Indian Army exercise at Parvat Prahar in eastern Ladakh. File | Photo credit: PTI
India has lost access to 26 of its 65 Patrolling Points (PP) in eastern Ladakh, according to one of the investigative documents submitted last week at the annual police meeting in Delhi, which was accessed by The Hindu.
The Indian Army’s “play safe” approach that restricts the freedom of movement of the district administration and locals in forward areas has turned areas that were once accessible into informal “buffer” zones, the paper said. It added that to avoid consternation with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has placed high-resolution cameras at vantage points, the army is restricting the movement of grazers by installing checkpoints and deploying disguised personnel. The recent withdrawal agreements at PP 15 and 16 resulted in the loss of pastures in the Gogra Hills, the north bank of Pangong Tso and the Kakjung areas.
The document was not discussed at the annual conference of the Director General of Police (DGP) organized by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) held from 20-22 January and attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. It was one of 15 investigative papers submitted by police officers across the country on the topic of “Security issues related to unfenced land borders.”
The Hindu had reported on 22 December 2022 that at least 30 PPs in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are no longer patrolled by Indian forces.
These points were regularly patrolled prior to April-May 2020, when China began massing troops close to the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in violent clashes with the PLA on 15 June 2020; at least four Chinese soldiers were also killed.
The newspaper stated, “Currently, there are 65 PPs from Karakoram pass to Chumur that will be regularly patrolled by the ISFs (Indian Security Forces). Out of 65 PPs, our presence is lost in 26 PPs (i.e. PP No. 5-17, 24-32, 37, 51,52,62) due to restrictive or no patrols by the ISFs. Later, China forced us to accept that since such areas have not seen ISFs or civilians for a long time, the Chinese were present in these areas. This leads to a shift of the border under control of ISFs to Indian side and a buffer zone is created in all such pockets ultimately leading to loss of control over these areas by India. This tactic of PLA to seize land inch by inch is known as Salami Slicing.”
That’s what a defense source said The Hindu that the LAC in eastern Ladakh is dominated by physical patrols or technical means and “there is no loss of territory through withdrawal into areas of friction”.
“Some areas are restricted for patrols for both sides pending diplomatic resolution of disputes. No pastures have been lost. In non-affiliated areas, we have as many cameras and tech resources as the PLA and thus dominate the area as much if not more,” the source said. The source added that grazers are encouraged and all facilities are provided in conjunction with the civil administration.
The paper added that the military has placed significant restrictions on the movement of civilians and grazers near the forward areas on the Indian side, indicating with their play safe strategy that they do not want to annoy the PLA by giving them the opportunity to object to the areas claimed as disputed. The newspaper said: “Until September 2021, senior officers of the district administration and security forces would easily patrol up to Karakoram pass (35 km from Daulat Beg Oldie) in the DBO sector, but restrictions in the form of checkpoints were imposed by the Indian Army since December 2021 at DBO itself to stop such movement towards Karakoram pass as PLA had installed cameras and they would immediately object to the movement from Indian side if not informed in advance.
It added that the unfenced borders served as pastures for the nomadic community of the Changthang region (Rebos) and given the scarcity of rich pastures, they would traditionally venture into the areas close to the PPs. The paper said: “Since 2014, stricter restrictions on grazing movements and areas have been imposed on the Rebos by ISFs and this has caused some resentment against them. The soldiers are deployed in special disguise to stop the movement of Rebos to the upper echelons which the PLA might object to and likewise the development works in the border villages like Demchok, Koyul which are under the direct electronic supervision of the PLA are suffering as they object immediately.”
Over the years, this has resulted in the loss of livelihoods and change in lifestyle patterns of frontier villages leading to migration.
The defense source added that PPs are benchmark locations mutually agreed upon by both India and China. “Out of 65 PPs, some remain in conflict and all efforts to resolve them are made by concerned stakeholders [and] is ongoing….Recently the PP 15 issue has been mutually resolved. It should be understood that while PPs are sacred, the perception of the LAC is not. They have been in use since 1996, based on the guidelines of the China Study Group. These points have been identified on the basis of possible accessibility, quality of life, etc., and have been from the beginning. They have previously been patrolled by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and in recent years by the military. The demarcation of the LAC is as such the role of the State Department and the military has no role in this,” the source said.