(This was originally posted in The Hindu by Dinakar Peri)
At Depsang plains in Eastern Ladakh, Chinese troops have been blocking Indian patrols for sometime and deliberately giving a face-off, so the Indian Army started doing it too, a senior defence official said. Resolving the issue would take time, he noted. “Since 2013, our capacity grew, number of troops increased and so our patrols increased. As our presence and capacity increased, it [face-off] was bound to happen,” two officials said.
India was making an alternate access to the crucial Sub-Sector North (SSN), which consisted of the Depsang plains and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO). The alternate access was there across Saser La, an ancient trade route. Currently, the airfield at DBO was accessible by the 255-km-long Darbuk-Shyok-DBO (DSDBO) road.
The route already existed and except for the Sasar La pass, which was not much, it needed to be widened and blacktopped, one of the officials said, adding, “It will take time as the area is glaciated.”
The Patrolling Points (PP) in the Depsang area, PPS 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13, were located on the Limit of Patrolling, which lay before the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Due to the blocking of the patrols by the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), Indian troops have not been able to reach up to the PPs in the area. “We last accessed our PP in Depsang in January/February 2020,” the first official said.
Last few years, India had increased its overall troop presence and after the stand-off last May, the Army had retasked several formations from the Pakistan front towards the China front. As part of this, key elements of the Army’s 1 Strike Corps facing Pakistan have been reoriented and brought under the Northern Command.
Exchange of maps
In 2002, India and China exchanged maps of the LAC in the middle and western sectors. While the middle sector happened smoothly, in the western sector, the Chinese saw the map of the Depsang bulge and said, “we are expanding our claim lines”, and the exchange failed, the official stated.
While Demchok was one of the two mutually agreed disputed areas in Eastern Ladakh, Depsang was one of the eight friction points in the area. In Demchok, where there were claims in the Charding La area, China had set up tents on this side of Charding nala. “The presence remains and we want them to go back behind the Charding nala for which we have been negotiating,” the official said.
There have been several face-offs in the Depsang area in the past too. In April 2013, the PLA tried to cross the Y-junction and later disengaged. In 2015, it made a bunker in the area, which the Indian Army destroyed. “Since 2013, we have been doing banner drills when patrols come face to face,” the first official noted.
The banner drill agreed by both sides as part of boundary protocols as a way to resolve face-offs involved both sides waving banners at each other and asserting their claim when patrols came face to face and then returned.