Defending a historically undefined border line | Opinion – analysis
In my youth, I led a pair of long-range patrols along the McMahon Line. A patrol was to go to Khang La, located in the basin. We were late and we lost many hours of light, but we continued to finish our task. Then we detour through the line for almost a kilometer. With no Chinese troops in sight, we split our patrol into two teams and located Khang La alone the next morning. As a junior, this was my introduction to the Current Line of Control (LAC). Later I ordered the division in LAC in Arunachal Pradesh and then 14 Corps in Ladakh a few years ago. I have flown over the Galwan Valley several times. The ridge lines in the basin are a labyrinth with almost no posts near the line or demarcation.
The current boundary, FTA between India and China in eastern Ladakh, is the result of bloody battles fought in 1962 between the two countries on this most rugged and inhospitable terrain. These battles were fought in October-November in Daulat Begh Oldi (BOD), Galwan and Hot Springs, areas astride Pangong Tso Lake, Razangla and Demchok. Due to the severely cold temperatures and high casualties, these battles stopped and the Chinese withdrew to their bases. Similarly, the Indian army also returned to nearby bases. Since then, both armies have been present there in the absence of a formal agreement on political boundaries. Twenty-two rounds of border talks have taken place between the two nations, to no avail. India continues to claim the entire Aksai Chin and China claims area along one line, best described by India as the “Chinese perception” line.
The British left these limits unmarked. His maps showed several lines, one that ran the length of the Kun-lun Mountains, known as the Johnson-Ardagh Line that showed Aksai Chin as a territory within Jammu and Kashmir. Another is marked closer to the Karakoram Range described as the Macartney-MacDonald line and a line further west is called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Line. After independence, they were left to the interpretation of stakeholders, such as the rulers of Jammu and Kashmir, Tibet, and the Indian and Chinese governments. Random historical records, differing perceptions, and machinations of cunning political leaders, left these lines to be deciphered by experts on both sides, albeit without success. Meanwhile, the armies of both sides have remained on divided ground for this story.
While India published its map in 1954, with the international border (IB) showing Aksai Chin as Indian territory, the Chinese built the western highway through Aksai Chin in 1955, linking Tibet with Kashgarh and Xingjiang. With India’s claims as they are, the Chinese would have considered it prudent to secure the area west of this sensitive highway. This would be best accomplished by dominating the ridge lines that run the length of the Karakoram Range between the watersheds of the Chip-Chap River and the Galwan River, and then moving further southeast along the ridge lines to the west of the Chang Chenmo Mountain Range. The Chinese concept of defending these areas is to keep Indian forces at a distance from this road. With expanding artillery ranges and surveillance resources, China seems desperate to push its claim lines further west. The Indian army has a clear mandate to prevent any invasion and disruption of LAC by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and it does not allow the Chinese to unilaterally change the state of the border. The expression LAC was first used by the Chinese Prime Minister, Chou en-Lai, in a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959.
Today, the limit in eastern Ladakh is over 800 km with LAC of approximately 550 km. Chinese patrols make sure to keep passes out of the basin under domination so as not to allow Indian troops to occupy the ground beyond. They continue to build tracks that generally emanate from the western highway and progressively move west toward LAC to dominate the crossings or crossing points. Hot Springs and Galwan are areas where both sides have been making roads and tracks. The Chinese have a more open, flat terrain advantage served by the western highway. Chinese patrols are cool when they reach patrol points, often using vehicles with central heating.
ALC has not been inspected or marked on the ground. It is a line drawn with a thick pen on the map. This could translate to something like 100 meters on the ground. A tent launched a few meters this way or another along this line can create problems. However, the tents that the PLA erected throughout LAC went from where Galwan Nala can be seen directly, leading to the delicate Darbuk-Shyok-BOD Indian highway and therefore unacceptable to India as well how the EPL is sensitive to Indian domination. off the west highway. Since 1993, many agreements have been signed between the two countries to resolve these issues peacefully and in accordance with established protocols. The 1996 agreement mentions that military means will not be used in dealing with such border situations.
In the absence of any border settlement, the two sides have met face to face multiple times, resulting in clashes, with the most recent occurring in 2013 in Depsang, Demckok and Chumar in eastern Ladakh. The Galwan incident is a critical point of the worst kind in recent memory. It can have serious ramifications when both nations have large conventional nuclear-backed forces. Can the two countries afford to go to war also when the world is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic? Why China would choose to display such belligerence at this time is open to broader debate.
Lieutenant General PJS Pannu is a former Commander of the Ladakh Corps and deputy chief of the Integrated Defense General Staff
The opinions expressed are personal.