The fact is that we have lost our sovereign territory to China in the Eastern sector. It doesn’t help India’s cause to misstate the facts.
At the recently concluded Home Ministry’s DGP/IGP Conference, the prevailing situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China was discussed. The conference chaired by the Home Minister was also attended by Prime Minister Modi and Mr. Doval, his National Security Advisor.
A paper, now unavailable on the website, presented by SP Leh, Ms. PD Nitya, brought out that the Chinese have pushed the border into our territory by establishing buffer zones whereby our patrols can no longer show their presence at 26 of the 65 patrolling points in Eastern Ladakh. This has impeded the movement of locals and officials and also resulted in graziers not being able to use some of their traditional grazing grounds. The implications are serious and require the reader to be cognizant of the significance of the LAC.
As is well-known, following Independence our boundary with Tibet continued to remain undefined and disputed. A situation made more complex following the annexation of Tibet by China in 1949. In 1959, Premier Zhou Enlai of China in a letter to Prime Minister Nehru suggested the concept of the LAC, as the "line up to which each side exercises actual control". This was rejected by Nehru as being “incoherent”, though it did de facto come about following the 1962 Conflict.
It was only in 1993 that this was formalized by both sides, though that agreement included a clause that “the two sides agree that references to the line of actual control in this Agreement do not prejudice their respective positions on the boundary question". In 1996 it was further clarified that "no activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control". The ruggedness of the terrain does not practically allow us to establish and maintain posts all along the LAC, unlike the situation along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. The LAC thus remains only a notional line not delineated on the ground, which has resulted in differing perceptions on both sides.
However, since forward troops require to be given specific areas that they would be responsible for guarding, the China Study Group, designated “Patrolling Points” on the ground that points up to which troops would patrol based on the frequency laid down. This Group is an inter-ministerial Secretary level informal official committee, established in 1970 and presently headed by the NSA that recommends policy towards China to the Government. The designated “Patrolling Points”, give a more realistic “on-ground” picture of our control along the LAC.
So, what are we to make of all this? It now emerges that we have been pushed back by the Chinese in 2020 from a third of the territory we earlier controlled in Eastern Ladakh. That by any measure is a loss of sovereign territory and one cannot help but conclude that the Prime Minister was prevaricating when he publicly stated that the Chinese had not intruded and occupied any territory, despite knowing this to be untrue.
That other ministers, bureaucrats, and what is worse, the military hierarchy went along with this fiction, without so much as a modicum of protest speaks volumes of their integrity, character, and qualities of leadership. While most of us have little expectations of our politicians and bureaucrats, that our military leadership has also fallen so low is indeed tragic. How will they ever look our soldiers in the eye and expect to lead them into battle? Also, as is to be expected, once the political leadership is complicit in covering up, there is no question of those responsible for this debacle ever being held to account.
In any case, given the disorganized and diffused state of our border management, who is to be blamed? While defence against external adversaries should rightly be the responsibility of our Armed Forces, in this case, we also have the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, over a divisional-sized Central Armed Police Force under the MHA, interposed in between and reporting directly to Delhi. Coordination and passage of information between the ITBP and the Army are left to individual personalities and not institutionalized, as should have been the case, by placing them under command of the Army. Can the China Study Group be unaware of such basics, surely not.
Interestingly, our CAPF reportedly has a strong double that of our Army. Not being a police state, the necessity for the MHA to have such a large armed force under its control can only imply that the political establishment is ever fearful of being deposed, as has happened elsewhere in our neighborhood. That also explains why our military has been targeted over the years, its customs and traditions interfered with, its standing tarnished, and now its recruitment pattern demolished. Isn’t it odd that a junior police officer responsible for law and order, located over 150 Kms from the LAC, with no experience in combat or high-altitude warfare, presents a report belittling the Army, albeit obliquely, and inferring that we were pushed back because they could not withstand the rigors of rugged terrain and inclement weather and dominate the areas? That too for the Prime Minister’s ear, Mughal Court intrigue anyone?
(The writer, a military veteran, is a visiting fellow with the Observer Research Foundation and a senior visiting fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai. The views expressed are personal)