No power can stop Indian forces from patrolling Ladakh areas, asserts Rajnath Singh
In tensions that began in early May, Indian and Chinese troops have come face-to-face at multiple points along the de-factor border, known as the LAC. In some of these areas, particularly the Finger Area and Depsang in Ladakh, Indian forces have been cut off from reaching areas they could previously patrol.Updated: Sep 18, 2020, 08:40 IST
No force in the world can stop the Indian Army from patrolling borders, defence minister Rajnath Singh told lawmakers in Parliament on Thursday, signalling a resolve to regain access to several areas that are now difficult to reach due to actions by the Chinese army along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
In tensions that began in early May, Indian and Chinese troops have come face-to-face at multiple points along the de-factor border, known as the LAC. In some of these areas, particularly the Finger Area and Depsang in Ladakh, Indian forces have been cut off from reaching areas they could previously patrol.
Singh’s remark came in response to comments by former defence minister AK Anthony, who was reacting to the statement by the incumbent made earlier in Rajya Sabha. “The former defence minister has said that China is stopping us from patrolling. I want to make it clear that is the reason for our fight with China. These were patrolling points that were traditional and are well-defined,” he said.
Singh added: “...No force in the world can stop Indian jawans from patrolling. If our soldiers have made sacrifices, it is for this reason that they have laid down their lives.”
Antony also said that the ongoing talks with China should result in India being able to restore how things were till mid-April in the eastern Ladakh theatre and the outcome should allow that forces are able to patrol right up to India’s perception of its border.
In the statement earlier, Singh gave a detailed assessment of the Ladakh situation. “It is easy to start wars but there is no control over how they end,” the minister said, underscoring the important of restraint.
While the rest of the statement was similar to that delivered in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the defence minister took some questions from members in the Upper House. He is also due to separately hold a closed-door meeting with opposition leaders on the sensitive issue.
“It is reassuring to hear the defence minister say that the army will patrol to its traditional areas in eastern Ladakh. However, this will only happen if there is an agreement on disengagement and a return to previous protocols,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) aggressive forward deployments in the eastern Ladakh theatre have hindered the Indian Army’s patrolling patterns in Depsang, Finger Area on the northern bank of Pangong Tso, Gogra and Kongka La, officials familiar with the developments said on Thursday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
While Depsang was not among the friction points on the LAC that Singh mentioned in his statement, the officials said the PLA’s deployments in forward areas in Depsang have hindered access of Indian soldiers to routes including the ones leading to Patrolling Points (PP) 10, 11, 11-A, 12 and 13.
The Depsang plains lie south of Daulat Beg Oldie in a strategic area that the military calls Sub-Sector North (SSN).
Before the current standoff began, the Indian Army patrolled right up to India’s perception of the LAC marked either by geographical features or so-called PPs (in the absence of natural features) dotting the LAC.
In his statement, Singh said China has mobilised a large number of troops and weapons systems along the LAC and the eastern Ladakh theatre, and “there are several friction areas, including Gogra, Kongka La and north and south banks of the Pangong Lake.”
The Indian Army took control of key heights overlooking the PLA’s deployments on the Finger 4 ridgeline in the first week of September, shortly after it moved and occupied strategic heights on the southern bank to prevent the PLA from grabbing Indian territory, in a stealthy midnight move on August 29.
Before the PLA grabbed positions on Finger 4, the army would patrol right up to Finger 8 that New Delhi considers within Indian territory. Fingers 4 and 8 are eight kilometre apart. The Indian claim line in this sector extends to Finger 8, while the Chinese claim is up to Finger 4.
In the Rajya Sabha, Antony flagged concerns about the PLA’s forward deployments restricting the scope of Indian patrolling activity in the Finger Area, a set of eight cliffs jutting out of the Sirijap range overlooking the Pangong lake.
“The other areas where patrolling activity has been affected include Kongka La and Gogra. These areas have traditionally not been disputed as both sides had a somewhat common perception of the LAC. But Depsang and Finger Area are the main worry,” the officials said.
In 2013, the PLA set up positions 19km into the Indian side of the LAC in the Depsang sector and triggered a face-off that took three weeks to resolve.
Prepared for the long haul in the Ladakh theatre, India has made arrangements to provide logistics support to its soldiers deployed in forward areas — more than 50,000 Indian troops are likely to remain stationed in the theatre through the winter months to deal with any provocation by the Chinese forces.
Separately on Thursday, the ministry of external affairs said China should sincerely work towards resolving issues. “The Chinese side should sincerely work with the Indian side for complete disengagement at the earliest from all friction areas, including Pangong Lake, as well as de-escalation in border areas in accordance with the bilateral agreements and protocols on maintenance of peace and tranquility in border areas,” said spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.