China’s Ladakh incursion is the Kargil of 21st century


Hussain Saqib

The elements of Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), the official name for armed forces of China have crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and have encamped in what India calls Indian Territory. A Chinese border guards’ platoon (40 soldiers) has pitched tents ten kilometers inside Indian territory overlooking Daulet Beg Oldie (DBO) in Ladakh in the Western sector. The last time they did a similar thing was in 1986 in Sumdorong Chu in the Eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh). Both times, the Chinese forces had blessings from the highest quarters: then Deng Xiaoping and now the President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi Jinping. The Chinese finally left Sumdorong Chu of their own accord in 1995, with India calling it a historic win-win situation. This time around, the Chinese forces are unlikely to withdraw. I this incursion, first in 21st century, a well-crafted act of an unfolding grand strategy, only the time will tell. Chinese assert that their incursion 10 kilometers into LAC is technically correct because India has done more transgressions into the Eastern sector than the other way round. China further says that it has refrained from making noises because it wants good neighborly relations, but it will act in self-defense if the need arises.

Although the Chines authorities have refused to accept this allegation, the tension is developing between the two countries and there is no immediate let up in sight in spite of mutual interaction through flag meetings. The Chinese were critical of India’s infrastructural development in the area like roads and bridges and its provocative patrolling. It has been learnt that India has upgraded old airfields along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh. These are the airfields at Daulat Beg Oldi and further south at Fuk Che and Nyoma. All these airfields can take transport aircraft and helicopters.

According to sources, India has deployed 70,000 troops including artillery regiments in Siachen and the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. Also the Air Force deploys fighter jets in Srinagar and elsewhere in the valley. But Indians insist that they had not developed any physical infrastructure in the area. As compared to India, China deploys more than 200,000 troops along its border with India in Ladakh. That includes mechanized infantry units, the artillery and tank formations. China has reportedly built 14 major air bases in Tibet, 8 missile bases and 17 secret radar stations. It also has a highway network running all along the Line of Actual Control.

China’s claim to the area as their own is not out of blue; it has consistent been asserting its position. China believes that its disputed border with India is merely 2000 km long and they said it publically when their Premier Wen Jiabao‘s visited India in December 2010. China’s stance has been simple; they think they border with India on the Middle Sector, Sikkim and Eastern Sector. They refuse to accept having any border with India in the Western sector or the state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to this assertion, China has no border with India in Ladakh. By implication, China has not accepted that they have encamped in India Territory because J&K belongs to Pakistan.

This is a major development as far as Pakistan is concerned. China has done what it has been talking about in the past. According to Indian media, China had already discreetly made its intentions clear in four choreographed moves:

  • In 2006, the Chinese ambassador in India claimed the entire 90,000 sq km Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh (Eastern sector) as its territory, calling it, for the first time, as Zang Nan or South Tibet. Following Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 2003 visit to China when India formally accepted Tibet as a part of China, the Chinese started hinting at the Indian army presence in South Tibet as intrusions in their territory. It is obvious as the Indian army increases its numbers by raising a new strike corps that the PLA will react in what they call self-defense.
  • The second Chinese move was in 2009 when they started issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris visiting China. Beijing refused a visa to Lt General B S Jaswal, head of the Indian army’s northern command responsible for J&K, in July 2010. This was because the general was posted in Kashmir (disputed area with Pakistan) and Chinese had to keep Pakistan’s sensitivity in mind.
  • The third Chinese move was in December 2010 when they publicly announced that the disputed border was a mere 2,000 km. This made the need for stapled visas for Kashmiris unnecessary; India immediately claimed to have resolved the visas issue amicably. Moreover, the Chinese announcement ended the need for further Special Representatives talks; once a side discloses its position openly, the give-and-take option for resolution is not possible. For this reason, during the 15th round of talks, it was decided that the Special Representatives need not work on border resolution. Instead, they will devise and execute a ‘Mechanism on Coordination and Consultation on Border Affairs’.
  • The fourth Chinese step regarding the Western sector was the moving of PLA forces in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The Indian chief of army staff, General V K Singh had, in 2011, repeatedly spoken of about 3,500 to 4,000 PLA troops in Northern Kashmir, something denied by Beijing and downplayed by India.

The present incursion of PLA elements into LAC is not something unprecedented. India did it in 1984 by incursion into Pakistani side in Siachen. The Indian army had the total support of Indian government. Pakistan made attempts to wrest back the area in 1987 when Pakistani commandos under Brig Pervez Musharraf launched an offensive. In 1999, Pakistan army’s para-military troops crossed into Line of Control (LoC) and occupied unmanned positions in the Kargil sector to use it as a bargaining chip to assert its position on Siachen issue. This move, a tactical in nature, was frustrated by Pakistani politicians for petty politics; to look as good boys in the eyes of Americans and Indians. This was the reason that politicians conspired to sack Musharraf and teach generals a lesson but the move was frustrated when army took over on October 12, 1999.

The latest development in Ladakh is not a venture of PLA alone; they have full support from their political leadership. India has its strategic doctrine of encircling its neighbors but China seems to have checkmated. They have declared that they do not recognize Indian claim on Kashmir and are standing with Pakistani people. It is ironic, though, that Pakistani leadership is not enthusiastic about it.



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