September 30, 2022

China’s recurring gains – No patrol zones

Whether India will thereafter insist on disengagement from Depsang and Demchok, or will it defer it in perpetuity on pretext of ‘legacy issues’ and recommence joint military exercises with PLA (hopefully not) only time will tell. But how much China has gained from these no-patrol zones should be more than evident from the above.

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

According to news reports of August 25, India and China are to soon have the 13th round of Corps Commander-level talks to address the friction point (pseudonym for PLA intrusion) at Hot Springs. The report, however, says that an invite is being sent to the Chinese for the fresh round of talks to address the dispute in the Hot Springs area, which means its approval depends on whims and fancies of China. The news report further says that this would be the “last” of the new friction points to be resolved that emerged post-May 2020.

This indicates that either the media houses are on Beijing’s payroll or have never heard of Depsang and Demchok, Depsang being the deepest PLA intrusion across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) where the PLA is not permitting Indian patrols to go to the locations of their protective patrols (PP) which themselves are short of the LAC. One explanation can be that a narrative is being built with some putty-kneed politicians commenting that these (Depsang and Demchok) are legacy issues – which may be ignored or surrendered? To top this, the ‘three-bags full’ yes men have been calling the PLA intrusions mere “slivers” of territory. 

Following the 12th round of India-China Corps Commander-level talks held in Eastern Ladakh on August 1, the PIB release of August 2 covering the joint statement had said, “The two sides had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on resolution of remaining areas related to disengagement along the LAC….The two sides noted that this round of meeting was constructive…..They agreed to resolve remaining issues in an expeditious manner in accordance with the existing agreements and agreement….The two sides agreed in the interim they will continue their effective efforts in ensuring stability along the LAC……and jointly maintain peace and tranquility.” 

The above round of talks resulted in the disengagement from the Gogra friction point (read PLA intrusion). This was termed as a “major breakthrough” in restoring the ground situation despite the fact that it ended up .in creating a ‘five-km long buffer zone’. The ‘yes men’ argued that the length of the buffer zone depends on the terrain in particular area. However, bulk of the buffer zone, if not all, is on the Indian side of the LAC. This means that our patrols cannot venture towards the LAC. 

This indicates that either the media houses are on Beijing’s payroll or have never heard of Depsang and Demchok, Depsang being the deepest PLA intrusion across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) where the PLA is not permitting Indian patrols to go to the locations of their protective patrols (PP) which themselves are short of the LAC.

On July 14, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had a closed door meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on sidelines of the SCO Foreign Ministers Meet at Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Jaishankar conveyed that attempts to change status quo last year that also disregarded commitments under the 1993 and 1996 agreements have inevitably affected ties. More round of talks were agreed to by both sides.

In September 2020, Jaishankar and Yi had met in Moscow where Yi had committed to “complete disengagement” in Eastern Ladakh. However, later China backtracked in its usual characteristic and only agreed to discuss disengagement from both banks of Pangong Lake; that too after Indian troops vacated all heights on the Kailash Range in Indian territory giving up its strategic advantage.

Indian occupation of Kailash Range on August 29-30, 2020, was hailed a strategic masterstroke in Indian media that also provided a launch pad. But after we vacated these heights, the same media and yes men said they only provided ‘some’ tactical advantage. It, however, remains a mystery what caused India to give up its strategic advantage by vacating the Kailash Range. Was a one-to-one threat conveyed by Wang Yi to Jaishankar or NSA Ajit Doval like capturing entire North Bank of Pangong Lake and we buckled?

As part of the disengagement along the North Bank of Pangong Lake, PLA has moved from atop the Indian post at Finger 4 to east of Finger 8 while India has moved from Finger 4 to between Fingers 2 and 3 (Dhan Singh Thapa Post), leaving a 10-km no-patrol zone with a metal road on the Chinese side leading up to Finger 4. Here again, our patrols cannot go up to Finger 8 as earlier. The buffer zone here too is on our side of the LAC.

The ‘yes men’ argued that the length of the buffer zone depends on the terrain in particular area. However, bulk of the buffer zone, if not all, is on the Indian side of the LAC. This means that our patrols cannot venture towards the LAC. 

In Depsang plains, PLA had made a 20-km deep intrusion at Y-Junction (also called Bottle Neck) in 2013, which it vacated three weeks later only after India dismantled its structures and surveillance equipment from Chumar; some 400 km south of the intrusion area. “This time the PLA has installed surveillance structures at Y-Junction and is not permitting our patrols to approach Patrol Points 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13 that were established ‘short’ of the LAC years ago on recommendations of the China Study Group. One newspaper talked of our patrols using alternative routes to reach these PPs; which is fake news. Another report says that China has rebuffed any talks on Depsang and Demchok.

Link the above developments with news reports of July 13 quoting security officials that PLA has erected concrete watchtowers with CCTV cameras “inside India-claimed lines” in Ladakh to monitor Indian troop deployment. According to an official of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), “The watchtowers and posts erected by the Chinese overlook areas held by the Indian Army. It’s a matter of extreme concern.” An Intelligence Bureau (IB) official said, “The Indian patrols at these friction points are outnumbered by the Chinese. In a tit for tat, the Indian Army too is erecting poles fitted out with digital cameras to monitor Chinese movements inside their occupied zones.”

It may be assumed that the disengagement from Gogra, if at all, may result in another buffer zone of five-km or more in our territory which will likely be hailed as another “major breakthrough”. Whether India will thereafter insist on disengagement from Depsang and Demchok, or will it defer it in perpetuity on pretext of ‘legacy issues’ and recommence joint military exercises with PLA (hopefully not) only time will tell. But how much China has gained from these no-patrol zones should be more than evident from the above.

China has used prolonged dialogues to push through its agenda. It did the same to the US through the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group (US-China-Afghanistan-Pakistan) dialogue taking America for a ride and eventually kicking US-NATO troops out of Afghanistan using Pakistan.  Little wonder someone says “China can sell American and Indian diplomats on the streets of Doha, Kabul, Islamabad, Moscow and Dushanbe”.

As part of the disengagement along the North Bank of Pangong Lake, PLA has moved from atop the Indian post at Finger 4 to east of Finger 8 while India has moved from Finger 4 to between Fingers 2 and 3 (Dhan Singh Thapa Post), leaving a 10-km no-patrol zone with a metal road on the Chinese side leading up to Finger 4. Here again, our patrols cannot go up to Finger 8 as earlier. The buffer zone here too is on our side of the LAC.

Our diplomats who have been repeatedly duped by China from day over the decades are happy putting the Army in front this time to resolve their bungling in handling the LAC. But such pusillanimity encourages China even more. They probably would not even connect that when Musharraf said “there will be many more Kargils” he was probably talking about China.

The author is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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