Managing borders

Given the increasing frequency of Chinese intrusions along the Line of Actual Control and Pakistan’s attempts at infiltration of terrorists along the Line of Control, India will have to review both its mobile and static defences across both frontiers.

The fortnight long incursion into Chumar in Ladakh before and after the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping which seemed to have been ordered by someone else in the hierarchy may well be another ploy of sending a message to India that henceforth Chinese troops (and accompanying civilians) will no longer adhere to the old practice of using banners as a means of dissuasion of intrusion and instead squat on land that is claimed familiarized with the kind of landscape they would be asked to set up new Chinese colonies. In fact, the practice could well mean that “where there are Chinese soldiers and civilians that is Chinese territory”.       

On the Tibetan frontage, Indian security forces have time and again been surprised by the Chinese deep penetration at both Depsang and Chumar in the Ladakh sector. On one occasion the long range reconnaissance and surveillance camera (LORROS) set up by Indian security forces to give early warning of the undesirable presence was seized by Chinese troops, destroyed and handed back to the Indians-defeating the very purpose of setting up such an expensive camera.

Chinese intrusion

The blatant manner in which the Chinese launched their latest intrusion into Chumar even as Xi Jinping was preparing to leave for New Delhi has two implications. One that Jinping is not in control of the People’s Liberation Army or the other that he had ordered the intrusion to let the new Indian government feel like a paper tiger.

Xi Jingping is the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. He is no pushover and he must have planned his whole schedule in India down to the last detail inclusive of the intrusion which, this time, included civilians who were clearly being acclimatized and becoming used to the local habitat.

The Indian side of the 3,888 km LAC is manned by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police as per the decision of the Group of Ministers who whetted the K Subrahmanyam Kargil Committee’s recommendation for a single border/single force. It is a huge landscape made more difficult to patrol and supervise by the tortuous nature of the terrain. Yet what has irked Indians is that the Chinese could, so easily, penetrate that portion of the Line of Actual Control that we claim to be ours. The case of the broken camera is a case in point. It is so obvious to even the most unschooled mind that we do not have enough personnel to do the job.

Hence the space between the static defences and the mobile defences is both shallow and inadequate and cannot overtake the Chinese before they can put in an appearance several kilometers within the Indian “perception of the Line of Actual Control”. We are unable to meet them “on the Line” till now.

Ensuring surveillance

This space should and could have been covered by the several hundred unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have been acquired by the Indian Army and paramilitary forces like the Border Security Force, and Central Reserve Police Force. The ITBP which is manning the most sensitive land border with a very inimical China should have been the first to deploy UAVs for surveillance and reconnaissance if not for actual operational requirements at least to know what is happening around its pickets so that it is not caught off-guard.

If the absence of UAVs in the ITBP arsenal is the result of the ongoing Indian Army demand for overall command of this paramilitary force which is being strongly resisted by the ITBP this is extremely unfortunate. The ITBP being the designated force responsible for the defence of the Line of Actual Control should be given the weaponry and sensors to enable it to do the job effectively.

The possibility that the ITBP does not have the UAVs to do the job can be deduced from the ease with which the Chinese penetrated deep into the Indian claim line not just once (which could be an aberration) but several times a year. If a UAV was in use the ITBP would have been seen to be responding to the Chinese threat faster and more appropriately in consonance with the Indian claim line. This has not been happening.  

Hopefully, things will change perceptibly once the 54 new border observation posts have been constructed in the Arunachal Pradesh sector of the Line of Actual Control in the east which is perceived to be more vulnerable than the Ladakh sector in the west. Either way, this will improve Indian military presence by about 10,000 troops and a modicum of infrastructure in the inter-linkage between border outposts.

Reports have it that there will be more deployment of UAVs in the Arunachal Pradesh sector; which is a good thing. But Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s assertion that India wants “peace with honour” cannot be expected to become a reality in the light of Chinese geopolitics. Therefore, every sector, more particularly the sensitive ones in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh should have UAVs to assist ground troops to be forewarned about emerging threats. The fact that there were more than 600 Chinese intrusions all along the Line of Actual Control in one year points to how much needs to be done to make Mr Rajnath Singh’s dictum a reality.

Against Pakistan, the defences are holding even against relentless direct fire artillery weapons. Indian watchtowers have been made targets and the new threat is from tunnels built from Pakistan under the barbed wire fence into India. The current exchange of gunfire appears to have a hidden agenda beyond the attempt to internationalize the Kashmir issue. As before the Kargil invasion of 1999, Pakistan had launched a bombardment of Kargil town and Dras in what was seen as an attempt to scare away the local population of Shia Muslims and allow the Pakistan a free hand in that area.

Two of its current political objectives-internationalization of the Kashmir issue and instigating an uprising which it could exploit to launch a direct attack under the guise of an “invitation” from the “people of Kashmir”-were literally washed out by the deluge that struck the Kashmir valley.                    

It could well be that motor-mouth former military dictator of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf has given a hint of what is in store for India. He has repeated the old threat of “lakhs of Pakistanis wanting to free Kashmir” and added something that is in keeping with the advent of tunnels in the subcontinent. He has said that there could be a “front and back maneuver” - which is reminiscent of the military pincer movement-that would catch Indian troops off guard.

The Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence has acquired the technology for digging through hard rock from the North Koreans and has used it in executing the jailbreak of Taliban commanders from the Kandahar prison. It has been itching to use the technology to achieve success in its own core issue in Kashmir. Hence the discovery in India of tunnels is experimental and could be diversionary. The ones that will be used to achieve spectacular effect will, most probably, be used when the snows melt.