India playing catch up in Ladakh but much remains to be done in border villages

Are top ranking Chinese generals and party officials visiting cantonments bordering Ladakh and Sikkim more frequently because of India’s renewed emphasise on building its defences in these areas?



The Hindu reported that  a top ranking General of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (PLA) has carried out a rare inspection visit to the disputed western section of the border with India, including stops to inspect troops at two sites that have been at the centre of recent differences over incursion incidents — near the Karakoram Pass and the contested Pangong Tso lake.  General Xu Qiliang, who is one of two Vice-Chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC) headed by President Xi Jinping — the highest-ranking position in the Chinese Army — made the visit last month to inspect frontier troops in Xinjiang and Tibet, including in the Aksai Chin region claimed by India.


Other newspaper reports in China have indicated that a senior Communist Party of China official spent unusually long time in Western Tibet in areas bordering Ladakh and Sikkim. They reported that Deng Xiaogang, Deputy Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, responsible for the law and order, security and police, spent considerable time “to inspect the border security and the People’s Liberation Army bases”.
On June 20 for instance, an article in The Tibet Daily mentions: “Deng Xiaogang inspected Rutok, the border county”. Rudok is located near the Pangong Lake (tso) stretching between India and China; it is where Chinese ‘water’ incursions often occur. Addressing the border guards, Deng Xiaogang stressed: “Tibet is very special strategic location; it is an important barrier for the national security; development and stability in these border areas is an important part of the region’s overall situation.”



Why is China so nervous about these borders areas?


One reason for the Chinese attention to areas bordering Ladakh and Sikkim could be the following developments on the Indian side.
After years of neglect and apathy, India is beefing up its defences in Ladakh and Sikkim. Consider this:
    • A new Air Force Station to base fighter jets is coming up at Nyoma/Muth, about 200 km from capital Leh but just 25 km from the Line of Actual Control, as the border between India and China is known


    • A full-fledged armoured brigade will now be based in Ladakh. Two more armoured regiments will join 68 armoured regiment which made history last year by crossing the 13,000 feet plus Zojila and is now based near Nyoma.


    • One more infantry brigade is now moving closer to DBO where a standoff took place last year. It will join the existing Infantry brigade at Tangtse.


    • A new cantonment is coming up on the outskirts of Leh to house new support units


  • In Sikkim, India’s armoured presence is being steadily built up.
But much remains to be done in Ladakh as my recent tour of the villages along the border revealed.


1. Poor Roads


For instance, the crucial Lukung-Spangmik-Man-Merak-Chushul road, that goes all along the Pangong Tso needs to be black-topped urgently with either culverts or cemented troughs to take care of streams.
The Dungti-Koyul-Demchok stretch also needs a well-defined road. Right now, one travels only on natural gravel.


The Chushul-Rezeang La-Tasaga-Loma road could be opened for Indian tourists with adequate safeguards to let them do the Lukung-Chushul-Tsaga-Loma-Chumathang-Kairi-Karu-Leh circuit.


2. Communication facilities


BSNL towers are a must at Demchock, Pangong, Tsaga, Phobrang, and Chumur villages.


The Chinese mobile network is available at  at least two of these places. Even Chushul’s already installed BSNL tower is not functional.


Bus service between Chushul and Leh and Demchok-Leh needs to be at least twice a week, instead of once a week now.


3. Issues between Army-ITBP and local residents


There is friction between ITBP/Army and local residents at various places like Chumur, Demchok, Phobrang and Merak. The issues may seem trivial, but they have a potential to flare up.
A survey of the pastures in the area to determine their sufficiency should be undertaken.


Finally, there have to be more ITBP/Army posts across the Indus, closer to the LAC at least on the stretch between Dungti and Demchok. Right now Indian posts are at least four-five km in depth, delaying reaction time.