India-China ‘Bottleneck’: Are Indian Patrols Limited Since March?

Has China been choking ‘Bottleneck’ since March-end? Indian troops have not been able to patrol to several points. 

Updated
India
4 min read
Latest satellite images show that Chinese troops have reportedly returned to Patrolling Post 14 on the Line of Actual Control in Galwan Valley.
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In a move to avoid confrontation with the Chinese border guards, Indian troops have been asked to not patrol beyond the ‘Y-junction Bottleneck,’ where China has reportedly asserted its presence. Sources share with The Quint that Indian patrols have not gone beyond the said point in Depsang area of Ladakh since March-end. It is unlikely that the patrolling will resume any time soon as New Delhi seeks to avoid any further clashes involving Indian and Chinese troops after the violent incident on 15 June.

After 20 Indian soldiers, including a colonel, were killed by PLA soldiers, both Beijing and Delhi decided to take steps for easing tensions along the Line of Actual Control.

While Indian authorities, military and civil, are yet to come out with specifics in their official statements on the situation in Eastern Ladakh after Lt Gen Harinder Singh and his Chinese counterpart Lin Liu held a marathon meet on 22 June, satellite images show a relentless thrust of Chinese troops along the LAC in different sectors.

A detailed map of the area prepared by the US Army in 1953.
A detailed map of the area prepared by the US Army in 1953.
Image: Army Map Service, Corps of Engineers, Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
Zoomed in version of detailed map of the area prepared by the US Army in 1953 shows Burtse camp, Chip Chap river and other features in and around the area now blocked  by China. 
Zoomed in version of detailed map of the area prepared by the US Army in 1953 shows Burtse camp, Chip Chap river and other features in and around the area now blocked  by China. 
Image: Army Map Service, Corps of Engineers, Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

How China Has Choked this Strategic ‘Bottleneck’

The Quint has been reliably informed by those dealing with the situation that PLA has marked its presence at a crucial Y-junction near the Burtse patrol camp in Ladakh. Barely 30 kms south of the strategically important Daulat Beg Oldie forward base, this Y-junction is also known as ‘bottleneck’ in Indian strategic circles because any patrol seeking to reach either Point 10 or Point 13 along the Line of Patrol, must cross this junction. See the maps above prepared by the US Army in 1950 and below (prepared by The Quint) for reference.

Map indicating the patrolling routes from Burtse camp in Ladakh.
Map indicating the patrolling routes from Burtse camp in Ladakh.
Image: Nishtha Gautam and Kamran Akhter/The Quint

It is interesting to recall that the Chinese had crossed the Y-junction and stopped barely 1500 meters short of the Burtse camp in 2013. Both India and China use the route along Raki Nala, north of Y-junction, for patrolling purposes and it is not uncommon for both sides to run into each other. This happens in other sectors, along the Chinese border shared by Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, as well and sometimes these patrolling run-ins get heated.

In 1976, government constituted a China Study Group which revised the patrolling limits along the LAC. As can be seen from the map, patrolling points 10, 11, 11a, 12 and 13 fall slightly short of the LAC.

Incursion To Benefit Both China & Pakistan

This Y-junction 'Bottleneck' is around 17 kms west of the LAC and about 5 kms short of the Chinese claim line. As per the mutually agreed upon patrolling agreement between the two countries, both India and China have largely desisted from setting up permanent structures in the area. Border troops from both the countries patrol the area and withdraw.

A former Army Commander says that the Chinese domination of ‘Bottleneck’ aims to assert their LAC claim by blocking Indian patrols. “Since it’s called the line of actual control, whoever controls the access can claim the land and the Chinese have been at it since 1962.”

Map indicating the patrolling route along the LAC.
Map indicating the patrolling route along the LAC.
Image: Nishtha Gautam and Kamran Akhter/The Quint

On being asked about troops not carrying out patrols beyond ‘Bottleneck’, he says that a diplomatic resolution is always better than confrontation. “If our guys want to cross the Y-junction to reach Patrolling Points 10, 11, 11a, 12 or 13, they run the risk of getting into another physical confrontation which is best avoided at this moment.”

Another Lieutenant General—a former DG of Military Operations—however, says that blocking access is almost impossible in the mountains. “Yes, nothing comes easy in the mountains but you can’t stop a man from walking. And the ‘so-called’ blocking also comes with logistical and manpower costs for the party undertaking it.”

A former DG of DIA shares that such incursions are aimed at giving China strategic depth in Ladakh. "This allows China to give advantage to Pakistan as well. This is not a new game. Siachen becomes more accessible to China through this axis and that may bolster Pakistan's position." Pakistan’s relative silence on the matter strengthens this argument.

Need for ‘One Border One Force’ Along the LAC?

After the Kargil Review Committee's report was tabled, a committee of ministers had proposed 'One Border One Force'. Army has also been asking to be given the charge of the borders. Along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, the BSF comes under the operational command of Army. This is not the case with ITBP along the LAC.

"This creates not only confusion and intelligence sharing delays but also an inter-ministry chain-of-command issues," shares the former Army Command.

The Quint sent the following query to the spokesperson of Ministry of Home Affairs on the issue of Indian patrols:

When was the last time Indian patrol cross the point known as BOTTLENECK (7 km NORTH-East of our Burtse point) to patrol our points 10, 11, 11a, 12 and 13 along India’s Line of Patrol?

We have been informed by reliable sources that Indian patrols have been instructed not to confront the Chinese troops who have come to the said Bottleneck Y-junction. As a result, India’s access to the above mentioned points has been cut off.

The spokesperson responded at the time of publishing this story that they could not gather any information regarding this. This story will be updated upon receiving a response.

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