Questions, questions, questions and more questions; but no answers! That is the state of affairs about the ongoing Sino-Indian standoff in Ladakh.
Thirteen days have gone by but the Chinese troops’ incursion deep inside Indian territory in Depsang Valley of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir remains in force. Numerous fundamental questions are still unanswered. The Parliament is yet to have a full-fledged discussion on the topic and the government is yet to make a statement, though Parliament is in session.
What has transpired since yesterday is something that makes the Chinese incursion far more dangerous than it was known till now – that the Chinese have pitched tents 19 kilometers inside the Line of Actual Control (LAC), not ten kilometers as was initially believed. This was told by Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence on 26 April. A more elaborate briefing for the panel has been fixed for 30 April.
The fundamental questions that are abegging answers are as follows:
• What is the exact number of Chinese troops who have transgressed into the Indian side?
• How many tents they have pitched and what kind of arms and ammunition are they equipped with?
• What kind of communication sets they are equipped with?
• The Indians know that the Chinese are in constant touch with their commanders across the LAC. Are the Indians tapping their communication? If yes, what are the details of these communications?
• Did the Indian Army have a Mandarin expert in the region? Has the Indian defence establishment rushed Mandarin-knowing persons to the Depsang region? If yes, how many?
• What do the wireless intercepts tell about (a) the Chinese plans, (b) the morale of the troops who are staying put in Depsang area and (c) the directions being given by their bosses from across the LAC?
• What is the exact number of Indian troops who are camping near the Chinese transgressors in Depsang? How close are the Indians to the Chinese? What kind of weapons the Indian troops are equipped with?
• Do the Indians know the quantum of food and other essential items that they brought with them on 15 April?
• Whether the Chinese have made any more incursions to maintain the current incursion by supplying food and other essentials to their troops in Depsang? If the Chinese have not replenished their troops’ supplies of essentials, it will be indicative of the fact that their incursion was well-planned and well-choreographed.
This writer talked to a couple of key interlocutors in the government of India with regard to the current face-off. The sense this writer got from these conversations is that India is in no mood to escalate the situation despite the Chinese provocation and the Indian efforts are geared to finding an amicable resolution to the standoff without a single shot fired from either side.
The two countries’ foreign offices have adopted middle-of-the-road approach which gives precedence to diplomacy over a military solution. The two foreign offices’ averments are strikingly similar and underpin the importance of diplomacy in resolving the current crisis.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amplified his government’s stand on the issue in his first one-liner remark on the subject on Saturday. Asked by reporters after an investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan whether his government had any plan to resolve the standoff in Ladakh, the prime minister replied thus: "We do have a plan. We do not want to accentuate the situation. We do believe that it is possible to resolve this problem. It is a localised problem. Talks are going on (with China)."
There is no indication from the Indian diplomatic establishment till late this evening as to when the Ladakh incursion is going to be vacated by China. Official sources are tightlipped. The government wants the media not to sensationalise the issue and give the governments of India and China “time and space” to ensure that the problem is resolved.
More disturbing questions
Then there are some highly disturbing questions raised by Ambassador Phunchok Stobdan in his article published by the Indian Express on 26 April. The major point made by the retired diplomat is that China has been nibbling into Indian territory for decades. India has effectively lost considerable territory to China in the Ladakh sector alone since the 80’s, Stobdan has argued in his Op-Ed page article in The Indian Express, titled The Ladakh Drift.
Here are the relevant quotes from Stobdan’s article:
Since 1986, China has taken land in the Skakjung area in the Demchok-Kuyul sector in Eastern Ladakh. Now, it has moved to the Chip Chap area in Northeastern Ladakh. As in Kargil, India has been lax in patrolling."
"The Chinese intention is to enter from the south of the Karakoram and cross the Shyok from the east. That would be disastrous for Indian defence, leaving the strategic Nubra vulnerable, possibly impacting supply lines and even India's hold over Siachen."
"Since 1993, the modus operandi of Chinese incursions has been to scare Indian herdsmen into abandoning grazing land and then to construct permanent structures."
"Until the mid-1980s, the boundary lay at Kegu Naro — a day-long march from Dumchele, where India had maintained a forward post till 1962. In the absence of Indian activities, Chinese traders arrived in Dumchele in the early 1980s and China gradually constructed permanent roads, buildings and military posts here. The prominent grazing spots lost to China include Nagtsang (1984), Nakung (1991) and Lungma-Serding (1992). The last bit of Skakjung was taken in December 2008. The PLA has also moved armoured troops into Charding Nalla since 2009. It could eventually threaten the Manali-Leh route
The UPA government owes it to the nation to answer the questions raised by this writer and the damning disclosures made by Stobdan. Nothing has come by as yet. Questions, questions, questions and more questions!
The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic affairs analyst who can be reached at email@example.com.