India shares large borders with its neighbor China in the North-East and Northern parts. These borders have not been stable since the time of independence and there have been continuous Chinese incursions in the Indian Territory. Border Speaks was a seminar organized by India Foundation to get to know the truth of the Chinese incursions in the Ladhak area from people’s representatives in Ladhak. It also provided them a platform to share their livelihood issues and day to day problems.
The speakers at the seminar were Shri Thupstan Chhewang, Former MP, Leh. Shri Rigzin Tangey, Sarpanch, Kyul (Demchok), Ladhak and Shri Nawang Narboo, Ex-Councillor, Nyoma. Lt. General Arvind Sharma, Retd. chaired the seminar.
Lt. Gen Arvind Sharma began his address by stating that the seminar was a consequence of the intrusion by Peoples Liberation Army Patrol in the northern area of Ladhak, to be precise in the south of the Karakoram pass. The intrusion was for a period of three weeks and was vacated on 5th of May, 2013. How and why the intrusion took place, the reactions and how it was resolved has left the majority befuddled. He said that information relating to this intrusion has left more questions unanswered than having been answered. Timing of the intrusion creates a doubt in the mind as it was preceding the visit of the Chinese Premiere Le Keqiang. Lt. Gen Sharma (Retd.) questioned the motivation of the intrusion. He said it was talked of as a localized affair. But Chinese don’t do things in a knee-jerk manner. It is a well thought out plan and it was done to achieve certain aims. A lot of speculation and discussion has taken place regarding the aims, a lot of analysis has been done by strategic thinkers. According to Lt. Gen Sharma (Retd.), the aim was twofold. One was strategic and the other was an assessment of India’s standing on the issue.
As per Lt. Gen Sharma (Retd.) only once in 2010 an intrusion took place in the area of Daulat Beg Oldi which is south of the Karakoram Pass. Karakoram Pass has been accepted as one of the points, south of which is the area of India. Similarly Demchok which is in the south east was the other point. Why this area? It was the first time PLA came with definitive plans to stay put. Patrols don’t carry tents, they come, look around and assess the situation. Come up to where they want to and wait for a reaction by Indian patrols. When nothing happens for a considerable period of time they settle down. This is what happened at Daulat Beg Oldi. According to Lt. Gen Sharma (Retd.) it wasn’t another Kargil, but it was something similar. The strategic part of this incursion was that Karakoram Pass has to its West and North-West the area of Shaksgam valley which was ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963. On going further West of Shaksgam pass is the area of Gilgit Baltistan. The area of Gilgit Baltistan is now virtually under control of the PLA. There are around 3000-4000 troops of the PLA working in that area. And that area links to the Karakoram Corridor. Lt. Gen Sharma (Retd.) said he is calling the Karakoram Corridor deliberately as a corridor because today there is a highway there, very soon there is going to be a pipeline and railways are going to come there and so that corridor gets linked up. In the early 50’s when the Aksai Chin road was being made, we never knew about it. And when Chinese came in and claimed areas, they claimed areas so that security was provided to this Karakoram highway. We couldn’t even look into that area. If the Chinese want to link up via the Shaksgam valley, which is a possibility, which people might call a difficult terrain, we must not forget that at one point of time even Siachen was a difficult terrain. To give certain amount of depth to this road they have to have this sort of area, that is why for the first time they have come down to this area.
The second reason is to see how well we are located in that area and what is our response to it. Since 2010 the border responsibility in that area is of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) which is under Ministry of Home Affairs and operating under their control. Army is located in that area but the responsibility is of ITBP and their deployment of troops is there itself. Their method of functioning and their communication links are that they will have a link with one of their senior officers sitting in Leh, then the communication goes directly to Delhi and the MHD controls it here. So anything that has to happen happens after the clearance of the MHD which takes time. And ipso facto today the responsibility of the Chinese borders is with the Ministry of Home Affairs. Appears rather strange but the fact of the matter is that. And with these troops there (pardon my saying this) they aren’t very well trained and aren’t very well equipped. They aren’t actually capable of doing this job. Lt. Gen Sharma (Retd.) said he is saying this not because he is an army man, but because in the difficult terrain it’s not possible. A lot of the resources of these forces unfortunately remain utilized by the Ministry under whom they are. And to that extent on ground the troop strength which are supposed to be there are not there. When the army requested the change of this policy, there was an absolute immediate ‘No’ from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Intrusion in these areas have been taking place except in the area of Daulat Beg Oldi. If you go further towards the East towards the Depsang plains there is an area called Track Junction, intrusions have taken place there time and again. You go further towards South towards Pangong Tso, Pangong Tso lake per se North and South of it, intrusions have taken place. Further South in areas of Demchok etc. intrusions have taken place. Even further South towards Chumar intrusions have taken place. Initially during 2003-04 the Chinese used to come on horseback upto the LAC, which was well behind and used to go back. Offlate they have even had helicopters coming in that area and troops also physically being present well inside the Chumar area. The natives from Demchok will be in a better position to share the real situation of the incursions and how we are handling with these situations.
