The Indian army’s “play safe” strategy is enforcing buffer zones and limiting the movement of graziers along the China border. India has essentially lost access to 26 out of 65 Patrolling Points in eastern Ladakh, says a research paper.
One of the study papers presented at the annual police meeting in Delhi last week claimed that India had lost access to 26 of the 65 Patrolling Points (PP) in eastern Ladakh.
The Indian Army’s “play safe” approach, which restricts mobility of district government and civilians in advanced regions, has turned locations that were previously accessible into informal “buffer” zones, according to the report. It went on to say that, in order to prevent conflict with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has installed high-resolution cameras at strategic sites, the Army restricts grazier movement by building checkpoints and deploying personnel in disguise. Recent disengagement agreements at PP 15 and 16 led in the loss of pasture fields in the Gogra Hills, the North Bank of the Pangong Tso, and the Kakjung regions.
The report was not discussed at the annual Director General of Police (DGP) Conference, which was conducted from January 20-22 and was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. It was among 15 research papers submitted by police personnel around the country on the subject ‘Security Issues Pertaining to Unfenced Land Border’.
On December 22, 2022, The Hindu reported that Indian forces were no longer patrolling at least 30 PPs in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
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Prior to April–May 2020, when China began assembling soldiers close to the LAC in eastern Ladakh, these sites were routinely patrolled. On June 15, 2020, there were severe skirmishes with the PLA that resulted in the deaths of twenty Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese soldiers.
The paper stated: “Presently, there are 65 PPs starting from Karakoram pass to Chumur which are to be patrolled regularly by the ISFs (Indian Security Forces). Out of 65 PPs, our presence is lost in 26 PPs (i.e. PP no. 5-17, 24-32, 37, 51,52,62) due to restrictive or no patrolling by the ISFs. Later on, China, forces us to accept the fact that, as, such areas have not seen the presence of ISFs or civilians since long, the Chinese were present in these areas. This leads to a shift in the border under control of ISFs towards Indian side and a buffer zone is created in all such pockets which ultimately leads to loss of control over these areas by India. This tactic of PLA to grab land inch-by-inch is known as Salami Slicing.”
A defence source stated that the LAC in eastern Ladakh is dominated by physical patrolling or technical methods and “there is no loss of territory due to disengagement in friction areas”.
“Some areas have been restricted for patrolling for both sides pending diplomatic resolution of disputes. No pasture lands have been lost. In disengaged areas, we have as many cameras and technical means as the PLA and hence dominate the area as much, if not more,” the source said. According to the source, graziers are encouraged, and all facilities are supplied in collaboration with the civil administration.
According to the report, the Army has placed severe limitations on the movement of civilians and graziers near the front regions on the Indian side, indicating that they do not want to anger the PLA by providing them the opportunity to file objections on the areas claimed as contested. The paper said: “Till September 2021, senior officers of district administration and security forces would easily patrol till Karakoram Pass (35 km from Daulat Beg Oldie) in the DBO sector, however, restrictions in the form of check posts were placed by the Indian Army since December 2021 at DBO itself to stop any such movement towards Karakoram Pass as PLA had installed cameras and they would immediately raise objections on the movement from Indian side if not informed beforehand.”
It went on to say that the unfenced borders had traditionally served as pastures for the nomadic community of Changthang region (Rebos), which, due to a paucity of rich pastures, would venture into areas adjacent to the PPs. The paper said: “Since 2014, enhanced restrictions on the grazing movement and areas have been imposed on the Rebos by ISFs and this has caused some resentment against them. The soldiers are especially deployed in disguise to stop the movement of Rebos to the higher reaches that could be objected by the PLA and similarly the development works in the border villages like Demchok, Koyul which are under direct electronic surveillance of the PLA suffers, as they raise objections promptly.”
As a result, border villages have seen a loss of livelihood and a change in their way of life over time, which has prompted migration.
According to a report by New Kite Data Labs, the Chinese military is collecting voice data samples of Indians from sensitive border areas for mass surveillance through an Indian middleman.
The defense source stated that PPs are benchmark locations that China and India have mutually agreed upon. “Among the 65 PPs, some remain in contention and all efforts to resolve them are taken by concerned stakeholders [and] is underway….Recently, the PP 15 issue was mutually resolved. It must be understood that while PPs are sacrosanct, the perception of the LAC isn’t. They are in vogue since 1996, based on the China Study Group guidelines. These points were identified based possibly on accessibility, liveability and so on, and have been so from their inception. They have been patrolled earlier by Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and over the last few years by the Army. The delineation of the LAC is as such the role of Ministry of External Affairs and the Army has no role to play in this regard,” the source said.