Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The fresh flare-up at LAC: How far we are from a war?

The correct details of the fresh stand-off of August 29/30 around Pangong Tso, in eastern Ladakh are unlikely to be in public domain for a long time. Not at least in the near future as dialogue between the two armies, Indian and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army), as also at the level of diplomats of the two sides, seem delicately poised.

The status quo as it existed in April this year is something Indian side wants for complete disengagement. However, after five rounds of talks between the two militaries, the chances of this being restored through talks seem bleak. Progressively, it seems like harbouring an unrealistic expectation from expansionist China.

Do Chinese Communist Party (CCP)  or its supreme leader Xi Jinping have any incentives for disengagement of PLA? Will it not mean a loss of face and prestige for them?

The only prospect that can perhaps deter them is the possibility of a bigger loss of face and credibility. All available indications right now point towards possible escalation of hostilities and an armed conflict, at limited or larger level someday.

The “provocative military movements” of August 29/30 along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) were reported from the south bank of Pangong Tso. Incidentally, this area is well fortified with Indian troops holding it for several decades and thus it constituted a new element in the ongoing friction.

On Monday morning, Indian defence ministry put out a note around 10.30 am about the Chinese actions. The press release could at best be called cryptic as it said that the Indian side was committed to “maintaining peace and tranquility through dialogue but is also equally determined to protect its territorial integrity”.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that PLA troops did not cross the LAC. The press release from the ministry said the PLA tried to carry out “provocative military movements” but Indian troops pre-empted this. It also said the PLA moves to “change the status quo” were “thwarted”.

The way things stand, the induction of additional troops and their stay in Ladakh during the coming winter is a foregone conclusion. Different newspapers and TV channels have already reported that between 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops will remain in Ladakh this time.

It practically means conversion of LAC, undefined so far, into a sort of hot LoC (Line of Control) for India. Incidentally, the LoC is the line that separates Indian-held territory and territory held by Pakistan on our western borders. With China also, the amicable but deceptive co-existence of the yesteryears on LAC seems to be fast evaporating.

The new normal that is emerging on LAC with China is that of open hostilities and distrust. Of course, it also means being involved in eyeball to eyeball stand-off between the Indian army and the PLA troops.

At the Pangong lake, the Indian troops used to patrol regularly till a feature called Finger 8, near Fort Kharnuk. However, this year, the Chinese have not allowed Indian soldiers to patrol beyond Finger 4. The PLA has been insisting that the LAC lies at Finger 4 and beyond it lies the Chinese territory.

Be it against India, or its other neighbours, Chinese PLA follows  what in military parlance is called “salami slicing”. Without firing a single shot, the PLA gains control of a neighbour’s territory by deceit, and this goes on and on, for years altogether. Large tracts of land have thus been gained by China over several decades.

India has also been a victim of this expansionism but it seems to have finally stood up to China. Something that the regional and global bully is not used to as no nation had challenged it so far.

Sant Kumar Sharma, a seasoned journalist, is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Two of his books on Article 370 and Delimitation are already out. The third one on Indus Waters Treaty is with the publishers. 

Sant began as a teacher but after six years, joined the Indian Express, Chandigarh in 1990, the year when terrorism was taking its first step in J & K and soon there would be exodus of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley. He subsequently worked for The Statesman, The Times of India and Star News among others. He is based in Jammu since May 2000.




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