By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Aug 17
The two-month-long confrontation between Chinese and Indian troops in Doklam, on the Sikkim-Bhutan border, is raising tempers elsewhere on the Sino-Indian border, most notably Ladakh, where China enjoys an operational and logistic advantage over India, unlike large sections of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
For decades, Indian and Chinese patrols have confronted each other with relative restraint. At worst, words would be exchanged and some pushing and jostling carried out before both sides disengaged and returned to their camps. Even during longer intrusions, like at Depsang in 2012 and Chumar in 2013, both sides scrupulously avoided physical violence.
This absence of bloodshed has been instrumental in ensuring a peaceful Line of Actual Control (LAC), as visualised by the Sino-Indian “Peace and Tranquillity Agreement” of 1993.
On Independence Day, however, mounting Chinese frustration boiled over at the scenic Pangong Lake. At about 7 a.m., a couple of hours before the two sides exchanged traditional gifts of sweets at nearby Chushul, a Chinese patrol consisting of “border defence” troops from their post at Khurnak Fort began pelting stones at an Indian patrol that had come to the same location – the hotly disputed “Finger 5” area.
The Indian patrol consisted of a mix of personnel from the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) and army soldiers from the local infantry battalion. They apparently retaliated before their commanders reined them in and defused the situation.
Participants in that clash say the Chinese were carrying iron rods, in addition to their personal weapons. This was apparently because an Indian patrol to the same area, the previous day, had carried wooden sticks (lathis).
No injuries were caused by firearms or the sticks, but there were minor bruises and cuts caused by the stone-pelting.
“We were restrained all through, but the Chinese border guards were very aggressive. There were a lot of abuses shouted at one another, but that was a waste in the absence of interpreters”, says an Indian officer, tongue-in-cheek.
“The code of conduct that has held since 1993 is now under stress. We are aware that Doklam is a factor on the Chinese side. But we are trying to ensure that the situation is not complicated by an incident where soldiers from either side are hurt. That would complicate Doklam even further”, he said.