The 4057 km long Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the largest undemarcated and disputed land border in the world. It has the unique distinction of being the most 'peaceful' border with not a shot being fired over the last 46 years, save a standoff at Nathu La in 1967, when a display of resolve by the Indian Army prevented further escalation. However, there have been some serious incidents of escalation of tension between the two nuclear powered neighbours which were successfully diffused by a combination of adroit diplomacy, ‘show of force’ and political statesmanship. The most notable among these was the Somdurong Chu incident, sometimes called the Wangdung incident, in 1986-87 in the state of Arunachal Pradesh on the LAC.
On 26 June, 1986, the Government of India (GOI) lodged a formal protest with the Chinese government that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) had intruded in the Thandrong pasture on the banks of the Somdurong Chu (river) under the Zimithang circle of Tawang district. This was days before the seventh round of border talks which was due between the two countries. The area of intrusion, in the vicinity of the Thag La ridge, had seen bloody conflict in 1962. Considered neutral since 1962-63, it was not monitored till 1980. Patrolling resumed in 1981 and by the summer of 1984, India established a post in the area manned by the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), a para-military force , which was vacated in winters. On 16 June 1986, a patrol of 12 ASSAM regiment of the Indian Army noticed Chinese presence in the area and construction of a few permanent structures. The Chinese soldiers were initially identified to be 40 and were soon reinforced by 200 more troops. They were being maintained by mules along a seven km mule track. By August, they had constructed a helipad and were being air supplied.1
The GOI, made an offer to China to withdraw from the area with an understanding that India would not reoccupy the vacated area, the following summer. This was rejected by the Chinese. At the Seventh round of border talks that were held from 21-23 July 1986, despite the standoff, the issue was discussed “intensively” with no solution, resulting in acrimony and tension.2 Meanwhile, the Chinese 'dug in' to prepare to stay through the winter of 1986. The Indian Army then air lifted a Brigade from 5 Mountain Division to Zimithang and occupied the ridges dominating the Somdurong Chu. Deng Xiaoping took a tough stand and said that it was time to "teach India a lesson”, a message conveyed through the visiting US Secretary of Defence, Caspar Weinberger during a stopover at New Delhi from Beijing. Simultaneously, the PLA moved 20,000 troops of the 53 Group Army and 13 Group Army along with guns and helicopters. There were reports that unemployed Tibetan youth were recruited at RMB 300 per month, essentially for administrative duties.3 Tibetans also reported movement and mobilisation of PLA in the areas around Lhasa and parts of the Tibetan plateau. The Indian Army moved up to three divisions into the positions around Wangdung, maintaining them by air. In addition as many as ten divisions were mobilised to the Eastern sector with almost 50,000 troops in Arunachal Pradesh alone with substantial assets from the Indian Air Force. Simultaneously, the Indian Army conducted a massive air- land exercise called 'Chequerboard ' which commenced in October, 1986 and continued till March 1987.4 This was in conjunction with another major military exercise called ‘Brasstacks’ on the western borders. These exercises demonstrated the will and capability of the Indian armed forces to fight a war on both fronts.
Soon after, hectic diplomatic parleys between the two countries worked towards defusing the situation. In April 1987, defence minister K.C Pant made a scheduled transit halt at Beijing and delivered a message of peace. In May 1987 the external affairs minister N.D Tiwari visited China reaffirming the desire of the GOI to continue border talks and lower tensions. In August, the field commanders met on the ground and agreed to move their posts apart. By November, the eighth round of border talks were held which called for an end to ‘military confrontation’ and laid the ground work for the pull back of the militaries. Subsequently, China extended an invitation to Rajiv Gandhi to visit China in 1988.
What were the lessons learnt?
For China, it appears the standoff diverted the focus of attention from Aksai-chin to the Eastern sector, linking the two to any future solution of the border dispute. China also realized the futility of conflict with a determined, well prepared and well-equipped Indian Army. According to Keshav Mishra, "Overt display of military power had effectively neutralised any adventurist step" by China.5 Moreover, it was China that extended the ‘olive branch’ inviting Rajiv Gandhi to visit China in a bid to normalise the relations. In retrospect, the firm will of the GOI may have been instrumental in shaping China’s strategy of ‘a face saving pull out’ from Somdurong Chu.
For India, it was a wakeup call. The GOI immediately shifted focus on infrastructure development, logistic management, redeployment of additional resources and construction of airfields and advanced landing grounds in the North East, changing its policy of years of neglect of the erstwhile North East Frontier Agency (NEFA).6 As a beginning, India voted for statehood for NEFA and the new state of Arunachal Pradesh was created in December 1986. It would be pertinent to quote Rajiv Gandhi in his speech to Parliament on 3rd March 1987.
He said: "There has been tension on our border with China. We want a peaceful settlement of the border issue. It will need wisdom and statesmanship. It will need vision and firmness. Firmness is included in wisdom….. It is this perspective that should guide our countries in seeking a solution to the problem".7
The recent Chinese intrusion at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) on 15 April this year and the ongoing standoff with the PLA is in many ways similar to the Somdorung-Chu incident. India could do well to learn from the past while chalking out strategies for an amicable solution to the present.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.
