Chinese bridge over Pangong Tso indicates growing PLA threat to East Ladakh

With China’s no-limits ally Russia getting bogged down in Ukraine war, India needs to examine options to circumvent any disruption in its military hardware supply chains from Moscow, in future, as it faces a growing threat from PLA across the LAC.
Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande reviewing security preparedness in Ladakh sector on May 12.
Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande reviewing security preparedness in Ladakh sector on May 12.
Updated on May 23, 2022 02:00 PM IST
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The construction of a double-span bridge connecting the north and south banks of Pangong Tso by the Chinese Army in the Khurnak Fort area, occupied by the PLA in 1959, is part of the frantic military infrastructure upgradation carried out by Beijing across the 3488 km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India.

Although the fresh bridge construction is beyond India’s black LAC claim line and within Chinese Green claim, the double span link will increase the PLA capacity to deploy on both banks of the saltwater lake with the road loop to military base at Rudog being reduced to a direct link.

While the opposition Congress is trying to score political points against the Modi government over the fresh bridge construction, the PLA had over-run the entire north banks of Pangong Tso on October 22, 1962, after the three Indian Army posts at Srijap complex, west of the new bridge and east of finger eight, were attacked by the Red Army a day before as a military response to PM Jawahar Lal Nehru's forward policy. This is part of the official history of the 1962 war.

The frantic pace of construction across LAC shows the single-mindedness and relentless pursuit of Beijing to protect its territory as well as pose a direct long-term threat to India in the worst-case scenario. The Chinese pace of military upgradation is far superior to that of the Indian side, which time and again gets bogged down by red tape of military-civilian bureaucracy.

A classic example of the delays on the Indian side is the construction of a tunnel under Shinku La on the Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh border for alternative all weather route to Leh for rapid troop deployment even during peak winters. The decision on construction of the tunnel under Shinku La has been pending for the past four years due to tussle between the Border Roads Organization (BRO) and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) on the length of the tunnel and should it be linked to national highway route. It is learnt that the issue has been sorted in favour of BRO and decision on the Shinku La tunnel is expected anytime.

The potential threat that the PLA poses to Indian Army with its constant border nibbling tactics gets amplified with the possibility of defence hardware supply lines from Moscow to India getting disrupted with President Vladimir Putin focused on Ukraine war and Europe. With Atmanirbhar Bharat plan in defence manufacturing slated to take normal conception and gestation period, India needs to tie-up fast with countries like France and US to ensure that the hardware and ammunition supply is not disrupted due to Russia’s Ukraine war. 

While the Modi government is talking to both the countries about getting involved in Atmanirbhar Bharat plan by setting up a joint venture in India, the process will take time due to expected bureaucratic delays and fiefdom wars. Fact is that the Chinese threat is real, and the Modi government cannot be caught by surprise like the Jawaharlal Nehru government was in 1962 with the intelligence wrongly indicating that the PLA would not militarily respond to India’s forward policy in Aksai Chin.

It is in this context that the bilateral meeting between PM Modi and US President Joe Biden on the side-lines of the QUAD summit on May 24 assumes importance as Washington is willing to partner with New Delhi so that the military hardware supply chain is not affected. France has also indicated the same when PM Modi met President Emmanuel Macron in Paris earlier this month.

While the cold warriors in Indian military bureaucracy and national security planning still see the US through the prism of the 1971 war and its relationship with Pakistan and China in the past, the threat from Beijing is growing by the day with Russia its declared “no limits” ally. India must keep its options open and exercise them.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022