Incursion,a Tactical Game

Incursion,a Tactical Game

4 May 2013
Deccan Herald
Kalyan Ray

New Delhi: A 19th century power game between two world leaders seeded the border crisis between India and China more than 150 years later. In mid-19th century, Britain’s attempts to draw a boundary of Kashmir had the underlying objective of keeping the Russians at bay and creating a natural buffer in-between. A Survey of India officer, W H Johnson, made a map showing Aksai Chin – a uninhabited plateau, 17,000 ft above sea level, with killing winds where nothing grows – and a slice of the territory to the north of Karakoram pass within Kashmir. The alignment received support from military strategist John Ardagh. When India became independent in 1947, official maps showed India’s north-west boundary in accordance with Ardagh-Johnson line, which now is India’s claim to its jurisdiction along the Chinese border. There is a second map created in mid-1890s by George Macartney, an Englishman who was Britain’s representative in Kashgar. It was supported by Claude MacDonald, the British minister in Peking (Beijing). This map was created using Information gathered by a Chinese official, Li Yuan-ping, who was not a trained surveyor. Li travelled across Aksai Chin and claimed it as a part of Chinese territory in his report to the Chinese authorities. The Macartney-Macdonald map split Aksai Chin in two halves showing a large part of Aksai Chin, including Karakash valley – an ancient source of jade, sandwiched between the Karakoram range in south-west and Kuen Lun mountains in the North East – as Chinese territory. A relatively small sliver south of Karakoram was within India. Though the Macartney-Macdonald boundary demarcation was presented to China in 1899, China never officially replied to the proposal. Britain too did not attempt to exert its authority on Aksai Chin. The boundary dispute was left open by the Brits when they left India. A temporary stabilisation was reached after the China war. India’s line of actual control leaves out 38,000 sq km area in China’s “illegal occupation” since 1962. The China-Pakistan 'Boundary Agreement' of 1963 by which Pakistan ceded 5,180 sq kms of Indian territory in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to China, compounded the problem. The disputed history and China’s gradual military and infrastructure build-up in Tibet Autonomous Region prompted India to revisit its own border defence in the last two decades. While road links are being constructed connecting Ladakh to Kashmir valley, two World War-II airstrips – Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) and Fukche – were reactivated in 2008 for transport operations after four decades of closure. An-32 aircraft landed in both locations. At an altitude of close to 16,700 ft, DBO is only 10 km from the LAC and Fukche (at 13,700 ft) is even closer at five km. Within a year, a third airstrip at Nyoma was reactivated at an altitude of 13,300 ft. Vulnerable point The latest Chinese incursion on April 15 may have been triggered by construction of new military installations at DBO and aggressive patrolling. The exact nature of the installations, however, has been kept secret. “We have forward activity in Fukche and Chumar, because of which Chinese came at a place where we are vulnerable,” says Brig (rtd) Gurmeet Kanwal, former director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies. The terrain at DBO is difficult to access and trekking is the only option for Indian soldiers. There is little scope for rapid movement of heavy artillery and mechanised infantry brigades. The Chinese on the other hand have far better accessibility and easy vehicular movement. Notwithstanding the terrain, guarding the DBO is strategically vital to India to prevent an unfettered access to Leh. DBO also provides an opportunity to India to keep an eye on the Karakoram pass and Chinese highway G219 that cuts through the Aksai Chin running parallel to the LAC and connects Yecheng (Karghilik) to Lhatse (Tibet). A branch of this highway joins the Karakoram Highway (G314), providing a China-Pakistan access from the newly opened Gwadar port in Pakistan. A Chinese company is in charge of the port operation and Beijing plans to double the width of the Karakoram highway for better vehicle movement from the port. As Chinese troops are staying put in their tents near a dry riverbed called Raki Nala, 40 km south-east of DBO, Indian army and Indo Tibetan Border Police personnel too are camping some 100 metres away, in a face-to-face situation. On guard There is no question of lowering the guard considering the Chinese military strength in Aksai Chin that includes an operational airfield at Qizil Zilga and one army regiment (10,000 plus troops). “There may also be an armoured component, but we are not certain,” said an official. China is understood to have three army divisions (15,000 each) in the central and western sectors of the 4,057-km long Sino-Indian border, opposite to Uttarakhand, Himachal and Ladakh. Better infrastructure gives the People’s Liberation Army an upper hand for quick mobilisation if the need arises. “They are playing a tactical game,” says an army officer. Objective unknown The objective of the game, however, remainsblurb unknown. But many officials believe a review of the understanding of the border dispute reached between National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon and his Chinese counterpart Dai Biaggio, by the new Chinese leadership, could very well be the motive behind this posturing, which is well planned and decided by the higher-ups in Beijing.