Even as the PLA remains adamant against withdrawing its troops who intruded into Eastern Ladakh and BJP MP Tapir Gao indicates PLA intrusions in Arunachal Pradesh, China also appears to be eyeing the border of Himachal Pradesh with China Occupied Tibet (COT) with a view to create more mischief.
China has no illegal claims in this area till now. Himachal Pradesh shares a 260 km border with COT which is quite porous. Of the total border length, 140 km is in Kinnaur District and 80 km of the border falls in Lahaul and Spiti District.
After the June 15 clash between Indian Army and PLA in Galwan area, the Himachal Pradesh Police had issued an advisory to police chiefs of border districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti to institute precautionary measures to ensure security of the population and collect intelligence.
As per news reports of June 17, 2020, a police official requesting anonymity stated, “There is no suspicious activity along the border here so far.” ITBP manning the border sent a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that said, “By and large the situation is peaceful but there is a lot of movement of civilian vehicles.”
Earlier, Chinese helicopters had violated the airspace in Sumdoh Sector of Lahaul and Spiti district thrice on April 11, April 20 and in the first week May. There are high passes along this border; main ones include the Khimokul Pass and Simthong Pass, located ahead of the Trungla Valley, which crosses into COT. There was no Chinese activity in this area even in 1962.
The ITBP has 20 posts along the 260 km border, indicating how porous the border is. Though patrolling is undertaken in the gaps jointly with the Army, opportunities for the enemy exist to intrude because of the ruggedness of the terrain.
The ITBP posts considered sensitive ones include Kaurik (last village beyond Sumdoh) and posts situated in Lakuma, Morrang, Morni, Dogri, Rishi Dogri, Domti and Niltah La.
According to recent ground reports, China is constructing a motorable road to Khimokul Pass (5641 metres) opposite Morang Valley in Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh. This will likely be extended into the two kilometers no-man’s land. Recently a mixed patrol of nine personnel (jawans and locals) from Charang village with 16 ponies and 5 porters traversed 22 km to reach the border and discovered with the melting snows that China has constructed a 20 km road towards the border with India.
This road last observed in October 2019 was only up to Tangon village in Tibet. Five fork cranes and many large dumper trucks were observed where road building is ongoing.
Concurrently, China is also constructing a road towards Yamrang La (5570 metres) in Tibet opposite Sangla Valley of Kinnaur District. We may go lax in winters but snows are no hindrance to road construction by China. Recall in December 2017 a hunter from Bishing Village in Arunachal Pradesh had discovered the Chinese constructing a motorable road 1.25 km south of the LAC in Indian Territory under three feet of snow.
As per media reports, some 120 Army men had to be rushed to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with ration that could last them for 30 days. With no roads to the border and no animal transport at disposal, Army pressed into service a company of 300 porters raised earlier to stock the troops. Packets of ready-to-eat meal and chocolates had to be heli-dropped before the porters arrived. Each porter could carry 10-15 kg ration and rest before coming downhill for the next trip up. Luckily the Chinese withdrew.
During the six day patrol from Charang Village to the border, it was observed that China sends drones to the border for reconnaissance frequently, after which multiple explosions are heard in the distance indicating use of explosives for road construction. Chinese drones have been instilling fear in locals. On the Indian side, there are no proper roads or communications network. The road to Charang Village (from where the patrol moved 22 kilometers to the border through rugged terrain) is in a poor condition. Mobile connectivity is possibly 14 kilometers away from Charang village.
With the above conditions, effectiveness of border surveillance (if any) plus periodicity and effectiveness of our patrolling remains questionable, not to talk of reserves and the time they need to react in the event of emergency. Obviously our border surveillance is grossly inadequate – discovering a 20 kilometer long Chinese road all of a sudden.
In Eastern Ladakh, the PLA had constructed a new road four kilometers short of Galwan before making multiple intrusions. Given the state of border infrastructure along the border with Himachal Pradesh, paucity of reserves and lack of battlefront synergy in the form of unity of command (which is still lacking in Eastern Ladakh), PLA may indulge in intrusions here much before we expect.
After their experience in Eastern Ladakh, they would be confident of retaining what they grab with India resorting to nothing more than endless talks.
Eastern Ladakh has deployment of Army and ITBP but latter has still not been placed under command the Army as required by the Kargil Review Committee and follow up Group of Ministers headed by Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani that had clearly stated that Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) can be deployed on the border to assist the Army, but must be placed under the command of the latter.
The ITBP backed by MHA argues that ITBP is to man the border in ‘No War No Peace’. What can be more absurd than that, but no one can defy the bureaucracy and the IPS lobby with IPS officers holding senior appointments in ITBP, apparently not even the defence minister.
The Himachal border has the Army, ITBP and SFF (Special Frontier Force) personnel – all reporting through respective channels.
Since India doesn’t admit intrusions because of domestic politics and is pusillanimous to the idea of quid pro quo intrusions, China will go for Indian Territory wherever opportunity exists along the entire length of the LAC. It does not matter whether China had any illegal claims in the region/area earlier or not. After all China has claimed entire Galwan Valley for the first time, same as claiming Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan. The government needs to act with alacrity.