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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 41, September 26, 2009

Chinese Soldiers on Indian Borders

Saturday 26 September 2009, by Harish Chandola

The media these days are full of stories of the Chinese Army’s violation of India’s northern borders. Of late it spoke of violation in the central sector. I live in a border town in this sector. Before one believes these stories of violations, one should have an idea of the border topography. The border, not surveyed and not demarcated yet, for it to be accepted by both sides, runs along the highest ridges, across which it is impossible to see. A newspaper story quoted a villager seeing Chinese roads built in Tibet and Chinese soldiers coming on them. That is impossibility. One can see Tibet only from the top of the ridge that, in this sector, divides India from Tibet. Seeing Chinese motor roads from the Indian side is a matter of imagination and so is seeing soldiers coming riding across.

Does India have sentries bang on the border ridges? It does not. I speak of the central sector, reported to have been violated. This sector, as the entire border now, is patrolled by the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP), created to guard the border. The disputed area here is called Bara Hoti, an 80-square kilometre sloping pasture. The ITBP post in this sector is at Rim Khim, some ten kilometres from the high pass one has to cross to enter Tibet. Two kilometres ahead of the ITBP post is a ridge where there is an observation post where the ITBP men and an Indian Army soldier go and spend the day watching the border. Beyond that is a lake called Parvati Kund and then a small river called the Hoti Gad, from where one starts climbing to the high passes of Tunjunla, Marila and Salsalla that lead into Tibet. From the Indian observation post the passes are at least eight kilometres away, from where it will be impossible to notice anyone coming through the passes.

The ITBP men do go patrolling into the pasture and up to the lake. The pasture has Indian shepherds from the border villages tending their sheep. The ITBP men have in the past come across people from Tibet bringing their yaks for grazing to the pasture. They wear standard Chinese close collar jackets and trousers and are sometimes taken for Chinese soldiers. Neither side knows the language of the other. Yak owners do gesticulate which has been interpreted by the ITBP men as saying that the pasture belongs to them. From the Indian border villages shepherds stay in the pastures for months. The high altitude grass there is very nourishing and fattens the winter-starved sheep and yak.

In the 1962 border war there was no fighting in this sector, while battles were fought in the eastern and western sectors. Chinese soldiers did come to this sector, as did Indian ones and there was some argument but no shots were fired. Since then there has never been any shooting or conflict in the area.

Those that bring their yaks across are surely Tibetan villagers and not Chinese soldiers. Soldiers always carry guns and generally ride horses. The Chinese motor road does come to the Tibetan border village of Dapa and a little below the passes, which are quite high, at about 17,000 feet. It is said that perhaps once a year, in July or August, Chinese soldiers do come across Tunjunla and down to the Hoti Gad river. There have been occasions when the ITBP men have gone there to confront them and show banners written in Chinese saying it is Indian territory and they should go back. And they have always gone back. Coming there once a year might be a way to their asserting that they have a claim to it and the border remains disputed. In the other tiny disputed area in this sector, beyond Neelang and Jadang, the Chinese have not come at all.

As stated, nobody lives in the bowl-like pasture all the year round. Indian shepherds arrive there in the summer. Occasionally an ITBP patrol with a lone Indian Armyman goes there.

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One wondered how and who leaked to the media the news of Chinese troop incursion in the middle sector. There are only three sources: the Army, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing. Officials of the last two stay in Joshimath, almost a hundred kilometres from the border. They seldom go to the border and it may not be easy for them to get day-to-day information from there. The ITBP and the Army have persons on that border and know more than the others the goings-on there. One does not know if it is the intention of the Army to create an impression that China is causing a threat along the middle sector and in fact all along the border.

The last round of India-China talks on the border was held in Delhi last month. Neither side gave any account of what happened at that round. China has issued a long report which does not go beyond generalities of both sides wanting to settle the issue peacefully through negotiations. At what stage the talks are, neither side has made public. The last one heard years ago was that both sides had asked for their respective maps. India had given its border maps to China, but China has made no comment of them so far. What are they doing with the maps? Are they trying to reconcile them? There has been no news.

I have visited some passes in the eastern sector, like Jalepla, Nathula in Sikkim and the one below Chhuthangmo in Kameng of Arunachal Pradesh. From nowhere on the Indian side can one see Tibet across these passes and this must be the case with passes that lie further to the east. Yet there has been a spate of news stories of Chinese soldiers being seen intruding in the west, central and eastern sectors of our border and the media has gone to town over the security threat China is said to be causing all around, not only along the border but also from next-door countries like Myanmar, where China is said to be planning to build a naval station.

Apart from protesting over the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese have made no statements that could be remotely related to its unhappiness over the border deliberations or developments in India.

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