Shri Thupstan Chhewang said his fellow natives from Demchok,Ladhak have been living with China in their neighborhood. They have been experiencing this politically, socially and morally and will today share their firsthand experiences with the audience and how it has impacted their livelihood. He told that Daulat Beg Oldi is the only place where there is no habitation of ours. The last village is Shayog and initially we didn’t even have the road connectivity. Shyog is almost 150 kilometres away from Daulat Beg Oldi. Shri Chhewang said that it was his earnest desire to come to the national capital and that too before the proposed visit of the Chinese Premiere. He said they wanted to warn the people of our country and the Government of India about the importance of the demarcation of borders with China and the attitude the Government must keep while dealing with them. He said that with the support of intellectuals and the intelligentsia they wanted to mount pressure on the Government so that it takes this issue seriously. The people of Ladhak have always had good relationship with the Army. Shri Chhewang told that since independence i.e. from 1948 onwards all the battles that India has fought have been fought on the land of Ladhak and the people of Ladhak have always supported the Indian Army. He said that people of Ladhak have always fulfilled their duties towards the motherland and shall also fulfill them in future. But the people of our nation too need to know their part of the story and their contributions to the nation. Shri Chhewang told that Chinese have built their colonies very near to the borders and have pushed the grasslands where the cattle used to feed. He explained the ground realities with a few pictures.
This is a vehicle of the PLA of China. PLA keeps a constant eye on the borders and as soon as any person from our part even nears the border they reach there. Such sights are very frequent in the border areas and incidences have increased recently.
This is again in Demchok. The double storey houses have been built by Chinese and the houses in front are ours. Initially there was no human population there, but the Chinese have brought and settled people there. Before 1962, they never even used to come to this place. Their army base was way far back. There was no civilian population. They had no habitation, neither did their cattle come for grazing here. They have strategically chosen various points to settle population. We have been constantly moving backwards.
This digging has been done under a central sponsored scheme by the locals, but the Chinese object to this digging claiming it to be their land. In reality this land belongs to India. ITBP didn’t allow us to dig here. This shows the Chinese influence in the internal matters of our country.
PLA interferes in the local matters of the people and scares them away if they come to the border.
The King of Jammu annexed Ladhak, till 1836 Ladhak was a free nation. He crossed Ladhak to go upto Tibet. There was an agreement between Jammu and Tibet in presence of a Chinese representative and borders were demarcated at that time. China claims Tibet, so accordingly the borders should have been according to the signed treaty. After the 1962 war ceasefire, an understanding was reached between India and China that until the borders aren’t demarcated we shall respect the territories and stay where ever we are. A protocol was signed in case any incursion happens a banner shall be shown to display protest.
The Chinese paint “China” in their language and in English and claim lands.
This is the police station of Chinese where there is habitation (double storey buildings shown above). Our police station is in Leh/Nyoma.
This is Busanala, which is patrolling base camp for India. Since we have mutually decided that we shall be 30 kilometers behind the LAC, hence our post is 30 kilometers behind. Busanala is strategically very important point. Here we had our temporary structure. 2 years before Chinese had brought JCB and destroyed the temporary structure. Chinese entered 19 kilometers inside our boundary, the question is how can they enter so easily inside. Such incidents are very frequent and remind us of Kargil. The Chinese were able to achieve what they wanted to achieve by this incursion. They had problems with our bunker in the Chumur sector. When we agreed not to build that bunker only then did the Chinese go back. The Chinese have entered inside our border inch by inch and have taken hold of thousands of kilometers of land. The incursion in Chumur sector in 2011, when two Chinese helicopters landed in our area, around 20 PLA soldiers got down and went inside our area for around two kilometers. There was this slope which had a series of Indian bunkers, and a portrait of Bharat Mata from white stones. The Indian post was around 10 kilometers behind. They shattered the bunkers and the portrait and went back.
