"The Board has the strengthening of border management on its agenda and will, on the basis of all inputs available to it, make appropriate recommendations to the Government after due deliberation. The board does not concern itself with operational matters), the fact remains that India is under pressure all along the Chinese frontier.
When Chinese troops came in 19 km and camped near Raki Nallah in Depasang plains near Dault Beg Oldie (DBO) in April this year, they exposed India's vulnerability in north-east Ladakh.
The Depasang plains-DBO area (see map) has remained as inaccessible to Indian troops as it was in the 1960s. Although the Indian Air Force (IAF) managed to land the newly-acquired C-130J Hercules transport plane at the DBO airstrip, absence of a road connecting the area continues to hamper the Indian security forces.
ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) and the Indian Army is forced to depend on foot patrols to keep a vigil in the area. The Chinese on the other hand have developed roads very close to Depsang plains. The advantage of a road network was evident in the April crisis when the Chinese pitched tents for three weeks and were well supplied from the rear. The Indian effort was however dependent on mules and air drops during the face offs.
During that period it also become apparent that the Chinese had chosen Raki Nallah with care. Their presence at 19 km deep inside what Indian territory had cut off access to over 600 sq km of area north of Depsang.
My colleague Sudhi Ranjan Sen reported on Thursday that the ITBP (which is responsible for the Depsang area) had told to the government in May that 640 square kilometres in Raki Nallah in north-east Ladakh had been inaccessible to Indian troops because of that large incursion by the Chinese army.
The question that needs to be asked however is: has the government downplayed the creeping Chinese encroachment in this area for years?
RN Ravi, a highly respected Intelligence Bureau officer, who retired as Special director in April 2012 had monitored India's land border for 20 years in his official capacity, thinks so.
During the Depasang crisis he revealed in a column he wrote for rediff.com:(http://www.rediff.com/news/column/smaller-nations-stand-up-to-chinas-hegemony-we-dont/20130429.htm): "Taking advantage of its superior military capabilities along the border, China has been making increasingly aggressive military pushes along Karakoram-Daulat Beg Oldi- Track Junction- Burtse axis in the Depsang Plains inching closer to Shyok river and seeking to substantially alter the “differing perceptions” of the LAC in its favour, forcing the Indian troops to yield and incrementally retreat. Loss of territory in this sub-sector grossly undermines India’s strategic future vis-a-vis China in this sector and increases vulnerabilities of its supply axis to the Siachen sector vis-a-vis Pakistan.
"Although the latest aggression by China caught the attention of the nation, thanks to the media, the countrymen have been kept in the dark about their ongoing numerous such transgressions. While in 2005 there were 150 transgressions of the Indian LAC in this sector, the number increased to about 240 by 2010. In fact the Chinese aggression escalated after 2009.
They built a 20 km motorable road along Jeevan Nallah in 2010 and 15 km long motorable road along Raki Nallah from JAK II to GR 626516 in 2011-- both on the Indian side in the Depsang Plain without a scintilla of resistance."
Ravi, an old friend, is known to have been a blunt and plain-speaking officer even while in service and had always made his strong views known to the government. However China apologists in the government, starting with the Prime Minister, the National Security Adviser and the foreign minister Salman "acne" Khurshid, have always downplayed such incidents and attributed the dispute to "differing perceptions," on where exactly the border lies.
Army's formation commanders in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh have however reported increasing belligerence on the border and increasing face offs between Indian and Chinese patrols of late. This report on rediff.com (http://www.rediff.com/news/report/intrusion-at-midnight-rude-troops-chinas-tactic-worries-army/20130804.htm), as late as August is revealing: "Even as India and China work towards finalising a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement to prevent faceoffs with a potential to escalate into serious skirmish, the Army's Northern Command is worried over a change in pattern in the border intrusions in Ladakh and a discernible aggressive attitude of the intruders of late.
"In mid-July, for instance, two of the three intrusions in a week happened around midnight. Chinese troops on horseback came across the perceived Line of Actual Control in the dark. Strict instructions and rigorous training of the troops deployed on the LAC has prevented any untoward incident so far, Northern Command sources said. "Our worry is that a small mistake, an accidental exchange of fire at night, might lead to an unintended escalation," a senior officer confessed."As a student of India-China relations and border disputes, I have often tried to look into past incidents to relate to the present situation. In the past I had an occasion to point out that in the late 1950s too, the Chinese behaved exactly as they are doing now.
Take the period between 1959-62 and see what had happened in the same area then.
- Insist with Beijing the need for exchanging maps for all sectors immediately so that each side knows the other's claimed LAC and border negotiations can resume
- Bring the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) under the operational control of the Army to ensure uniformity in border management
- Ensure timely and effective information sharing mechanism with Indian media and through them the Indian people rather than let different stake holders speak in different and some times discordant voices during times of crisis
- Educate and prepare the Indian people on the need for give and take on border negotiations in the future