Indian Navy to Host French Navy for Bilateral Exercise ‘Varuna’
In 2017, VARUNA was conducted in three sea areas in the European waters.
The Indian Navy and the French Navy have conducted bilateral maritime exercises since May 1993. Since 2001, the exercises have been named Varuna and there have been fifteen editions of the same till date. The last edition of Varuna was conducted off the French Coast in Apr 2017.
The conduct of Varuna and the special impetus on taking this Navy-to-Navy cooperative engagement forward was reiterated in the Joint Statement made by the Prime Minister of India and the President of France, on the 10th of March 2018.
In 2017, Varuna was conducted in three sea areas in the European waters.
This year Varuna-18 would be conducted in three sea areas, namely, the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and South Western Indian Ocean.
The first phase, being conducted in the Arabian Sea, will see the participation of a French submarine and frigate Jean de Vienne from the French side.
The Indian Naval participation will include the destroyer Mumbai, frigate Trikand with their integral helicopters, IN submarine Kalvari, P8-I and Dornier Maritime Patrol Aircraft, as well as the Mig 29K fighter aircraft.
The Varuna series of exercises have grown in scope and complexity over the years and provide an opportunity to both Navies to increase interoperability and learn from each other’s best practices.
India Signs a Wide-Ranging Defence Agreement with Madagascar
The two countries will have a co-sharing agreement with Air Seychelles through Air India and Air Madagascar.
India and Madagascar have signed an umbrella agreement in the field of defence. Under the agreement, both the countries will explore various ways of co-operation in the field of defence.
An amended air service agreement was also signed to support efforts towards improving connectivity between the two countries.
The two countries will have a co-sharing agreement with Air Seychelles through Air India and Air Madagascar.
President Ram Nath Kovind held delegation level talks with his Madagascar counterpart in Anta-nana-rivo. President Kovind announced a donation of 1000 tonnes of rice and a cash grant of 2 million dollars towards multiple calamities relief in Madagascar.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Madagascar President Rajaonarimampianina jointly inaugurated Center for Geo-informatics Applications in Rural Development in Anta-nana-rivo. The Center has been fully financed by India.This will help Madagascar in getting information about there resources through geo-mapping.
Madagascar President thanked India for its continued support. The Madagascar President decorated President Ramnath Kovind with second highest civilian honour Grand Cross.
Defence Ministry Approves Procurement of Entire Range of Personal Weapons for Three Services
BREAKING: The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Raksha Mantri Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman, met here today and accorded approval to Capital Acquisition Proposals of the Services and Coast Guard valued at approximately Rs 9435 crore.
In a major boost to the Make in India initiative, the DAC accorded approval for procurement of 41000 LMGs and over 3.5 Lakh Close Quarter Battle Carbines under Buy and Make (Indian) category.
These weapons are an essential component of a soldier’s fighting equipment and will provide a major fillip to the fighting capability of the troops. Out of total quantities envisaged, 75 percent will be through Indian Industry under ‘Buy & Make (Indian)’ category and balance through OFB.
See all the decisions in the gallery below:
The earmarked quantity for the OFB has been kept to optimally utilise their infrastructure and capacity, as well as provide a window for assimilation of critical technologies towards building indigenous capability in Small Arms manufacturing.
The total cost for procurement of Carbines and LMGs for the soldiers of the three Services is Rs 4607 crore and Rs 3000 crore respectively.
The vintage of personal weapons, Assault Rifles Carbines and LMGs being operated by the troops of the three Services, especially by soldiers positioned on the borders and in areas affected by militancy has been a cause of concern for over a decade.
The Government has been conscious of the requirement to modernise basic fighting weapons for the soldiers and has therefore accorded utmost priority to these cases. With the approval of these two proposals, the Government has cleared procurement of the entire range of personal weapons for the three Services.
Of these, the immediate operational requirement for the soldiers deployed on the borders will be procured through Fast Track Procurement and for the balance production lines will be set up in India.
The DAC also accorded approval for procurement of essential quantity of High Capacity Radio Relay (HCRR) for the Indian Army and Indian Air Force under Buy (Indian) categorisation at an estimated cost of over Rs 1092 crore.
These state-of-the-art, High Capacity Radio Relays would provide the Services with fail-safe and reliable communication along with increased bandwidth in the Tactical Battle Area.
To enhance the ability of the Indian Coast Guard to rapidly undertake pollution control measures off the East Coast and Island Territories the DAC cleared the proposal for acquisition of two Pollution Control Vessels (PCV). These would be built by Indian shipyards under Buy (lndian-lDDM)’ category at an approximate cost of Rs 673 crore.
These ships in addition to carrying out pollution control would also be capable of undertaking patrolling, search and rescue and limited salvage and fire fighting operations at sea.
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