This is the border, this side of the river is India, and on the other side is China. This is of strategic importance to India. If India gets this point, there will be a road yearlong between Leh and Delhi. Our strategy in Ladhak has been we don’t make roads, as they might of use to the Chinese. Such is our Government’s attitude. We must make effort to take this point. Our stand as regards borders has been defensive.
This is the Zorawar fort, where Chinese have built their tower now.
Concluding his address Shri Chhewang said that the military incursion which takes place by China does happen but simultaneously they are trying lure our people. They are trying to do a cultural invasion. China had first installed television tower across the border then we did on creating repeated pressure. They tailor made programs so that the people living here get lured. They have hydroelectric power, 24 hour electricity supply while we live in darkness. They have made mobile phone in Tibeti language and are giving it to our people. The most important thing to discuss and to be worried about is how they are trying to influence our people. We too need be more careful about the needs and necessities of the people of Ladhak. We need to develop grazing lands and for that we need funds towards which our governments need to be careful.
Shri Rigzin Tangey said there have been Chinese activities going on alongside the border right from 1947 till date. He told the Chinese have captured the Zorawar fort and have now converted it to fulfill their purposes. First it was part of India now the Chinese have captured it. Shri Rigzin said that if we fear the Chinese, if we bow to them they will surely keep moving inside our borders. Chinese are building infrastructure like roads on the border which is of threat to integrity of our nation. China by using the slogan “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” entered inside, we trusted them but they betrayed us. China claims any piece of land if finds suitable. There is no one to contest it claims. Whenever such incident take place, our government is usually on the defensive side. One of the foundations which we had built was broken by the Chinese and they even took away 12 sacks of cement along with them. Whenever we do any activity related to Dalai Lamaji, then too Chinese cause some instability on the border. In North Ladhak there is no habitation, but in areas such as Demchok Chinese have made living very tough. Shri Rigzin was very annoyed with the attitude of the Government. He said Chinese are right in claiming that the land is theirs as our own Government has put in Inner line permits for its own citizens. Whereas there is no requirement of any visa or permit to go inside China. Chinese are also providing ration cards to Indian citizens. The Chinese use language of Tibet in their areas, whereas on our side our forces speak English or Hindi which we people aren’t very comfortable with. They should speak language of Tibet or Ladhak. Government should consult locals before taking decisions. He concluded by saying that Inner line permit should be banned.
Shri Nawang Narboo said that since he has been the councilor of the border areas, he is well aware of the ground realities. He told that the livelihood in Ladhak area is solely dependent on cattle, there is no farming. All the grasslands have been captured by the Chinese. These grasslands shouldn’t have been captured. If the Government or the Army or the ITBP would have assisted we could have not allowed them to be captured. Chinese don’t enter blindly, they assess and only then enter in places which aren’t under surveillance. During 70’s around 50 Chinese army men came on horses, gathered the locals who had taken their cattle to graze and told them that this is Chinese land and you can’t bring your cattle here. When we complained some armed personnel came along with us and the Chinese ran away. So if we allow them to capture our lands, they will definitely incur. Our country is afraid of the Chinese, because when we tried to lay the foundation and Chinese stopped us we complained to the ITBP and they just kept passing our request from one point to another.
Shri Narboo was very frustrated with the Government attitude and said that the Government didn’t care how they lived. It didn’t matter how they are struggling for survival. He said we have no proper water supplies. For four months we drink water by melting ice. The temperatures go as down as -45° C. He said that he and his generation have lived and helped the Army or the ITBP whenever required. We used to carry ration, oil and other important things. But now when the forces have access to such amenities, nobody even asks us or cares for us. If any adverse situation arises the forces will have to depend on us, so they should try and strengthen relations with us. Shri Narboo said that when locals bring ration from Leh, ITBP personnel create problems for them by checking. They ask questions as to how we got these things. We need permission to even travel inside. The Chinese propaganda is true. We have no resources, no employment opportunities we can atleast be exempted from things like inner- line permits. We also have the right to earn money. Today I am 69, I have lived my entire life here so has my son but the coming generations don’t feel the same way. They see the development on the other side of the border and say how well the Chinese are doing. The loyalty of this generation won’t take much time to change. Everyone needs basic necessities like TV or mobile, if we don’t get such things people will either go to cities or move in China. It is because of our presence that the Chinese aren’t entering inside. Once nobody is there who will stop them. Government needs to boost our morale. There is no primary education no primary healthcare. We have got no choice but to run away.
(Compiled by Aaditya Tiwari, Research Associate at the India Foundation)