Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, making a statement in Rajya Sabha on the situation along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, said “patrolling patterns are traditional and well-defined… no force on earth can stop our soldiers from patrolling” and “there will be no change in the patrolling pattern”.
But the situation on the ground, especially in the Depsang Plains in the far north of Ladakh, is very different. Because more than a month before the standoff began in May on the north bank of Pangong Tso where Indian soldiers are not being allowed to move beyond Finger 4 to the LAC point at Finger 8, Chinese troops cut off Indian access to five “traditional” patrolling points (PPs) in the Depsang Plains.
The patrolling points (PPs) are the end points along the undefined LAC, up to which the Indian troops patrol after starting from their respective base camps..
Since April, Indian troops have been denied access to PPs number 9, 10, 11, 12, 12A, 13, 14, 15, 17, 17A. The blocked PPs span from the Depsang plains in the north to Pangong Tso (lake) in the south. In all, there are more than 65 PPs from the base of Karakoram to Chumar.
“Since the LAC is undefined, the PPs are the best way to assert territorial claims. With that access blocked by the Chinese and as per the disengagement plans in the past few months when buffer zones were created, many areas have become out of bound for the Indian troops as of now,” said the official.
Another official said that in the past, Chinese commanders had made untenable demands that India vacate an administrative post in Pangong and some heights near the Kurang nala.
As per the disengagement plan agreed between the Corps Commanders of India and China on June 30, the two sides agreed to pull back from all the friction points and decided that “depth areas” such as the Depsang plains in the north, where China has amassed troops, will be looked into. However, so far the Chinese transgression at Depsang has not been discussed and in none of the government statements it finds a mention.
As report, about 1,000 sq. km. of surface area in Ladakh along the LAC is said to be under Chinese control, with Indian troops denied access to patrolling since early this year, the major part- 972 sq. km. lies in Depsang. Patrolling points 10-13, which have been obstructed, fall in Depsang.
The entire stretch along the LAC has witnessed “worrisome hardening of Chinese positions” since April-May, with China occupying a considerable area from Finger 4 to 8 near Pangong Tso. The distance between Finger 4-8, the mountainous spurs abutting the lake, is around 8 km. This was till now patrolled both by India and China as India’s perception of LAC ends at Finger 8.
“The areas currently blocked by the Chinese have always been patrolled by the Indian troops. In all the meetings so far, we have demanded the restoration of status quo ante before April,” said the second official.
S Jaishankar, Wang meeting
After the foreign ministers of both countries S Jaishankar and Wang Yi, met in Moscow on September 10 and agreed on a five-point solution to ease the border tension, there has been no clarity on when the Corps Commanders will meet.
Since June, the Corps Commanders have met on five occasions- the latest one took place on 2 August. The north and south banks of Pangong have witnessed firing in the air on multiple occasions since 30 August, a first of its kind escalation since 1975.