SRINAGAR: The exact situation prevailing in Ladakh is known only to the high offices in Delhi and Beijing. Information in the public domain is the series of leaks and factoids that Chinese and Delhi media are using in their coverage.
On Monday, the major news from Leh surrounded around the last rites of SFF company leader Nyima Tenzin who was killed in a landmine explosion on August 29. Another of his colleague was injured in the incident somewhere over the heights of the Pangong Pso, the current theatre of the tensions between China and India.
Reports from Leh said an impressive function was organised in Leh’s Choglomsar that was attended, among others, by Ram Madhav, the national general secretary of the BJP. Madhav had landed in Leh on Sunday for a two-day visit. He had made a speech to the newly elected executive committee of the BJP in Leh.
Tenzin’s coffin, atop an army truck, reports said was draped in the Indian tricolour and Tibetan flag. The flags were later handed over to Tenzin’s widow. “Experts noted this was probably the first time an SFF personnel who died in action was given a public funeral, complete with military honours and a volley of shots by a ceremonial guard,” The Hindustan Times reported. The funeral was emotional as the people got busy in slogans in praise of India, Tibet and the SEF to which Tenzin belonged.
This is also for the first time that the SFF got some spotlight after it was raised from erstwhile Tibetan guerrillas in 1962. “Codenamed “Establishment 22”, it initially consisted of a ragtag bunch of “guerrilla companies” tasked to operate behind Chinese lines. Issued US weapons and trained by American instructors, most recruits were fresh from Tibet and couldn’t speak Hindi or English. Interpreters were needed to interface with them,” journalist, who has expertise on defence affairs, wrote in Business Standard. “Today’s SFF is recruited from Tibetan refugee communities dotted all around the country.”
Shukla further wrote: “Facing severe criticism in 1963 and eager to prove his force’s worth, the SFF chief sent 120 Tibetan soldiers for an army field exercise, codenamed Garuda. This proved to be a dramatic success for the SFF…In the 1971 Bangladesh war, the SFF further distinguished itself with its soldiers winning 580 cash awards (they were not eligible for gallantry awards). Almost 250 SFF soldiers were casualties in that conflict.” SEF was engaged in 1999 conflict with Pakistan as well. It is now being paid at par with other security forces.
Tourists At The Lake?
A Delhi based TV channel aired a brief report that the Red Army has started taking international tourists to the area of the lake that is in its control. They run footage that, they said, was released by Chinese PR agencies and the media.
Interestingly, the Pangong Pso is a major tourist destination from this side of the control. Almost every Indian tourist that has been to the high altitude salt lake has at least got one selfie with the bench that was featured in the Amir Khan’s 3Idiots.
However, the tensions between the two countries have stopped any kind of tourism in the area. While the Covid-19 has made the tourism impossible for the time being, the authorities have been closing the routes to Leh. Right now, the movement of the Srinagar-Leh highway is highly regulated. The Hindu reported last month a Chinese occupation over 1000 sq km.
The tensions are still not showing any indication of ease at any level. Shukla wrote that “more than 35,000 soldiers from the Indian and Chinese militaries are ranged against each other in Eastern Ladakh, across the Depsang, Galwan, Hot Spring and Pangong Lake sectors.” So far 20 Indian soldiers have been killed though China is yet to admit its casualties.
The rival armies have not used any bullet in the tensions so far. However, being battle-ready can trigger an accident and lead to war. “There have been reports that China has deployed J-20 long-range fighter jets and several other key assets in strategically located Hotan airbase which is around 2310 kms from Eastern Ladakh,” The Times of India reported on Sunday. “In the last three months, the IAF deployed almost all its frontline fighter jets like Sukhoi 30 MKI, Jaguar and Mirage 2000 aircraft in the key frontier air bases n Eastern Ladakh and elsewhere along the LAC.”
“High-resolution satellite images suggest that the People’s Liberation Army has further strengthened its position at the standoff points. They are building more military structures, besides deploying more soldiers and tanks,” Kolkata newspaper, The Telegraph quoted an Intelligence Bureau official saying. “The Chinese have dug in 8km inside India-claimed lines on the northern bank of the Pangong Lake, besides grabbing land at the Hot Springs and on the Depsang Plains,” the newspaper said, adding Chinese are adding “more men and machines.”
The standoff is worrying experts. “It’s an accident just waiting to happen,” Gautam Bambawale, India’s former ambassador to Beijing, told The Financial Times, London. “What they are doing now is they are saying ‘we will unilaterally decide where the line of actual control lies in Ladakh’. That is a recipe for disaster. It is not acceptable to us.”
The same situation prevails in the Chinese side of the though process. “A settlement or a rough consensus on the line of control can only be settled on the ground,” Ms Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, was quoted by the newspaper. “They had attempted to reach a consensus. But what the Chinese found out is that the Indian negotiating position was ‘what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable’.”
7 Rounds of Talks
The rival army officers have been talking almost on a weekly basis. Held at Brigadier and Major General level, these meetings taking place in the Chushul area – on both sides of the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) have not yielded anything major, so far. The latest and the seventh round f talks continued for three days, last week.
These military-level talks so simultaneously with the diplomatic efforts from the two sides. Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister already met his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe on Friday in Moscow. The meeting did not lead to a breakthrough.
“The Defence Minister categorically conveyed India’s position on the developments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) including in the Galwan valley… He emphasised that the actions of the Chinese troops, including amassing of a large number of troops, their aggressive behaviour and attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo were in violation of the bilateral agreements and not in keeping with the understandings reached between the Special Representatives of two sides,” the defence ministry said on Saturday.
In reaction, the Chinese Defence Ministry website said Wei told Rajnath: “India should strengthen management and control of its frontline troops and not make provocations or deliberately hype and spread negative information.”
Now, the two foreign ministers, Wang Yi and S Jaishankar are meeting, again in Moscow on Wednesday to discuss “ways and means to resolve the present Ladakh standoff”.
“Although Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his Chinese counterpart Gen Wei Fenghe on the same platform on September 5, but the talks did not yield any result with both sides merely stating their formal positions. The meeting took place after Indian Army troops pre-empted a PLA aggression on south of Pangong Tso on August 29-30 and occupied the Rezang La ridgeline without either yielding to Chinese show of military strength or allowing them to cross the Indian perception of Line of Actual Control (LAC),” The Hindustan Times reported. “During the meeting, foreign minister Jaishankar will remind his Chinese counterpart to implement the past bilateral agreements in letter and spirit including keeping minimum forces along the 3488km LAC. He will also demand that PLA forces restore status quo ante at Gogra-Hot Springs, Finger 4 relief feature on the north bank of Pangong Tso.”