Less than two months after New Delhi and Beijing announced troop disengagement at Doklam, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs was told by S Jaishankar, the then Foreign Secretary, that it was possible Chinese troops were in northern Doklam but, on real time basis, he would hesitate to comment.
His successor, Vijay Gokhale, also told the committee that the Chinese troop build-up in the area, though in a territory disputed between Bhutan and China, was taking place across a large part of the India-China boundary, and on both sides.
The Indian Express has learnt that the testimonies of Gokhale, Jaishankar, Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra and former Army chief General (retd) Deepak Kapoor are part of the draft report of the committee on ‘Sino-India Relations including Doklam, Border Situation and Cooperation in International Organisations’.
The draft report, circulated among members for comments, was discussed by the committee Thursday. Chaired by Shashi Tharoor, the committee includes Rahul Gandhi, Varun Gandhi, Swapan Dasgupta, Richard Hay, Raghav Lakhanpal, Vishnu Dayal Ram, Ram Swaroop Sharma, Sharad Tripathi, Chunibhai Gohel, Sugata Bose, Kanimozhi, Mohammad Salim and Supriya Sule among its members.
The military faceoff at Doklam between India and China started on June 16, 2017, when a Chinese road construction party tried to build a road in the Doklam region and was stopped by Indian troops from Doka La. The issue was eventually resolved with disengagement of border personnel at the faceoff site in Doklam on August 28. But as reported by The Indian Express, Chinese troops remained present near the faceoff site, particularly in north Doklam, despite the issue being amicably settled.
Referring to north Doklam, Jaishankar is said to have told the committee on October 18, 2017 that the area is actually a part of Bhutan and an issue with which Bhutan will be focused on. For the Indians, he said, the focus was the faceoff area, the access point for the Jampheri ridge. This is the place, he said, where Indian security interests are at stake.
To a query on whether the Chinese troops were located in Chinese territory or Bhutanese territory, Jaishankar said he did not have a real-time figure on the number on Chinese soldiers who may be beyond the Batangla-Merugla-Sinchela ridgeline.
On February 22 this year, Gokhale too clarified India’s stand on the Chinese troop build-up, stating that this part of the territory is disputed between Bhutan and China. He too said the build-up was taking place across a large part of the India-China boundary and on both sides.
He said the limited Indian objective was whether the area where construction was taking place was within 100 metres of what Delhi considers the India-Bhutan boundary. Any build-up or activity beyond that is a matter for China and Bhutan to sort out. He said it is not for India to tell the Chinese that they should construct infrastructure elsewhere along the border.
Defence Secretary Mitra, it is learnt, told the committee on October 30, 2017 that the Chinese built a road across the Batangla-Merugla-Sinchela ridgeline about 15 years ago. Jaishankar also agreed that the road did not come up all of a sudden. He said it happened over many years. The faceoff, he said, was because that denoted a qualitative raising of what the Chinese had been doing and the new activity, if allowed, could have seriously undermined Indian interest.
The committee was told that there were 13 rounds of diplomatic discussions with the Chinese side, led by the Indian Ambassador in Beijing, which led to resolution of the faceoff at Doklam. The committee was also told that there were enough Indian troops in the circle around Doklam.