No concessions in Daulat Beg Oldi, say government sources - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 6 May 2013

No concessions in Daulat Beg Oldi, say government sources

"You have crossed the border. Please go back"

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th May 13

On Sunday, 40-50 Chinese border guards from the paramilitary People’s Armed Police withdrew from their temporary camp at Raki Nala near the Indian outpost of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) in northern Ladakh. Thus ended a 20-day face-off with Indian jawans of the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP), who had responded to the arrival of the Chinese patrol on 15th Apr by establishing an Indian camp adjoining the Chinese. From early messages coming out of South Block, New Delhi appears to have made no significant concessions in resolving this dispute [The bunker at Chumar which the Indian Army consented to vacate was built as a retaliation to the Chinese intrusion into the DBO sector on Apr 15th].

Notwithstanding the hype generated by an excitable Indian media that had reported the “eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation” in dire terms, at no stage of this incident were actual hostilities imminent, or even considered. Over the last two decades, both armies have complied with a framework of bilateral agreements that were designed to prevent physical conflict. Peace has been maintained even as both countries’ troops and border guards kept alive their territorial claims by patrolling and camping in disputed areas. The agreements include the 1993 “Agreement for Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the LAC”; the 1996 “Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field”; and a successor protocol of 2005 on implementing border CBMs. A separate mechanism for resolving border incidents, such as DBO, was signed a year ago.

These protocols and agreements specify permissible modalities for engagement. These include verbal cautions over loudspeakers, and the unfurling and display of cloth banners that inform the other patrol that it has crossed the border and should return. In the two decades since the 1993 agreement, the two sides have developed the habits and practices of armed co-existence, which has drastically reduced the possibility of actual shooting.

This restraint was in the making even before 1993. In 1986, during a crisis that bore similarities to the DBO intrusion, a Chinese patrol unexpectedly established camp at the disputed Wangdung grazing ground, along the LAC north of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian Army responded aggressively with a ferocious troop and logistical build up, creating overwhelming military superiority all around the intrusion site. But no fighting occurred and the crisis ebbed after the Chinese requested for a flag meeting.

During the DBO incident, the military’s laudable restraint and the government's "tread softly" approach faced sharp criticism from an aggressively nationalistic political opposition, media and public. In fact, the civil and military wings worked in close coordination with each other in engaging with the Chinese, for which adequate credit has not been given. That is partly because, without public information about Indian and Chinese positions and about the dialogue process, there is public apprehension that national interests were being secretly bartered away. The DBO intrusion highlights the need to inform the public that eastern Ladakh (like most of the Sino-Indian border) is disputed territory that New Delhi and Beijing are negotiating over.

Similar pressures on Beijing were not apparent in the Chinese public space, largely because the controlled media there barely reported the DBO incident. Had the face-off escalated, Beijing too would have faced nationalistic demands to “teach India a lesson,” especially on the Chinese social media, which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) takes seriously. There must also have been pressure on the Chinese leadership from the predictable hardliners --- the People’s Liberation Army, and CCP bosses in Tibet and Xinjiang. It is still too early to know how this crucial internal dialogue played out in China.

As the ripples of DBO abate, both Beijing and New Delhi must jointly insulate the LAC from unintended consequences. Beijing will most likely argue during the Salman Khurshid and Li Keqiang visits this month that India must freeze troop levels and defence infrastructure along the LAC, a proposal that it has officially submitted to New Delhi. This is unacceptable, especially any halt on road infrastructure, which India must create on an emergency footing. Meanwhile, New Delhi must avoid the triumphalism that was evident in the unnecessary announcements about refurbished landing strips in DBO and Nyoma.

Crucially, New Delhi must demand that Beijing spells out its perception of the LAC and its claim line, so that Indian decision-makers can contemplate clarity rather than the creeping Chinese expansionism that has eroded trust. Understanding each other's perceptions would be a solid step towards an eventual border settlement.

Finally, as a means of generating strategic leverage, New Delhi must signal to Beijing, in carefully crafted phraseology, that India has not entirely foreclosed its options on Tibet. If Beijing continues to treat Indian interests, especially in Jammu & Kashmir, with such disdain, New Delhi could hardly continue to treat Chinese core interests like Tibet with the care that India has shown over the last 6 decades. New Delhi must walk this line with sensitivity, creating mindfulness in Beijing without openly threatening the face-conscious Chinese. While Tibet is a card that must be played, pushing too hard would be as counterproductive for New Delhi as not playing the card at all.


  1. what options do we have incase china refuses to sit across to discuss border dispute? Ex- diplomats have been saying that china always turns down the proposal of exchanging maps.

  2. Just Tibet can win.

    Strategy is never just between two states....there are many other geo strategic factors that India can/ will have to make use of...

  3. @Ajai sir

    a few things

    that China will withdraw was a known fact as the tents were reported pitched in completely snow bound area, which would have become un-maintanable as snow melted in summer.

    What was to be scene that when China considers the right time to withdraw before snow melts and after extracting what assurance.

