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Intrusions, trangressions and a line of perception

Thursday, 28 August 2014 | Claude Arpi | in Edit

No matter how you define it, the fact is that China has become aggressive along the Line of Actual Control. Indian troops and citizens on the border have to be equipped to deal with the challenge

‘There is nothing like that’, said the new Chief of Army Staff, General Dalbir Singh Suhag, when asked if it was true that Chinese troops had entered deep into Indian territory in Burtse sector, near Daulat Beg Oldi in north Ladakh. The media had earlier reported an intrusion by the People’s Liberation Army. Members of Parliament were explained that there was no Chinese ‘intrusion’ in Ladakh. On August 13, in a written reply to a question, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju stated: “No intrusion has been reported or taken place on India-China border, including Sikkim, during the last five years, However, there are cases of transgression due to difference of perception of the Line of Actual Control.”

A couple of years ago, the terminology was different; ‘intrusions’ were called ‘perceptional’, now Mr Rijiju describes the Chinese walking around with banners that read ‘this is our territory’, as simple ‘transgressions’. Even if only attributed to a “mere difference in perception of the LAC between the two sides”, the Government of India admits that there has been a total 1,612 such ‘transgressions’ between January 1, 2010 and August 4, 2014. The young Minister also gave the MPs a crash course on the subtleties of both armies’ reckoning: “While ‘intrusion’ would mean that the Chinese troops crossed over to Indian side of the LAC and stayed put, ‘transgression’ implied that they had entered Indian territory only to eventually retreat to the Chinese side.”

Fine, we can adopt the new terminology, though according to Mr Rijiju, 334 cases of ‘transgression’ had taken place this year alone up until August 4, as compared to 411 in the whole of 2013, 426 in 2012, 213 in 2011 and 228 in 2010. It is clear that the number has increased over the years, though the Government has remained silent on Uttarakhand, where the phenomenon regularly occurred (in Barahoti area particularly). Does this practically means that when the Chinese cross the Indian LAC, they just ‘transgress’ it, because according to their own perceptions, they are in China? As a result, do we have two ‘perceptional’ LACs?

This raises another question: Have maps of the different ‘perceptions’ been exchanged? Apparently, the Chinese are reluctant. The question will hopefully be asked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visits New Delhi next month. Mr Modi should insist: “At least, give us maps of ‘your’ LAC”.

This situation is relatively new. In the past, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai provided India a map of Chinese claims. On December 17, 1959, after Jawaharlal Nehru asked that the Ladakh sector be treated separately, Zhou argued: “The Chinese Government is very much perplexed by the fact that Your Excellency [Nehru] put forward a separate proposal for the prevention of clashes in the sector of the border between China and India’s Ladakh.” The Premier added: “There is no reason to treat this sector of the border as a special case. The line up to which each side exercises actual control in this sector is very clear, just as it is in the other sectors of the Sino-Indian border. As a matter of fact, the Chinese map published in 1956, to which Your Excellency referred, correctly shows the traditional boundary between the two countries in this sector.”

Three years before the 1962 border war, Beijing’s positions were clear, while today it refuses to provide a map of its claims (which over the years, have obviously expanded in China’s favour). By keeping the situation unstable on the ground, the PLA can continue to prick the Indian Army as well as the local population in Ladakh.

Gen Suhag’s ‘nothing like that’ remark is certainly not good for the morale of the Ladakhis who have to face Chinese ‘transgressor’ on a daily basis; the best proof of is comes from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson herself. Ms Hua Chunying delightedly stated: “China today appreciated the Indian Army’s response on recent reports of incursions by the PLA in Ladakh... China has noted relevant reports and the Indian position. The Indian position reflects the objective understanding and rational attitude towards the special situation.” She added that for a long time, the Indian and Chinese “have exercised restraint and have maintained peaceful coexistence.” Well, everything is relative.

But there are other issues which, though not directly related to the position of the LAC, are worrying. The Times of India recently reported: “Forces guarding the Sino-Indian border have for years been suffering lack of optimum technological, infrastructural and logistical support — something available aplenty across the border to Chinese troops.”

The article lists several aberrations such Indian GPS sets showing the Indian soldiers in Chinese territory even when the Indian troops are well within their border. Why? Because the Indo-Tibetan Border Police uses US satellite data which does not reflect Indian ‘perceptions’. On the Arunachal border, the situation is often worse as Indian troops have to walk for days without proper all-weather shoes and suitable tents, to reach the LAC. Can the Modi sarkar change this?

Another issue is the recurrent harassment of local herders and villagers by ITBT personnel who regularly stop them on one pretext or another. It is said to be one of the main reasons for migration towards Leh, Itanagar and Delhi.  In an interview to Rediff.com, Mr Rijiju had rightly pointed out: “If we manage to strengthen our forces along the border, I’m sure that it can take care of the local fear. But if we are unable to provide basic necessities to the people living the border areas, then definitely people will run away. [Today], people need basic amenities; if these basic facilities such education, health, roads, communication services, drinking water supply are not made available, people will migrate. These basic facilities should be available to those areas; if we don’t do it, someday the whole border area will be without any civilian population.”

An extreme case occurred in the Pin valley of Spiti in Himachal Pradesh where residents stated that they were not adverse to seeking help from China, if the State and Union Governments did not do something for the area. Apparently, a flood in June 2012 had damaged a bridge which connects several villages of Pin valley. Even after two years, nothing has been done by the Governments to fix it. The president of Sagnam panchayat, Mr Lobsang Tandup, (who since then has been arrested for sedition) had raised the slogan ‘Chalo China’. He told the Press: “If our Government has nothing to do with the pain and problems of its citizens, then we will not be averse in seeking help from China.”

This may be an aberration, but it reflects the unease of the local population against what they perceive as neglect by India. This should be changed on a war-footing. Let us hope that Delhi will go beyond rhetoric and start acting.