How Far Exactly Did Chinese Intrude Into Ladakh? Experts Weigh in
The question of how much of territory was occupied by Chinese troops remains under scrutiny.
Disengagement is the latest buzzword in the ongoing border tussle between India and China. Quoting anonymous sources, several Indian media houses have reported that the Chinese army is gradually pulling back near patrolling points 14 and 15 in Galwan Valley and another in the Hot Spring area in Ladakh.
China also has sent a similar message with a spokesperson saying the communication has reached 'positive consensus'.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was quoted as saying: "Recently, the diplomatic and military channels of China and India held effective communication on the situation along the border and reached positive consensus."
While the situation at the border shows promise, the question of how much of territory was occupied by Chinese troops remains under scrutiny.
Some argue the Chinese have occupied close to 35 sq km of Indian territory, while others claim it is difficult to be conclusive.
‘Chinese Have Occupied up to 40 Sq Km Area’: Lt Gen Panag
"Post 1962, the LAC (Line of Actual Control) runs west of Finger 8 in Pangong Lake. The ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) used to patrol up to Finger 8. This claim of ours hasn't (been challenged) since 1962. However, the PLA has changed its version over the years," said Lt Gen (R) HS Panang, in context to his argument on Chinese occupying Indian area.
According to him, satellite images show that the PLA troops have occupied the area between Finger 4 and Finger 8.
"The area from Finger 8 to Finger 4 is about 8 km. The Chinese troops have occupied the heights overlooking our ITBP post between Finger 4 and Finger 3, and other peaks 4-5 km to the north of the lake. This means the total area occupied by the Chinese is 35-40 square km," said Lt Gen Panag, former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C ) of the Indian Army's Northern Command between 2007 and 2008.
‘Govt Should Have Released Information to Check Speculation’
While Lt Gen Panag makes a case of Chinese troops occupying a large area on the Indian territory, there are some retired army officers who believe the government should have provided timely information on the number of Chinese troops or the area occupied by them, to avoid speculations.
“My take on this matter is that retired officers like us don’t have access to the specifics. The specifics can only be given by the government or the army. Sadly, then haven’t. They should have given specifics, whatever it may be. Absence of this information leads to speculations that are inconclusive and misleading,”Lt Gen (R) Satish Dua, former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff.
‘Incursion is Significant in Comparison’: Former Army Commander
Lt Gen (R) DS Hooda, former GOC-in-C of the Indian army's Northern Command and an officer who played a vital role in the surgical strike, said that compared to the previous stand-offs with China, the latest incursion is significant because of the troops and equipment deployed by the neighbouring country.
"If you compare Doklam, it was not in our territory; it was in Bhutan. At Chumar, they tried to come across, but couldn't because we stopped them at the border. In 2013, during the stand-off in Depsang, they came to our territory, but there was only a platoon of 30-40 soldiers,”
“But, this time, there are a large number of troops, tanks, APCs (armoured personnel carrier) and (artillery) guns being deployed at the rear. So, it is a significant crisis. But I don’t want to speculate why they are doing it,” he said.
According to the general, this time, discerning Chinese intentions is a significant difficulty. "Everyone is speculating the reasons for the incursion, but the reasons are unclear. If I compare them with the past, in Chumar (2014) and Doklam (2017), both sides knew what they wanted. Chinese wanted to build a road, we said they can't. This made the terms of the disengagement clear. But, this time, as yet, we don't know what the Chinese want," he said.
Lt Gen Hooda didn't want to comment on the area occupied by the Chinese.
‘Situation Not Comparable to Kargil’
Since the news of Chinese occupying Indian territory, there were several comparisons between the situation in Kargil in 1999. However, General (R) VP Malik, who was the chief of army staff during the Kargil conflict, said that such comparisons are not valid.
"Yes, Chinese troops have come into the area between finger 4 and finger 8 in Pangong. It is a matter of concern. But let's not compare the terrain of Kargil with this region. Here, we don't have any sensitive roads as we had in Kargil. NH-1, going from Srinagar to Kargil, was a critical road for us,” he said.
He added that in Ladakh, India has been constructing roads. But since there isn't a large habitation, it has been primarily for military use. “Most importantly, the size of enemy mobilisation during Kargil was much larger compared to what is happening in Ladakh," the general added.
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