India-China border standoff: A look at strategic value of Pangong Tso's 'finger' area that was among sites of 1962 war

One of the areas in eastern Ladakh that have witnessed troop build-up along the LAC is the area around the Pangong Tso Lake.

FP Staff June 04, 2020 07:31:13 IST
India-China border standoff: A look at strategic value of Pangong Tso's 'finger' area that was among sites of 1962 war

The Union government and sections of the Opposition are presently engaged in a war of words over whether Chinese soldiers have entered Indian territory. While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has asked the government to 'confirm that no Chinese soldiers have entered India', Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that there are a significant number of Chinese troops present along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

One of the areas in eastern Ladakh that have witnessed troop build-up along the LAC is the area around the Pangong Tso Lake. The Chinese side has objected to India laying a key road in the 'finger area' of Pangong Tso Lake region as also some other regions.

Therefore, understanding what is the 'finger area' is crucial to understanding the ongoing tensions along the LAC.

What is Pangong Tso Lake's finger area?

The northern banks of the Pangong Tso Lake jut out like a palm and the various protrusions are referred to as 'fingers', according to an article in The Print. While India claims that the LAC starts at Finger 8, China claims that it starts at Finger 2, which is presently dominated by India.

IndiaChina border standoff A look at strategic value of Pangong Tsos finger area that was among sites of 1962 war

Representational image. PTI

The situation in eastern Ladakh had deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off near Pangong Tso on the evening of 5 May. The incident spilled over to the next day before the two sides agreed to "disengage" following a meeting at the level of local commanders.

Over 100 Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in the violence. The trigger for the incident was China's strong objection to the road being laid by India in the Finger area in Pangong Tso lake.

The incident in Pangong Tso was followed by a similar incident in North Sikkim on 9 May.

Since then, Chinese military has increased its strength in Pangong Tso lake, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldi, and resorting to "aggressive patrolling" in these areas. The India Army is also carrying out similar exercises in the region, sources told PTI.

Lieutenant-General (Retd) HS Panag has said in an article in The Print that the likely military aim of China is to stop the development of India's border infrastructure in certain regions along the LAC, including the Pangong Tso lake.

Why is the region important?

While the lake by itself does not have any major tactical importance, it lies in the way of the Chushul approach, which is one of the main paths that China can use for an attack on Indian territory, reported The Indian Express.

In the 1962 war, this was the region in which China launched its main offensive at Rezang La, the mountain pass on the southeastern approach to Chushul valley.

As per the report in The Indian Express, the Chinese use light vehicles to patrol up to 'Finger 2', which has a turning point for vehicles. However, in case they are confronted and stopped by an Indian patrol in between, and asked to return, it causes confusion, as the vehicles can’t turn back.

While it is believed that the construction of roads along the LAC caused the current standoff, India has been seeking to ramp up its road building capacities for decades, an article in The Diplomat points out. In November 2019, the Border Roads Organisation completed the first phase of road networks envisioned under the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in 1999 to bolster Indian patrolling along the Sino-Indian border. In all, around 61 roads totaling 3,346 kilometres have been constructed, the article said.

With inputs from PTI

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