The Chinese incursion at the LAC is not a good reason for the Indian Army to get ITBP under its command
Dilip Kumar Mekala
Ever since the border face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Depsang Bulge at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in April 2013, the Indian Army has raised its pitch to acquire operational control of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP). But that one incident couldn’t have been the trigger, and it’s not correct to dismiss ITBP’s role in handling the situation. After all, the ITBP had followed all international protocols which ultimately led to the solution through diplomatic channels.
The Indian Army cannot be deployed along the forward posts at the LAC according to various UN conventions. So naturally when the Chinese troops entered the Indian territory close to the Burtse post in the Depsang Bulge, the ITBP was the first respondent. According to a source privy to the information, when the Chinese patrol team was observed coming close to the Burtse post, roughly around one-and-a-half or two kilometres away, the ITBP teams responded immediately. As per the standard operating procedures (SOP), the ITBP has to inform all the stakeholders in events such as this. Sources claimed that the information was indeed relayed to all the stakeholders like National Security Advisor (NSA), defence ministry, Indian Army and various intelligence agencies in real time. The ITBP boasts of its quick communication to as many as 11 agencies involved in resolving the stand-off.
Later, as it was widely reported in the media, the ITBP troops pushed the Chinese patrol teams back almost eight kilometres across the dried Rakhi Nallah. Apparently, it took about three to four hours for the ITBP troops to push the Chinese troops back across Rakhi Nallah. It was at that undisclosed position that the Indian troops faced the first of sign of resistance from the Chinese. The Indian troops went face to face against the rest of the Chinese troops which were already holding tactical position in that location. They were around 40 in number, holding standard arms like Makarov and Kalashnikov. The troops also were well-prepared for the stand-off supported by three vehicles and two Molosser dogs, an efficient way to keep a watch in high altitude areas.
The ITBP troops managed to hold that position, and pitched tents of their own. By that time, the ITBP had around 40-50 personnel facing the Chinese. As per the SOP, the Indian troops waved banners claiming that they had transgressed into the Indian territory, as well as other banners which pointed at the violation of the 1996 Indo-China peace and tranquility agreement. Both the sides were on the face-off for almost 24 hours, after which the Indian Army’s Ladakh Scouts entered the Rakhi Nallah. Around 30-40 Indian Army soldiers arrived at the location and pitched tents of their own, claiming the territory. The Chinese teams increased their tents to five, matching the Indian side. While none of the troops backed down, the next step was to call for a flag meeting between the field commanders.
Transgressions into the Indian soil are not uncommon. According to the Indian forces, the Chinese troops have transgressed into the Indian side more than 400 times in the last year alone. Similarly, the Chinese accuse the Indian troops of transgressing into their soil more than 600 times. This is because of the perception of the LAC. India and China have outlined the LAC on their respective maps, but not shared it with each other. The troops on the ground carry out the patrol according to their own perceived lines. As a result, common areas are claimed by both the countries. The military forces have often contested for these common lands and tried to occupy them through force. However, to avoid a possible escalation of tension into a war, both sides generally agree to not utilise such territories. So, whenever these transgressions happen, the standard procedure is to show the banners claiming they are on the wrong side, or to show banners pointing at the violation of 1996 peace and tranquility agreement. If things are not resolved by then, both the troops call their commanders for the flag meetings.
In the Depsang Bulge stand-off, the flag meetings failed to resolve the issue. Apart from the usual talks about the transgressions that arose because of the perception difference of LAC, another major sticking point in the flag meeting happened to be regarding the army bunkers at Chumar. According to sources, the Chinese troops brought the issue of Chumar bunker in all the flag meetings. The Indian Army then objected to the Chinese accusations, and claimed that the structures were only meant for rain shelter for the troops.
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