Status quo at Pangong Tso has been changed


Status quo at Pangong Tso has been changed


Context

  • While attention has been focused on the Galwan Valley following the June 15 violence, another unprecedented face-off has been unfolding at Pangong Tso.
  • By erecting tents and other structures on Indian territory between Finger 4 and Finger 8, China’s PLA has changed rules of agreements.

How different is the current situation?

  • The problem peculiar to this place is
    • China’s perception of the LAC is at Finger 4 and
    • our perception is at Finger 8.
  • The Fingers mountain spurs are numbered 1 to 8, from west to east.
  • So, there is a distance of 8 km where the entire conflict has been happening.
  • Our post is between Finger 2 and 3, which is well connected by a road.
  • There is a track to 1 km short of Finger 4, but it ends there. After that, it’s only a foot track.
  • The Chinese are at Sirijap, which is 8 km east of Finger 8.
  • They built a road up to Finger 4 in 1999 when Indian troop presence was limited because of Kargil. No vehicle can cross Finger 4.
  • When we patrol up to Finger 8, we have to go on foot.
  • The Chinese have the advantage as they can come up to Finger 4 on vehicles.
  • They have been sensitive to our presence in this area because they felt they built the road, and they dominated up to Finger 4.
  • They do not want us to come to Finger 8 frequently, so some times they stop us.
  • As per agreements, when stopped, we cannot bypass them.
  • We reciprocate, and stop them before they come to Finger 4.
  • For many years, it was a one-man show and they were dominating.
  • Only in the past seven or eight years, we have started pushing our infrastructure so our presence has increased.
  • What encounters used to happen once or twice a month, is now on an almost daily basis.


What explains the timing?

  • Two things happen every summer –
    • All the infrastructure work starts, and we have more troops in the area because annual exercises happen then.
    • The winter at 17,000 feet is cruel. Summer is when you can both construct infrastructure and protest it, so you see escalation of conflicts.

What is different this time?

  • Firstly, the scale at which the status quo has been changed is blatant.
  • In Pangong Tso, both sides know there is a dispute, but they have unilaterally changed the status quo and in a blatant way, by erecting structures between Finger 4 and 8 for everyone to see, in a way that shows they do not respect past agreements.
  • No country can allow such a thing to happen even if this territory is disputed. Also different is the scale of violence.

What are India’s options?

  • The approach of the Indian Army and government is the right one.
  • We have ensured a balance of forces so if anyone wants to escalate, there will be no surprise. Having said that, my view is kinetic action is the last resort.
  • People are jumping to that and saying we should evict them physically. We have not reached that stage.
  • The talks itself are a positive sign that both want to de-escalate. Both will be looking for an honourable exit.
  • If the situation is prolonged, it is ideal for the exit strategy because if it is abrupt, there is a sudden notion of victory or loss of face.
  • Hopefully, we will have a gradual de-escalation by winter and be back to the status quo ante of April.
  • Else, it will be a long haul, and other means will come into play.

The violence on June 15 in Galwan Valley was unprecedented, and so are the multiple stand-offs at different points. What explains this?

  • Although the trigger was at Pangong Tso, slowly but steadily the scale has expanded. The June 15 incident definitely came as a shock to us.
  • We always had this fear that someday things could get out of hand.
  • By God’s grace, none of the troops opened fire.
  • People have asked why they didn’t use weapons. That was a good decision from both sides to adhere to agreements and protocols despite the violence.
  • If they did use weapons, the casualties would have been in hundreds.
  • There is a sincere and serious requirement for revisiting these agreements now because our contacts are increasing.
  • Asking for a border resolution is far-fetched, but what both armies can definitely do is follow a no-patrolling zone in the 23 or so areas along the LAC where there are differing perceptions.
  • Now we have unmanned aerial vehicles and other assets to observe this, and we do not need physical contact of troops.
  • The day is not far away when people may actually start using weapons.
  • If there is a no-patrolling zone, we will find there is a drastic reduction in this kind of conflict, which would be a great thing for peace on the border.