2 Kms of Road Was All China’s PLA Built in Doka La to Scare India

Heavy deployment of troops averted skirmish in Doka La but Chinese are at a vantage point, reports Chandan Nandy.

5 min read
2 Kms of Road Was All  China’s PLA Built in Doka La to Scare India

In a renewed bid to strengthen its infrastructural superiority, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had laid out a strategic road in Doka La barely 2 kms short of the India-China-Bhutan trijunction bordering East Sikkim, subsequently forcing the Indian army to substantially increase troop deployment in the area.

Intelligence and military sources in Sikkim disclosed to The Quint that an Indian army unit stationed close on the Sikkim-Bhutan border strongly objected to the PLA’s ingress into Bhutanese territory in Doka La, also called Dokalam (referred to as Donglong by the Chinese), when it noticed that road-building work, which, if it were to be completed, would have given the Chinese troops a decisive advantage on the strategic heights by bringing them eyeball-to-eyeball with soldiers of the 17th Mountain Division.

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Show of Strength

Besides, had the PLA been successful in laying the road right up to the Indian borders, it would have been only about 150 kms away from the Siliguri corridor or the strategically vital “Chicken’s Neck”, which in the event of hostilities, would have proved disastrous for India.

Even as the army deployed 3,500 additional “non-combative” troops in a show of strength near the trijunction, other Indian border-guarding agencies, such as the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), are today dismayed by the army’s “disinclination” to share any information with them about the Chinese ingress or their subsequent counter-measures in the mist-cloaked mountains.

Also Read: Explained: India-China Standoff at the Border

Had the PLA been successful in laying the road in Doka La , it would have been only about 150 kms away from India’s Siliguri corridor.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

ITBP Noticed Chinese Incursion

Sources revealed that the ITBP, which was deployed in the Sikkim sector in 2006, received intelligence about the PLA’s ingress and its effort to restart work on the partially laid road in Doka La around 12-13 June much before the Kailash Mansarovar yatra was called off.

“The ITBP unit duly informed its headquarters, which would certainly have shared the input with the Home Ministry, about the Chinese incursion. In fact, the PLA’s movements began soon after the snow started thawing in the upper reaches of the mountainous region around the trijunction,” an intelligence official based near Nathu La said.

The ITBP commands the Dorji La outpost (in the Lachen Valley in North Sikkim) at 18,700 feet besides having units stationed at Nathu La and Sherathang which are in a range of 15-20 kms from the recent Doka La flashpoint zone.

Also Read: View from Bhutan: China Has Always Had Its Eye on Doklam

Sources revealed that around 12-13 June, it was the ITBP unit that received intelligence about PLA trying to build road in Doka La.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

Past Instances of Trespassing

Doka La has not been without its share of confrontations between the Indian army and the PLA. About four years ago, a PLA detachment moved into Doka La in Bhutanese territory, and destroyed some “rudimentary” Indian army bunkers - but the incident was saved from snowballing into af serious confrontation when a flag meeting between Chinese and Indian army officers resolved the issue. In 2008 too, the Chinese army tried to penetrate Doka La.

“There would be very frequent PLA trespasses into Indian territory in a particular area in North Sikkim referred to as the ‘finger’. Tibetan grazers, with their yaks, too would stray into our side,” a former top Sikkim police officer said, confirming that Doka La has been in the PLA’s crosshairs, and “therefore a dispute”, for some time now.

Also Read: China’s Belligerence in Doklam Must Drive India to Fortify LAC

Changu Lake near Nathu La pass. On 27 June, China confirmed that it has stopped entry of Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims through Nathu La pass.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

Road Building: PLA’s Bold Move

The officer, who retired a few years ago, admitted that the “Chinese are far ahead of us” in road-building and other infrastructural systems in Chumbi Valley in Tibet, adding that the “PLA now seems emboldened enough” to take the “opportunity to expand southward into Bhutan and closer to East Sikkim.”

“The action over the last two weeks has been just beyond Kuppup where the additional Indian troops have been deployed,” a military source said.

Four to five years ago, there were no motorable roads further up to the border with China, since incursions by the PLA were not expected. Today, a road diverging from Kuppup, towards the Old Baba Harbhajan Mandir, leads right up to the border.
Military source to The Quint
The Indian army has considerably beefed up road (laid by the Border Roads Organisation) and other vital infrastructural facilities in the 20-km-stretch (west to east) from Nathu La to Kuppup where, since the PLA-Indian army standoff began about a month ago, “verbal advisories” were sounded out to Indian villagers on the frontier that they would have to evacuate to lower reaches in the event of any Chinese muscle-flexing.
On the way to Baba Mandir. The Indian Army has beefed up road and other infrastructural facilities in the 20 km stretch from Nath La to Kuppup.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

‘Strike Troops for Deep Penetration Offensive Roles’

There are two axes of roads from Gangtok to Doka La: one goes north of the Sikkim capital via 15 Mile, Tsomgo, Thegu, Sherathang, Nathu La and the new Baba Harbhajan Mandir to Kuppup; the other branches off east from Gangtok via Rongpo, Rongli, Gnathang, Zeluk and onward to Kuppup – areas which are close to the border with Bhutan. The Indian army’s additional deployment took pl on the eastern axis.

Army sources revealed that the “past presence” of “holding infantry and artillery units” was “beefed up” by armoured support along the first axis and “strike troops for deep penetration offensive roles” since the stand-off at Doka La began.

Also Read: China in a Fix Over India as War Clouds Gather in Doklam

While there are two axes of roads from Gangtok to Doka La, the Indian Army’s additional deployment took place on the eastern axis.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)
The Indian army’s presence in Doka La and its surrounding areas has been strengthened by a 3:1 proportion, which means we increased our presence three times.
Army source to The Quint

Unconfirmed reports indicate that Indian troops who confronted the Chinese in Doka La may have reached the spot via Bhutanese territory.

‘Today, a road diverging from Kuppup, towards the Old Baba Harbhajan Mandir, leads right up to the border’, said a military source.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

Chinese Are At A Vantage Point

The Chinese, however, are better located and positioned on their side of the border in that the PLA troops command the greater heights in the area surrounding the India-Bhutan-China trijunction. In fact, army sources said that Chinese observation posts “can be seen on top of the rugged peaks” barely 2 kms upward of Kuppup.

‘The Indian Army’s presence in Doka La and areas surrounding it has been strengthened by 3:1 proportion’, an army source told The Quint.
(Photo: Chandan Nandy/ The Quint)

The PLA, the sources said, has been trying for the past two years to move closer to Doka La which 20-30 years ago was a yak grazing plateau of interest neither to the Indian army nor the Chinese.

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