A team of Uttarakhand officials were on a routine visit to a grazing ground in the hill state’s Chamoli district on July 22 when they ran into Chinese troops who asked them to go back.
The People’s Liberation Army personnel had broken a pact by entering Barahoti, an area both countries had agreed to keep their militaries away from as there is no agreement on the border.
“…We also told them to go back. It went on for around half an hour,” said a home ministry official on condition of anonymity.
A picture-postcard grazing ground set against the backdrop of Himalayan peaks, Barahoti forms the 80-sq km disputed zone along Chinese territory.
Six personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the force which guards the 3,488-km Sino-Indian border from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir in the north to Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast, accompanied the team. However, they were neither in uniform nor armed in keeping with the mutually agreed demilitarised zone norm.
“These visits are undertaken only after the approval of higher authorities to show the Chinese that India perceives Barahoti as its territory,” a security official said. The Chinese were not keeping their end of the bargain and were sending armed troops.
The border problem
The Sino-Indian border is not fully demarcated. But, security officials say the line of actual control, or the perceived border, in Himachal (200km), Uttarakhand (345km) and Sikkim (220km) is peaceful compared to Jammu and Kashmir (1,597km) and Arunachal (1,126km).
The government has played down the latest incursion that was followed by a brief air intrusion by a Chinese chopper three days later.
Such face-offs are almost routine in the western (Ladakh) and eastern sectors (Arunachal). Almost 400 such standoffs are reported annually.
“It is not a serious breach of LAC. The Chinese also went back from the area,” minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju said.
But China has often used its troops to deliver a “message” especially when ties hit a rough.
The Chamoli face-off comes weeks after China blocked India’s entry into the nuclear suppliers group that would have given New Delhi access to latest technology. The move triggered a war of words. Beijing had in May thwarted New Delhi’s efforts to get Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar designated a terrorist by the UN.
Most standoffs end quickly but there have been occasions when they have gone on for days. In 2013, Chinese troops took three weeks to leave Ladhakh’s Daulat Beg Oldi area after setting up a camp 30km into the Indian side. India, too, had pitched tents close by.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting India in 2014, Indian and Chinese troops were eyeball to eyeball in Chumar area of Ladakh. The confrontation threatened to overshadow the historic visit. The standoff was resolved after 16 days.
China claims thousands of square kilometres of territory in Arunachal and in Kashmir where thousands of soldiers stand guard.
“There have been incidents of troops pushing each other as well in Arunachal Pradesh. But, the last such incident ended when the Chinese offered chocolates to Indian troops when they went back,” the home ministry official said.
Both sides will have to stock up on chocolates as the border dispute is far from being resolved.