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Tactical Level Crisis Prevention in Ladakh, Wither Arunachal?

Chumi Gyatse Falls Near Yangtse Image Courtesy Connecting Traveller

Working on three years of past experience of occupying front line positions in Eastern Ladakh, Indian Army [IA] and the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] have established tactical level crisis prevention mechanisms in Eastern Ladakh, while no such arrangement is noticed in Arunachal Pradesh, location of a major clash in 2022.

Tactical level communications have been in place for long and were even operative when the clash happened in Galwan in June 2020.

However despite these there have been violations from time to time with the IA blaming the PLA for transgressing across the Line of Actual Control [LAC]. As these issues are not prominently covered in the Chinese media or in official releases the IA version can be assumed to be true.

Now with another harsh winter setting in with temperatures expected to drop to Minus 30 degrees centrigade and below at night adding the wind chill factor, special arrangements are necessary for troops to stay at many of the tactical positions which are exposed to the adverse weather. Deployment of large numbers is well nigh impossible thus a pull back is evidently planned with possible consensus on both sides at the level of battalion commanders as reported by the Indian Express.

CBMs at this level were reportedly approved by the 20th Senior Commanders [Corps or operational] meeting though there was no breakthrough in disengagement and de-escalation during the same on the two remaining points of contact – Depsang Bulge and Demchok.

India is aiming to regain patrol access to 26 patrolling points — out of the 65 in eastern Ladakh to which access has been denied to the Indian troops since April 2020.

Establishing confidence building at the tactical level is a sensible arrangement as this will facilitate minimum forward deployment mainly for surveillance while keeping adequate reserves in the depth areas which are habitable for larger strength.

With these communications in place, the winters in Ladakh may be peaceful, but the same cannot be said for Arunachal Pradesh in the East.

On 9 December last year, the PLA attempted a transgression in the Yangtse Area in Arunachal Pradesh. Defence Minister Mr Rajnath Singh outlined details of the incident in the parliament which was in session.

Mr Rajnath Singh said, “On 09 December 2022, PLA troops tried to transgress the LAC in Yangtse area of Tawang Sector and unilaterally change the status quo.  The Chinese attempt was contested by our troops in a firm and resolute manner. The ensuing face-off led to a physical scuffle in which the Indian Army bravely prevented the PLA from transgressing into our territory and compelled them to return to their posts. The scuffle led to injuries to a few personnel on both sides. I wish to share with this House that there are no fatalities or serious casualties on our side”.

Senior Colonel Long Shaohua, spokesperson for the Western Theater Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) however called the same as routine patrol in Dongzhang [yangtse] area, “on December 9, the border troops assigned to the PLA Western Theater Command conducted a routine patrol on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Dongzhang area in Eastern Sector of the China-India border, and encountered obstruction from the Indian troops who illegally crossed the LAC,” as per China Military Online.

Given the large number of troops involved from the PLA, the move could not be categorized as a patrol.

With a view to prevent such an intrusion this year, the IA is undertaking various measures in Arunachal Pradesh. The Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was in the State which is claimed by China on an inspection tour last month.

With only limited CBMs in place in this sector a cross border incident across the McMahon Line cannot be ruled out this winter as well.

Meanwhile apart from the IA, the Indo Tibetan Border Policy [ITBP] which curiously functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs [MHA] is raising seven battalions for deployment on the China border as per the Hindu. The report states,  “47 new border outposts and 12 staging camps are under construction in Arunachal Pradesh”. The ITBP has built 25 strategic roads, while another 32 roads are under construction as per the Hindu. 

In the curious maze that is the Indian higher defence and security command structure, the IA plea for placing the ITBP under its control has fallen on deaf ears as the MHA refuses to let go control of such a large force from its domain in a case of empire building that is not unusual in the Indian heirarchy.

In sum, with lack of trust on the Indian side, despite the CBMs - deployment for surveillance and denial of key terrain features as the Yangtse will remain on course during the winter of 2023-24.

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