By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th Sept 13
Top government officials worry that media reports alleging fresh Chinese incursions and assertiveness along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) --- the de facto border between India and China --- threaten to undermine the calm that prevails since early May, when China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) withdrew a tented camp that it had established in disputed territory in the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) area in northern Ladakh.
The chairman of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), Shyam Saran, has denied reports by Hindustan Times and Headlines Today that he has submitted an official report to the prime minister’s office (PMO) accusing the PLA of occupying 640 square km of Indian territory; stating that Indian patrols can no longer enter the Depsang Bulge in DBO sector; and concluding that these restrictions on Indian patrolling now define the LAC.
“The NSAB does not concern itself with operational matters,” Mr Saran told Business Standard.
The NSAB chief, who earlier headed the PMO initiative to improve infrastructure along the LAC, especially roads, has long been a frequent traveller to the border. His recommendations in a series of reports dating back to 2007-09 form the basis for India’s road construction effort along the LAC. But his recent trip to Ladakh was in a personal capacity, he says.
“The NSAB is an autonomous body whose members serve in their individual capacities. They undertake visits to various parts of the country to familiarize themselves with the local situation to assist their deliberations. No mandate was sought or given by the PMO or the Government,” he clarifies.
“The NSAB has the strengthening of border management on its agenda and will, on the basis of all inputs available to it, make appropriate recommendations to the Government after due deliberation.”
According to Headlines Today, Defence Minister AK Antony declined to say anything about the issue. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said, “I don't want to comment on Shyam Sharan's report. Allow us some time to study the report.”
South Block officials express frustration that India’s geographical disadvantage at several points on the LAC is routinely played up as if it is a recent occurrence. Officials point out that Indian troops have always been at a serious disadvantage in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) because of its geographical isolation, which tardy road building has failed to overcome.
A senior government official deplores the tendency of the media, which is only now learning about these situations, to sensationalize each “discovery” as if it had just occurred. The official points out that the digital revolution, and improved telephone connectivity, permits Indian soldiers and border populations to draw attention to situations that have remained long obscured by their remoteness.
Media reports this week have alleged that Mr Shyam Saran’s report to the PMO says that the PLA has “incrementally” occupied near 640 square kilometres (i.e. an area about 30 km by 21 km) at DBO, Chumar and Pangong Tso Lake. Mr Saran’s report is alleged to state that the entire Depsang Bulge is now inaccessible to India.