Chinese border incursion and violation of agreements
Though India and China have signed two landmark agreements on the maintenance of peace and tranquility on the border, the two armies have indulged in extensive competitive deployment, violating the letter and spirit of the two agreements signed in 1993 and 1996. The credit must be given to these agreements for the absence of cross border firing as regularly witnessed on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan on the Jammu and Kashmir border.
It has happened for the second time after the 1987 Sumdorang Chu incident that the Line of Actual Control was violated in terms of incursions due to cross border patrolling resulting in the Depsang type incident of the Chinese soldiers actually occupying and sitting on the land area, claimed by India.
Though Indian Army was not so powerful those days, but the Army was allowed to work on the strategy of forcing the Chinese Army to vacate the area. The army had then launched Operation Falcon and the Chinese realized that India has the will to force them to go back.
Same type of will power was not displayed during the mid April Depsang incursion and the Army had to dismantle one of its observation post in the Chumar area, which the external affairs minister Salman Khurshid described only as a tin shed and of no great significance.
If the Government had listened to various exercisable options put forward by General Bikram Singh, Chief of Army, before the Cabinet Committee on Security, the Chinese would have withdrawn unconditionally this time also.
Though the response of the Indian military on the LAC has always been reactive as the Government wakes up after the event has happened, the Chinese were not happy with the responses undertaken by the Indian Army to challenge the Chinese moves.
The 1993 and 1996 agreements would have proved to be a sound basis for enhancing the mutual trust between India and China but China never adhered to the spirit of these agreements and continued to the build up of air bases and infrastructural facilities for its ground forces, along borders.
India reacted very late but this irked China and the Depsang incident was a symbolic message on the part of China to desist from developing infrastructural facilities on the LAC. China had to relent only within three weeks, just because the visit of the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang seemed to be in peril, otherwise China would have continued to sit on the territory.
Since India has strictly adhered to the agreement of not firing any shots on the LAC, the Chinese have taken advantage of the weaknesses of the Indian political leadership, which seems to be in disarray these days.
The article-2 of 1993 agreement very clearly stipulates that, “Each side will keep its military forces in the areas along the Line of Actual Control to a minimum level compatible with the friendly and good neighborly relations between the two countries. The two sides agree to reduce their military forces along the Line of Actual Control in conformity with the requirements of the principle of mutual and equal security to ceilings to be mutually agreed. The extent, depth, timing and ‘nature of reduction of military forces along the Line of Actual Control shall be determined through mutual consultation between the two countries. The reduction of military forces shall be carried out by stages in mutually agreed geographical locations sector wise within the areas along the Line of Actual Control.”
And the article- 2 of the 1996 agreement says, “The major categories of armaments to be reduced or limited are as follows: combat tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns (including howitzers) with 75 mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120 mm or bigger calibre, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles and any other weapon system mutually agreed upon.”
But these agreements remained only on paper and the Chinese built military infrastructure at a feverish pace and when Indian media reports started warning Indian leadership of the intentions of the Chinese PLA, Indian government sanctioned many forward deployment of Army and the Air Force.
Since, the Tibetan side is a plateau area where Chinese can afford to build their infrastructure like air bases and missile bases in the hinterland and link them through motorable road, Indian military had no option other than building facilities right on the LAC.
Infrastructure along LAC
The Chinese have built over the years built five fully-operational airbases, an extensive rail network and over 58,000 km of roads in Tibetan Autonomous Region. The PLA has also upgraded many other air strips which will assist the main bases during the conflict in terms of logistics support which includes the Chinese Sukhoi-27UBK and Sukhoi-30MKK fighters.
With new road and rail network the Chinese PLA has acquired the capability of deploying two divisions, around 30,000 soldiers, within two weeks, which in the decade of nineties would have taken almost three months.
The five air bases are Gongar, Pangta, Lin Zhi, Hoping, and Gar Gunsa, which can operate the frontline fighters of the Chinese Air Force. From almost negligible road network, the Chinese have constructed 58,000 kms of road in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which will enable quick deployment of soldiers on LAC.
On the other hand the Indian side of the LAC is mostly mountainous which makes it imperative for the Indian forces to set its foot right on the LAC.
For example the Nyoma airfield in Ladakh is only 23 kms behind the LAC. In response to Chinese moves the IAF has also upgraded its eastern sector ALGs (advanced landing grounds) like Pasighat, Mechuka, Walong, Tuting, Ziro and Vijaynagar along with several helipads in Arunachal Pradesh.
Earlier India had reactivated its western sector Advanced Landing Grounds like Daulat Beg Oldi, Fukche and Nyoma in eastern Ladakh.
In response to Chinese deployment of Sukhoi-27s and Sukhoi-30s Indian Air Force has also deployed Sukhoi-30 MKIs on its side of the LAC in Tezpur and Chabua airbase. The Chinese had deployed surface to surface missiles in the nineties and India has also responded by Agni series and Brahmos missiles facing the Tibet region.
The Indian Army has also deployed two mountain infantry divisions and sanction for two more strike corps is awaited. The 56 Division HQ is based in Zakama (Nagaland) under the Dimpur based 3 Corps, the 71 division at Missamari falls under the operational command of Tezpur based 4 Corps in Assam.
The Chinese have thus not allowed Indian Army to rest in peace but whenever a counter move is launched by Indian military the Chinese raise serious objections.
A competitive force deployment on both sides of the LAC has led to increasing suspicions on each other’s moves resulting in increasing force accretion on the LAC. This has also forced the armies of both sides to keep a constant watch on their movements towards new locations.
The Depsang incident was a provocation on the part of the Chinese PLA to test the will of Indian military establishment. The Indian Army was ready with many plans to force the Chinese to go back unconditionally but the political establishment developed cold feet.
Frustrated with repeated attempts of incursions by the Chinese PLA, last year India worked with China to set up a Joint mechanism to avoid any flare up, but this also took three weeks to the so called resolution after the intervention of the National Security Advisor. He talked to the Chinese State Councilor Yang Jie Chi and later the outcome of that talk cleared the visit of the Chinese PM to India.