The story so far: On September 15, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament that China had mobilised a large number of troops and armaments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with several friction areas in eastern Ladakh including the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (lake). He said the amassing of troops went against the bilateral agreements of 1993 and 1996.
Why are there different perceptions?
Mr. Singh said there had been situations of prolonged stand-offs in the border areas with China in the past which had been resolved peacefully. He said the situation this year is very different both in terms of scale of troops involved and the number of friction points... This underscores the magnitude of the current situation along the disputed boundary in Eastern Ladakh. There is no commonly delineated LAC and Mr. Singh said India and China have different perceptions about the LAC. This has led to periodic tensions and the number of transgressions and face-offs went up as Indias border infrastructure improved and Indian Army patrols to the claim areas increased over the years. A series of boundary agreements have been signed and confidence-building measures (CBMs) carried out to maintain peace and tranquillity while the two sides attempted to delineate the boundary through Special Representatives.
What happens when agreements are flouted?
While the agreements remain in place, the recent massive mobilisation of troops, tanks, armoured carriers and air defences very close to the LAC is in violation of the terms. Since the Galwan Valley clash on June 15, the Army has empowered its local commanders to take appropriate action as situations unfold and recently shots have been fired in the air, the first on the LAC since 1975. Thousands of troops and armaments continue to be deployed in close proximity, in some places within a few hundred metres of each other, so the chances of an accidental or inadvertent escalation which can spiral into a major confrontation remain high. Mr. Singh said that in response to Chinas actions, our armed forces have also made appropriate counter-deployments in these areas to ensure that Indias borders are fully protected.
What do the border agreements say?
A key element of both the 1993 and 1996 agreements is that the two sides would keep their forces in the areas along the LAC to a minimum level, Mr. Singh stated. However, the agreements do not define what comprises the minimum level. The 1996 agreement limits the deployment of major categories of armaments close to the LAC, including tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns with 75-mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120-mm or above and various missiles. It also limits combat aircraft from flying within 10 km of the LAC. It stipulates that neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two km from the LAC.
Use of firearms on the LAC is strictly regulated as per the agreements of 1993, 1996 and 2005. The 1993 and 1996 agreements also mandate that pending a final solution to the boundary question, the two sides shall strictly respect the LAC. Further in these agreements, India and China committed themselves to clarification and confirmation of the LAC to reach a common understanding of the alignment. However, this process has made little progress since 2003. Both sides have so far exchanged maps only in the central sector, leading to overlapping claims at several points due to differences in perception.
Also read | A phantom called the Line of Actual Control
How should troops deal with face-offs?
In 2012, India and China agreed to establish a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination to study ways and means to conduct and strengthen exchanges and cooperation between military personnel and establishments&in the border areas. The 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement lists several mechanisms to reduce misunderstandings and improve communication. Article VI of the agreement prohibits either side from tailing the patrols of the other in areas where there is no common understanding of the line of actual control.
What is the way forward?
Since the Galwan clash there have been calls for a review of the agreements from various quarters. Following the recent flare-up in tensions on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, at recent meetings between the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the two countries in Moscow, both sides agreed that they shall abide by all the existing boundary agreements, maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters. The five-point plan agreed between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Moscow on September 10 states that as the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude new CBMs to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas.