputed border with China. Quite expectedly, the defence minister, A.K. Antony has made light of these violations saying that these are not serious and that the border is peaceful. The media that usually goes ballistic on any news on Pakistan has demurely accepted the minister’s response and it is business as usual. No one has bothered to ponder who is benefiting from India’s appeasement approach. The Chinese who regard appeasement as signs of weakness are emboldened with their tactical forays into Indian territory that started after the two countries signed the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA). Under the BPTA, both sides agreed to rename the entire disputed border as the Line of Actual Control, implying a military held line that can be changed at will by military means. Before the BPTA, the LAC formed after the 1962 India-China war was a mere 320km stretch from Daulat Beg Oldi to Demchok in Ladakh with a 20km demilitarised zone on either side. The remaining border, perceived to be a settled one, was called the McMahon Line by India.
Between 1962 and 1993, there were only two incidents of border violations by the PLA: the 1967 firings at Nathu La and the 1986 Sumdorong Chu crisis. Both were minor incidents that snowballed into major events signalling to Beijing that an early resolution of the disputed border was needed. Indeed the clear message of the 1988 famous handshake between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping was that the Chinese respect strength. Things changed after the 1993 BPTA.
In 1995, at the eighth joint working group meeting, both sides identified eight ‘pockets of dispute’ where there were differing perceptions about the alignment of the LAC. These are: Trig Heights and Demchok in western sector, Barahoti in the middle sector, and Namka Chu, Sumdorong Chu, Chantze, Asaphila and Longju in the eastern sector. Starting 1999, to demonstrate solidarity with Pakistan during the Kargil war, the PLA intruded (called aggressive patrolling in Chinese parlance) five to eight kilometres into Pangong Lake and Spanggur Gap and heightened activities in Rechin La and Siri Jap all in the western sector, in areas which were not identified as disputed during the eighth joint working group meeting. Between January and August 2000, the army reported 96 incidents of violation of the LAC in Trig Heights alone as compared with 120 incidents in 1999 in the same area. The PLA violations are more in the western than the eastern sector because unlike as in the case of the Chinese side there are few roads/tracks on our side. All the ITBP posts in the western sector are maintained by air and stocking for eight months from October to May is done at the posts that remain completely cut off due to heavy snow. Alarmed by the PLA activities, the Vajpayee government took two steps. One, Prime Minister Vajpayee travelled to Beijing in 1995 where he formally declared Tibet as the part of China in return for meetings between special political representatives of the two sides to settle the border dispute in a give-and-take manner. It was clear to New Delhi that the BPTA had stressed India; in order to maintain peace and tranquillity, India had been forced to underplay repeated PLA intrusions into Indian territory. The ITBP personnel have been instructed to shorten their patrolling areas to well inside the Indian territory. For example, in Trig Heights area, the ITBP patrol today go at least five km short of the LAC (no one goes to the DMZ as they did before the 1993 agreement) than what they did in the Nineties. There have been instances where the intruding PLA patrols have been rude to ITBP patrols that have challenged them, to the extent of even snatching away their service rifles. The latter have been ordered to merely report the incidents to higher headquarters. This is not all. It is instructive to note that compared with the Pakistan front, the Indian Army formations on the Chinese border behind the ITBP are in reduced strengths. As a general rule, a brigade (with three battalions) is about two battalion strength on the Chinese border, when it could be six or seven battalions against the Pakistan Army.
Two, in order to improve infrastructure to match the growing border management by the PLA, the Vajpayee government had in 2001 ordered the building of 12 strategic border roads suggested by the China Study Group on war-footing. The most important of these in the western sector was the Darbuk-Daulat Beg Oldi road. Other high priority roads were Hayuliang-Chaglohagam, Etalin-Malinye and Nacho-TCC in the eastern sector. While the government had sanctioned the finances, the work is still to commence as the MEA felt that China may view this as an offensive move that may affect relations. The DG, ITBP now informs us (FORCE interview) that the Manmohan Singh government has sanctioned Rs 1,400 crore for 27 roads along the LAC. We have to wait and seen what happens now.