SRINAGAR: The crisis on Ladakh borders started soon after the Government of India unilaterally annulled Article 370 and announced the reorganization of the Jammu and Kashmir state, the latest media report asserts. In fact, in the first brawl between the two armies, at least 10 soldiers were injured in Pangong lake area
“..the first signs of tension in the area emerged last September, days after the government announced abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and creation of Ladakh as a separate Union Territory,” The Indian Express reported. “Ever since a brawl on September 11 last year – 10 Indian security personnel were injured in the incident — the Chinese side has been attempting to block Indian patrols from proceeding towards Finger 8 on the north bank of the lake.”
The newspaper has quoted official sources to offer details of an incident that was neither known or reported because the entire focus across India was on Kashmir that was under curfew and shutdown.
Detailing the September 11 incident, the newspaper said that the “things went out of hand when two PLA companies came in eight heavy vehicles up to Finger 4” in the morning. After “sharp words were exchanged, and a violent scuffle ensued,” the official told the newspaper that left “10 Army and ITBP personnel injured”. It did not stop here. “The brawl extended to the waters of the lake, where three Army boats were damaged by Chinese soldiers. The Indian side also damaged two Chinese boats,” the report added.
Besides, the newspaper said, the Chinese soldiers “removed a semi-permanent structure of stones made by the Indian side, a kind of an observation post, at Finger 4,” and “constructed a similar stone structure to the west of their base at Finger 8.” Later, they started blocking Indian patrols from proceeding towards their destination.
The incident changed the situation that prevailed on the lake shores for more than two years. The last major incident had taken place on August 15, 2017, in wake of 73-days long Doklam standoff, according to the newspaper. That scuffle had left four personnel from the army and ITBP injured. Between the two incidents separated by the two years, the two armies were stuck to the system they had evolved earlier. “While both sides continued to object to patrolling and followed the banner drill – each side showing a banner for 10 minutes, asking the other side’s patrol to return to its area – there was no physical clash, the official said,” the newspaper reported.
After the September 11, 2019 incident, the newspaper said the Chinese would object to the patrolling and stop it. So the Indian army started taking an alternative track to reach Finger 8 on foot by going behind the heights at Finger 8. “This was strongly objected to by the Chinese and tensions mounted in the area, leading to the violent scuffle on the intervening night of May 5/6 this year which not only left many soldiers on both sides injured but also triggered the standoff,” the newspaper said.
The Pangong lake is a high altitude salt lake that is bisected by the Line of Actual Control. The two armies are managing their control on basis of the eight fingers – the spurs of Chang Chenmo Mountain that gets into the lake on its northern shores thus making clear demarcations. The lake on Ladakh side has emerged a huge tourist destination, especially after the Amir Khan film 3 Idiots rediscovered it for the domestic tourists.
India and China have contrarian views on the LoAC in the lake region. Of the 135 km length of the lake, India Today reported almost 45 km fall under Indian control. “India has maintained that the LAC passes through Finger 8, which has been the site of the final military post of China. India has been patrolling the area – mostly on foot because of the nature of the terrain – up to Finger 8. But Indian forces have not had active control beyond Finger 4,” the magazine reported. “China, on the other hand, says the LAC passes through Finger 2. It has been patrolling up to Finger 4- mostly in light vehicles, and at times up to Finger 2.”
After the renewed May tensions, the Chinese soldiers have got in up to 8 km up to Finger 8, according to reports in the media. They have resorted to a lot of construction in the last one month. The new constructions include a helipad on Finger 4 plains.
“It is correct that the Chinese have started consolidating their positions on the north bank of Pangong Tso lake. There is a helipad that is now being constructed in the Finger 4 area, which is in addition to all the other infrastructure construction done by them in past eight weeks or so,” The Indian Express quoted an unnamed officer saying. “PLA patrols are now regularly making small forays down the ridge of Finger 3 towards the bank of the lake and then returning to the ridge. They are essentially asking us to move back to Finger 2.”
The constructions include shelters, pillboxes, bunkers and other infrastructure both on the bank and the ridgeline. Most of the shores are connected by roads barring a rocky stretch between Finger 3 and Finger 4. Chinese usually patrol in vehicles on the road that was laid during 1999.
“India’s main base is close to Finger 3, around two kilometres west of the current Chinese deployment. The Indian side also has an administrative base closer to Finger 4, at the start of the sharp rocky feature. It is around this area that the Army has now deployed itself in response to the sudden Chinese deployment in the area. Less than 500 metres separate soldiers of both sides at this faceoff point,” The Indian Express reported.