While India is sticking to mutually agreed upon protocols and agreements with China regarding management of troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), it might be reviewed at the strategic level in the future, Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Manoj Pande said Tuesday.
“In terms of our larger guidance, strategic guidance in terms of dealing with situation on the LAC is to respect the mutually agreed protocols and agreements, and that has been our effort, notwithstanding what has been the action or response from the other side. Consequent to what happened and what we need to do in the future, is something I reckon is being looked at at the larger level.”
He added that “it is being looked as to how should be our response” at the higher levels.
Immediately after the clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan Valley in June 2020, in which 20 Indian and at least four Chinese troops were killed, India had given the soldiers a free hand, which was a drastic change from the five agreements and protocols between the two countries that have been signed since 1993.
In August and September 2020, during the jostling for heights on north and south banks of Pangong Tso, warning shots were fired by both sides, including large guns, a first in decades.
The situation in the Western Sector of the India-China boundary, in eastern Ladakh, continues to remain vexed as China had refused to reach an agreement for disengagement from Patrolling Point (PP) 15 in Hot Springs during the last Corps Commander-level meeting on October 10. China had also refused to discuss the issues at Depsang Plains, where its troops are blocking India from accessing its patrolling limits, and the situation at Demchok, where some so-called civilians have pitched tents on the Indian side of the LAC.
However, Pande said that there has been very little spillover of the situation in the eastern sector. As the Eastern Army Commander, Pande is responsible for 1346 km LAC with China from Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh.
He stated that while there has been marginal increase in patrolling by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in certain sectors in the last year and a half, since the 17-month long standoff began in May 2020, there is no significant change in the situation when the entire eastern command is looked at.
There “has been a marginal increase” in patrolling by the PLA in some areas, he said, adding that there is “no noticeable change in their patrolling pattern when talking of the entire eastern sector”.
“We have observed some infrastructure development on the Chinese side close to the LAC, in terms of essentially habitat. And that has led to correspondingly more number of troops that are now located or placed there.”
While he did not comment on the specific incident of around 200 PLA troops transgressing across the LAC near Yangtse in Tawang in late August, but he mentioned that “in terms of number of patrols coming close to the LAC from the other side, there has been only a marginal increase in activity vis-a-vis last couple of years.”
“Both sides are attempting to develop infrastructure closer to the LAC,” which, he said, “again leads to certain issues at times”. “Since this infrastructure has come up close to the LAC, there has been a marginal increase in border defence troops,” on China’s side.
He, however, said that “some reserve formations that were mobilised, continue to remain in the training areas, but that again is in the depth”. Across the Eastern Command, Pande said that in “their traditional training areas, their exercises have been happening”, however, “this year the scale has maybe increased and they’re going in for a longer duration”. Asked about the border villages being built by China, he said “for us, it is a concern how it will have dual civil and military use”.
Pande also mentioned that the standoff has pushed India to increase its surveillance capabilities along the LAC. A surveillance center at Rupa in Arunachal Pradesh analyses surveillance information that it gets from unmanned aerial vehicles, radars, ground-based cameras with night vision and satellite imagery, allowing India to look into even the depth areas.
Taking note of the situation, the Army has taken a “number of steps, and measures” and “foremost would be enhancing our surveillance, both close to the LAC as well as the depth areas”.
“Our focus is on surveillance,” he said, adding that “towards this we have inducted a number of niche technologies.” He mentioned that the Army has increased its capabilities through surveillance drone, long distance unarmed aerial surveillance vehicles, better surveillance radars, better communication systems and night vision ability.
Along with surveillance, the infrastructure development is also happening across the Eastern Command, forward logistical bases and aviation bases are also being built.
“What happened in the last year and a half is something which has been a matter of concern to us, which has been articulated at different levels. From our side specially from the point of view of eastern commands, our preparation levels our ability to respond, cater for any contingencies are at a very high levels.”
He said that “when it comes to our posture we have to understand that in normal times at the LAC Army’s posture, our protocols and agreements which were meant to maintain peace and tranquility, from that perspective, our forward troops along the LAC our objective is to not show aggression, and friendly and cordial relations should be maintained.”
“If there is any need, we have to be adequately prepared and our contingency plans are ready. If the situation gets worse, to say whether we are aggressive or defensive, when we make plans, both are taken care of.”
Speaking about the situation at Doklam, where India and China had been involved in a 73-day standoff in 2017, he said “both sides are fully aware of the sensitivities of each other” and added that “in terms of increase in troop levels, there hasn’t been a major increase” and the “infrastructure has remained what it was earlier.”
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