Sunday 1 November 2020

China lays communication cables at Ladakh flashpoint

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Two Indian officials said today in a report that troops of China were laying a network of optical fibre cables south of Pangong Lake in Ladakh. They suggested the army of China (PLA) were digging in for the long haul despite high-level talks aimed at resolving a standoff there.

India recently spotted such cables, which would provide forward troops with secure lines of communication to bases in the rear, to the south of Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh, a senior government official said.

The foreign ministry of China did not immediately respond to questions on the matter. The Ministry of Defence has not reacted to the development so far either.

Thousands of soldiers from India and China with tanks and aircraft are locked in an uneasy stalemate along a 70 km-long front to the south of the lake.

A third Indian official said today that there had been no significant withdrawals or reinforcements on either side since the foreign ministers of the two countries met last week. “It is as tense as earlier,” he said.

In the sky above Leh, Ladakh’s capital, Indian Air Force fighter planes flew throughout the morning, their engines booming and echoing across the valley surrounded by brown, barren mountains.

“Our biggest worry is that they have laid optical fibre cables for high-speed communications,” the first official said, referring to the lake’s southern bank, where troops of India and China are only a few hundred metres apart at some points. “They have been laying optical fibre cables on the southern bank at breakneck speed,” he said.

Indian intelligence agencies had taken note of similar cables laid by China to the north of the Pangong Tso about a month ago, the second government official said.

The first government official said the authorities were alerted to such activity after satellite imagery showed unusual lines in the sand of the high-altitude deserts to the south of Pangong Tso.

Experts studied these lines — and foreign intelligence agencies corroborated them — to be communication cables laid in trenches, the official said. The lines include those near the Spanggur gap, among hilltops where soldiers fired in the air recently for the first time in decades.

Officials say a build-up in border infrastructure on their side is likely to have played a part in the months-long confrontation.

A former military intelligence official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said optical fibre cables offered communications security as well as the ability to send data such as pictures and documents. “If you speak on the radio, it can get caught. Communications on optical fibre cables are secure,” he said.

The Indian military still depends on radio communications, the first official said, although he said it was encrypted.

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