    If the reported Chumar post deal was struck, India should renege on that since its said that China in 1st place was in breach of 2005 protocol during the DBO case.

    Also one must keep in mind that if India were to accept socalled Chinas demand on Chumar, tommorrow Pakistan may well ask India to vacate Bana Post.

    Even if India were to accept socalled Chinas demand on Chumar it sholud be reciprocated by withdrawl of China from various grasslands in eastern ladakh, HP, UT, AP they encroched upon in last 10-15 years.

    hope better sense prevails


    Joydeep Ghosh

  4. Informative :) I would like to believe the headlines as put by the govt sources but should I???
    Frankly I dont know

  5. Chinese_Indian Ajay7 May 2013 at 05:03

    Ajai ji,

    The Border Roads Organisation need to think of new ways of constructing roads in the difficult terrain of the Himalayas.

    I looked at some photos of the road link between Leh and Srinagar that is apparently open for only 6 months of the year. So it would be open during summer and fall months and closed down by snow during the winter and early spring months. Even the road that is there and open during Summer looked damaged and the tarmac destroyed and "washed off".

    Why is this so? This shouldn't be the case when we can think of ways bypassing seasonal constraints.

    The thing to do, if I may recommend, is to build a road that could run all round the year: the road should have a retractable canopy for its full length, perhaps, effectevely like a tunnel, the road is protected all the way round. The canopy could be opened during summer months and closed during the severe snow fall months. This would protect the road from erosion during winter months and extends the life of the roads effectively.

    The same should be done for the link to DBO and perhaps in that case, there should be a tunnel all the way to DBO with "branches" coming off it at different locations along the LAC or even deeper. So even if the enemy were to destroy the surface road, the tunnel would leave an access route to our uttermost frontiers.


  6. No one knows the Chinese. Chinese are like Han German Nazis and they know the best whether they want to make India as their Italy or France.

  7. How old are you kid^ ??

  8. "Meanwhile, New Delhi must avoid the triumphalism that was evident in the unnecessary announcements about refurbished landing strips in DBO and Nyoma."

    Ajai sir, why would you term this unnecessary? Given the current negative administrative climate, activating these airstrips and trying to augment infrastructure was a good move by this govt. One can at least take heart in that our govt. is aware of border infrastructure. We cannot look over our shoulders every time we do something important - it's time we start dealing with the world with some self-assurance, and signal that our defence is our business and no one else's.

  9. Why does GoI ever have to say that there will be no concessions. And why does the media have to highlight that hain ji?

    I would think that this was understood.

    China has been creeping in and occupying land in Laddakh over the last decades, and inspite of repeated requests by both the Army and the local MLAs and MPs no one in Delhi has been paying any attention

  10. Actually 1962 has happened again. This time the eye shut attitude, political scenarios and the weakenign of the position of the Chiefs just makes India shut its eyes closer much tighter

  11. So we certainly gave up further infrastructure build-up, however weak the effort, in order to "save face" for China. Meanwhile, less than 20 km southeast of Demchok, google maps "satellite" view clearly shows a well developed landing strip on the Chinese side. Not only that, they have built an all-weather road all the way to Chardund Nalla which is now the de facto LAC and only a few meters away from Indian side of the divided village of Demchok. Last summer, the Chinese insisted that India built no further roads or other infrastructure in Demchok because "it was disputed territory." Even in this DBO affair, the media images of the "tents" pitched by the Chinese show that they were no backyard construction, and even the ground where they were built was level-- meaning there was some foundation work involved. The fact that this 50+ man stronghold was being continually supplied not by helicopter drops but by trucks, tells me that the Chinese have also built sturdy enough roads...ALL THE WAY UP TO DBO air strip. So even if they have left for now (and did they actually go back the entire 20km?), they can march-in at almost any time. And since it looks like the DBO is only lightly manned by the ITBP and not by the IA, it is quite conceivable that the PLA will next year just come and take over the landing strip at DBO and call it a day. There goes India's ability to patrol the Chip Chap River and to Karakoram Pass.

    That is my, very informal and admittedly uneducated, analysis of the situation.

    What I would suggest is to get American civil engineering contractors like AECOM and Bechtel, and equipment vendors like Caterpillar and Astec, to bid for turnkey contracts for all-weather road, bridge, and tunnel construction. Ladakh and Kashmir aren't the only places in the world that gets harsh winters and snows--we must accept that we never learned how to build strong roads, and get outside contractors to build them for us. And pronto! Same goes for railroads, especially a line directly from Himachal to Leh. Lastly, enough with the Article 370 crap. India is bursting at the seams-- J&K and Arunachal are either integral parts of India, or they're not. And as parts of India, like any other, Indians must be able to move there, open businesses, build homes, farm lands...integrate these parts to the national mainstream. 60 years of experimentation and leaving them alone has led to the current precarious situation, so enough already. The Chinese have a point. They're setting up small towns all over Tibet with new Han arrivals. India can't simply protect empty grasslands that are loosely populated forever. Demchok could be a bustling border town with strong links to Leh and other cities, but cannot do that just by traditional pastoralists.


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