The External Affairs Ministry on Friday confirmed that “an incident” involving a violent scuffle between Indian and Chinese soldiers had taken place on the banks of Pangong Lake in Ladakh on Independence Day. In the middle of the two-month-old standoff at Doklam, this incident has raised concerns about the validity of disengagement protocols holding up in a tense environment on the India-China border.
“I can confirm that there was an incident at Pangong Tso on August 15…. Such incidents are not in the interest of either side,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
Kumar also said that peace and tranquility in the border areas is an important requirement for development of bilateral relationship.
In addition to the Ladakh incident, the increasing number of Chinese patrols in disputed border areas is also adding to the worry on the Indian side. Sources told The Indian Express there have been more than 300 transgressions by Chinese patrols into Indian territory this year until mid-August. Around 200 such transgressions were recorded last year.
Sources said the number of transgressions this year could cross the figure of 500, which was recorded in 2015.
Besides the increasing number of Chinese patrols, their aggressive nature of conduct, as seen in Ladakh on Tuesday, has raised fears of inadvertent or accidental escalation. While the Indian side is not seeking a confrontation, it is not going to ask its soldiers to back off either when confronted by Chinese patrols in a disputed area, according to the sources.
Tuesday’s incident on the banks of Pangong Lake saw stone-pelting, use of steel rods and rifle butts to hit each other, resulting in injuries to soldiers of both sides. Indian patrol, consisting of Army and ITBP personnel, had confronted a Chinese Border Guard patrol which had transgressed into the area claimed by India.
Indian and Chinese patrol parties have confronted each other in that area over the years but the situation has never escalated beyond jostling. The usual practice is to conduct a “banner drill”, in which both patrols hold signs, asking the other side to walk away from their territory. This is the first time, sources said, when stones were thrown by soldiers of the two armies.
This led to a border personnel meeting (BPM) at Chushul between Brigadier-rank officers of the two armies — border meetings are usually conducted by Colonel-rank officers — on Wednesday. Although the meeting was scheduled beforehand, the agenda was expanded to include Tuesday’s incident. The two sides reiterated the need to follow established protocols and drills.
Another BPM was held last week at Nathu La — the designated border post closest to the standoff site in Doklam — as per the MEA spokesperson. There were no ceremonial border meets held on August 15 at any of the five designated border meeting points, as the Chinese army did not respond to an invite by the Indian Army. This was the first time since 2005 that the ceremonial border meets were not held on Independence Day.