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Mainstream, VOL L, No 45, October 27, 2012

New Divisions on China Border

Wednesday 31 October 2012, by Harish Chandola


Two new Army armoured divisions will be deployed, one in the northern and another in the middle sector of the India-Tibet border, shortly, according to a recent Defence Ministry announcement. The middle sector lies around the town of Joshimath, where I live. For some time the Army has been looking for land to house the division. At the moment there is just an infantry brigade here.
The Ministry did not disclose why it needed the two armoured divisions on this border. Is it because of increased Chinese threat or their massing more armour across the border? It would have been worthwhile disclosing the reason to the people of the country.

The two sides are still engaged in solving the border problem through negotiations, which are going on. Neither side has made it clear the stage at which the talks stand, though they continue to reiterate that they are proceeding to find a solution.
It is now 50 years since the two countries fought a border war. Since then no major upset has been caused by either side to change the border unilaterally or forcibly. Their forces remain along the border in areas of their own control. Occasionally the Chinese come to the disputed areas on patrol but then they always go back and never stay on in the area under Indian control. One therefore does not know the reason why new Army divisions are going to be stationed in these two sectors.
A general reason being given is that India needs to be prepared to meet any emergency that might arise. This is a general principle. But for that is it necessary to deploy two additional divisions of artillery and tanks along two sectors of the border? The Defence Ministry has not made public its increased threat perception. If a threat has arisen, it is necessary to alert the people about it. I recall the 1962 border war. In that the people of Arunachal Pradesh (then NEFA) saw Chinese troops moving into India but they did not alert the Indian authorities of the danger. Local participation is necessary to meet a threat.

The expenditure on two additional diivisions will be substantial. These will require substantial sums on euipping them with modern artillery and tanks, which may need to be imported.

The other problem is of roads. In rainy season these remain blocked by landslides daily. Congestion on them is already heavy because of pilgrimages to Badarinath, Kedarnath, Hemkund Sahib and other shrines. Military convoys will get stranded in that congestion and due to landslides.

Besides, bridges and stone culverts on these roads are not strong enough. Tanks and artillery pieces are heavy and the roads may not be strong enough to bear that traffic. One has to examine the road strength before opening them up for heavy military traffic.

A new aspect has recently come into light about the perception of the Chinese people of Indians. Chinese troops when they come to the disputed border areas on patrol, they leave behind some garbage, like empty cigarette packets and sweet wrappers. Sometimes they leave behind some graffiti. One such, recently discovered at Niti Pass, said: “Indu-Rafan Ma Da…”. The Chinese people are at the moment in conflict with Japanese over their dispute on islands in the China Sea. The Chinese call Japan, Rafan. So it may be understandable that Chinese soldiers would be abusive to Japanese these days. That is why the Chinese soldiers that came on patrol up to the Niti Pass may have expressed their bitter sentiment towards the Japanese in the abuse they wrote in snow and earth at the Pass. But why against Indians, whom they call Indu. Could the Chinese sentiment towards Indians be as bitter as against the Japanese at the moment, to abuse the mothers of both in the same manner?

Or could it be the feeling of only the soldiers who wrote that abuse on the border? Soldiers have to lead a tough life because of which they may have expressed their displeasure in the abuse they scribbled on the pass aimed at both the Indians and the Japanese. That this may not be the common Chinese sentiment towards Indians and only that of their soldiers going through a hard life at great heights in snow and terrible terrain on the border.

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