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Mainstream, VOL LI No 21, May 11, 2013

Have Indian Troops Abandoned Indian Territory?

A Ring-side View of the Chinese Incursion

Saturday 11 May 2013, by S G Vombatkere

The incursion by Chinese troops into the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector of Ladakh on April 15, 2013 by erecting and occupying tents was responded to on the ground by Indian troops erecting tents nearby to prevent further Chinese advance.

The incursion is said to be in the Burtse (mis-spelt as “Burthe” and “Burste” by some journalists) sub-sector. Most people do not know where DBO is on the map because they have no access to maps that have DBO marked on it, much less Burtse. A not-to-scale map of the area alongwith a distance-chart and an altitude-chart is ATTACHED, to give a rough idea of the places, distances and altitudes. In particular, Burtse and DBO are about 43-km apart. My educated guess from my ground knowledge and from the map, and from the LAC as approximately marked in red, the incursion is likely to be closer to Depsang la than to Burtse post.

A location which is fortified and occupied by troops is called a post. Troops come out of their posts and patrol the area in its frontage to reconnoitre (recce) or to show their presence or control of the area. Patrols normally go out as far as their knowledge of the line of control (LAC). When, as in the DBO sector, the LAC is not marked on the ground by boundary pillars or other structures by mutual agreement, the Indian troops’ understanding of the LAC is the extent to which they have been patrolling and likewise, the Chinese troops’ understanding of the LAC is the extent to which they have been patrolling. Accordingly, the Indian side of the extent of Chinese patrolling is undisputed Indian territory, and likewise the Chinese side of the extent of Indian patrolling is undisputed Chinese territory. When the extent of patrolling by Indian and Chinese troops overlaps (obviously to different lengths at different places), there is a disputed area.

Since my information is only from the media (about Burtse, for example) and I have no infor-mation from troops stationed on the ground or from their higher HQ about the incursion, I cannot say with any degree of confidence whether the Chinese troops pitched their tents inside Indian territory or within the disputed area. However, reports in the media stated that the Chinese incursion was 10-km into Indian territory and later the same incursion was stated to be 19-km.

On May 5, 2013, Chinese troops are reported to have completed their withdrawal from their tented (incursion) position, and correspondingly Indian troops also withdrew from their tented position to their fortified posts. But some media reports are wrongly assuming that Indian troops have abandoned Indian territory, unaware of the fact that troops of any Army occupy fortified positions (posts) and control area by observation and patrolling. Troops cannot and do not sit on the line like birds on a wire to monitor a line of control or a boundary. For journalists who are not familiar with the Army’s functioning to get a better idea of the ground position, they need to ask the Army authorities after understanding the above explanation.

Now that the stand-off has been defused without military engagement, it is vital that both sides negotiate and take concrete steps to demarcate the LAC on the ground including GPS coordinates.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere has over five years of service in Ladakh (1982-1984 and 1990-1992) and has traversed the whole of Ladakh, a good portion of it on foot. He was responsible for the design and construction of the highest motorable bridge in the world at an altitude of 5603-m (18,300-ft) near Khardungla in August 1982, that earned an entry into the Guinness Book of Records. He visited Karakoram Pass twice. He retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ, New Delhi. The President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered in Ladakh. He can be contacted at sg9kere@live.com

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