Officials here are satisfied by the speed with which the Indian security forces reacted to tents put up by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers in Debsang Valley on April 15. But they are still mystified by the purpose behind such an exercise that heightened passions in India.
India had put up tents opposite the Chinese ones in six hours, a speed which was unimaginable a decade back. “Rather than guess their intentions, we have to have in place a response and make it clear that if they do anything silly, they would be embarrassed. We showed it this time. In six hours Indian troops were there,” they pointed out.
Several theories abound about possible Chinese intentions in camping for three weeks on a featureless ground disputed by both sides, but sources said India’s current level of preparedness helped ensure the diplomats did not have sleepless nights.
India has reactivated over a dozen airfields next to the Chinese border. It has built almost 70 roads leading to forward positions and logistics depots, positioned high-performance fighter jets in the North-East and equipped its soldiers with advanced fighting ability in the mountains. “No government in the past has done so much as this one has done in the past six years to strengthen the border,” they claimed.
India could have exercised the options of cutting the supply lines or doing away with the Chinese soldiers, as suggested by several strategic experts. “What would have been the outcome? Where would have all that headed to?” they asked and explained the difference between the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China and the Line of Control (LOC) with Pakistan.
The LOC is a live line, demarcated by the militaries, across which a lot of activity takes place — firing, movements and face to face confrontation, especially static in the form of posts bang opposite each other. None of this is true in the case of the LAC. It is not demarcated and has vast empty spaces — 50 to 100 kms separate the two armies — with patrols from both sides walking in and out of these empty spaces. “Problems arise when we carry the habits of India-Pak LOC to the India-China LAC,” said the sources.
The sources did not see the three-week encampment by Chinese troops as a one-off pattern. They pointed to recurring problems because of the disputed border — stapled visas, denial of visit to an Indian Army commander posted in Jammu & Kashmir, presence of PLA troops in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and refusal of visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh. “It is the same pattern. Not all is wonderful and peaceful in India-China relations. This is a complex relationship.”
Chinese Premier Li Keiqiang arrives here towards the end of the month. Apart from official level talks, he also has several public engagements lined up. Both will serve to assess the Chinese reason behind the encampment and its approach towards the border issue.
In case China reminds India about the draft of a Border Cooperation Agreement it had submitted in March this year, New Delhi might want to bring back to the table negotiations for clarifying the LAC, especially in areas such as the one to which both sides claim. China had expressed disinterest in talks to clarify the LAC about a decade back and since then the subject has not been raised again.
But the sources felt more clarity will come after Mr. Khurshid returns and when Mr. Keiqiang arrives here. Till then India could remain content that the matter did not escalate to the point of no return, its negotiators held their nerves, and the existing mechanisms and treaties were put to reasonably good effect.