Indian Claim In East Ladakh LAC Not Based On Patrolling Points

When External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was asked about the PLA troops leaving patrolling point 15 in the Kugrang River on September 13, he answered quickly and correctly that it was “one problem less” with the Chinese authoritarian regime after May 2020, when they will be more aggressive on the 1,597 km East Ladakh LAC.

On May 17 and 18, 2020, the aggressive PLA, which was led by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, crossed into the areas around the Kugrang river, Gogra, and the north banks of Pangong Tso. They broke all the agreements that had been made in the past to keep peace and quiet. The 1993–1996 border agreements and subsequent Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) meant that the Indian Army could not open fire. Doing so would have led to a vertical escalation, like what happened when the brave Colonel Santosh Babu and his men taught the Chinese a lesson at Galwan on patrolling point 14 on June 15, 2020.

Since the May 2020 violations, the Chinese have built new permanent structures all along the LAC. This is against the agreements and CBMs that were made in the past. One must remember that in 1976, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet Committee on Security approved what were then called “Limits of Patrolling.” These were outlined on large topographical sheets by the then Cabinet Secretary and the China Study Group (CSG).

In East Ladakh, the Congress government at the time decided that the Indian Army could only patrol between 65 points from Karakoram Pass to Chumar to avoid a fight with the PLA. These points are well within the Indian claim line on the LAC. They were set up this way to keep peace and quiet on the border with China, which showed in the 1962 border war that it was a stronger military power.

Even though the Narendra Modi government and national security planners know that patrolling points do not define the Indian LAC claim in East Ladakh, the Indian Army cannot take the easy way out and only defend the LAC up to these patrolling limit points on the map.

The PLA must take down new military structures that have been built along the line since the aggression, so leaving patrolling point 15 does not bring the Ladakh LAC back to where it was in April 2020.

Before India and China can get along again, the Chinese must respect the Indian claim line in the Depsang Bulge and Demchok area and give the Indian Army back its right to patrol points 10 to 13 in the strategic bulge area and Charding Nullah Junction in Demchok. Simply put, the India-China LAC in East Ladakh is not set by the patrolling points, but by the Indian claim line.

Just as the Modi government showed the way by telling its troops to take strong positions on the south side of Pangong Tso on August 29–31, 2020, and then forcing the PLA to leave the north side of the lake, the Indian Army must now be in a strong position all along the 3488 km LAC because the enemy only speaks the language of power and not the language of peace.

The PLA will keep nibbling on the East Ladakh LAC until it has put its 1959 line on the disputed border, which was pushed for by Chinese Premier Chou or Zhou En-Lai at the time. The Indian Army has no other choice. China has made it clear what it wants to do about the disputed border. Now it is time for the Indian Army to do the same.

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