India-China Stand-Off: Three Reasons Why The Crisis In Ladakh Is Far From Over
With no disengagement at Pangong Tso, limited disengagement at the other three sites, and India’s determination to improve infrastructure on its side of the LAC, border tensions are unlikely to subside anytime soon.
A month after clashes at Pangong Tso and the military buildup that followed, Indian and Chinese forces have disengaged at three points of standoff in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan River Valley and the Hot Springs area.
While there is no official confirmation, Indian and Chinese troops have moved back two to three kilometres at Patrolling Point 14 and 15 in the Galwan Valley and from Patrolling Point 17A in the Hot Springs sector.
However, despite the easing of tensions at some points, the crisis in Ladakh is far from over for three reasons:
One, no disengagement at Pangong Tso.
Of all the points of standoff in eastern Ladakh, the northern bank of the Pangong Lake is where the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has changed the status-quo significantly. It has occupied the area that was, until April this year, being patrolled by both sides.
The 135 km-long Pangong Lake, a portion of which is in Tibet, is the world’s highest saltwater lake, and lies 54 kilometres southeast of Leh.
North of the Pangong Lake lies the Chang Chenmo range. Spurs which jut out from this range, running mostly perpendicular towards the northern bank of the Pangong Lake, are called ‘fingers’ by the Indian Army.These fingers are labelled 1 to 8 in a map of the lake’s northern bank below.
While India holds area up to the western side of Finger 4, which is also called Foxhole Point or Foxhole Ridge, and claims that the LAC runs through Finger 8, China claims that the LAC is close to Finger 2.
India has been sending patrols up to Finger 8 for years, while the Chinese patrol up to the eastern side of Finger 4.
India’s Indo-Tibetan Border Police has a camp between Finger 2 and 3, set up sometime around 2013-14.The Chinese have a base in the area east of Finger 8.
As a result, a grey area, which both sides patrol, although not without friction, exists between Finger 4 and 8. This region is at the centre of the current stand-off.
Latest high-resolution satellite images from Planet Labs, posed by an open-source intelligence (OSINT) analysts, @detresfa_, on Twitter, suggest that new Chinese camps have come up in the area just east of Finger 4.
Chinese camps appear to be spread across the entire area between Finger 4 and 6, and earth-moving equipment can be seen on the eastern part of Finger 4. New trails, starting close to the Chinese camps and leading towards the finger heights are also visible in the satellite image below.
China did not have a post between Finger 4 and 8 before the stand-off.It had built a motorable road in the grey area in 1999 when India was busy evicting Pakistan from Kargil heights.
With the Chinese present between Finger 4 and 6 in large numbers, Indian patrols, which earlier used to go as far as Finger 8, where the Indian claim line lies, will not be able to move beyond Finger 4.
This, in effect, will give China control of the entire region between Finger 4 and 8 and the adjoining heights.
India wants this change in status quo reversed.However, as things stand, the two sides don't seem to have moved forward on this front.
Two, only limited disengagement at the other three sites.
If talks between the two armies at the local level on the ground, which are likely to take places starting today, fail to make headway, redeployment of troops which have been pulled back a few kilometres can't be ruled out.
A similar situation may arise if the two sides fail to resolve the crisis at Pangong Tso, where the Chinese forces are in occupation of territory which they have claimed for years. Failure to resolve this issue may reignite the crisis in Galwan and Hot Springs area, or at some other new point.
It is unlikely that India will accept territorial loss at Pangong Tso as a fait accompli. If dialogue fails, China digs in and refuses to leave, New Delhi may try to find other options to put pressure on Beijing.
One of these options, even though it looks farfetched at this point in the crisis, would be to do what the PLA did in the Galwan and Hot Springs area.
Three, India's drive to improve the infrastructure on its side of the LAC, which some say could be one of the reasons for China's aggressive behaviour, is not ending anytime soon.
In the middle of the stand-off, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which has been entrusted with the construction of 61 roads along the China border, is moving over 11,800 workers to border states to work on infrastructure projects.
India has also decided to continue working on two major connectivity projects — Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road and Sasoma-Saser La road — in north eastern Ladakh, the site of the stand-off.
This only suggests that India is in no mood to let China dictate when and where along the border it can build roads.
For decades, as India ignored border areas and then started building infrastructure at a crawling pace, China used its superior infrastructure to change the status-quo along the LAC at will.
With the BRO increasing the speed of construction significantly, the infrastructure gap is narrowing quickly. Due to improved connectivity in the border areas, India is finding it easier to send troops and patrols to areas which it had limited or no access to in the past.
Although India still has a lot of catching up to do, China's actions in grey areas are being increasingly challenged. A reaction to these challenges from the Chinese side can't be ruled out in the future.
In fact, due to improved patrolling from the Indian side, troops from both sides will come in contact with each other more often than before.
This means that the chances of a new crisis will only increase as India continues to improve infrastructure on its side of the LAC.
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