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DEFENCE-SECURITY

Daulat Beg Oldi: Lessons from Somdurong Chu Incident

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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.

Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) here.


Brig Mandip Singh was commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery in 1983. He is a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College ,Wellington and done the Higher Command Course at Mhow. He has commanded an Artillery Regiment in Jammu & Kashmir on the Line of Control and an Artillery Brigade in the Western sector. His academic qualifications are BSc, MSc(Def Studies), MPhil and Dip in Mgt. He is presently a Senior Fellow at the IDSA and a member of the China and East Asia cluster.


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DEFENCE-SECURITY

Army Foils Attack on J&K Air Force Station

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An attempt by two-three militants to attack a Water Pump House outside Air Force Station at Awantipora in Pulwama District was foiled by alert guards on February 20.

“2-3 (militants) fired and lobbed a grenade at the Air Force Water Pump House Malangpora located outside Air Force Station Awantipora at around 1730 hours today [February 20]. The fire was effectively retaliated by alert sentries,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

“The (militants) fled. There is no loss of life or property (in the incident),” the spokesman said, adding searches have been launched to trace the attackers. “The search operation is underway,” the spokesman said.

A Police officer said that Army and Police cordoned off area but militants managed to escape. “No arrests were made so far,” the officer said.

Police and 55 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) of Army cordoned off Narbal village of Pulwama District after reports about the presence of militants in the village on February 20 evening.

As the Security Forces (SFs) laid the cordon, people of the village came out and pelted stones at the SFs who fired in the air to disperse them. They also fired tear smoke to disperse the protesters. The cordon was, however, on when last reports came in.

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AGENTS OF CHANGE

Avani Chaturvedi Creates History for the Indian Air Force

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Flying Officer Avani Chaturvedi becomes the first Indian woman to fly fighter aircraft MiG-21 Bison solo.

Chaturvedi flew a MiG-21 bison in her first training solo sortie, in Jamnagar, Gujarat.

She completed the half-an-hour long solo flight in the Russian-origin jet in the skies over Jamnagar Air Base. “This is a major milestone in training of a fighter pilot and first time an Indian woman has flown a fighter aircraft solo. It demonstrates IAF’s enduring commitment to ‘Nari Shakti’,” IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Anupam Banerjee said.

It is pertinent to mention here that MiG-21 Bison has the highest landing and take-off speed in the world – 340 kmph.

She is one of the three in the first batch of female pilots, besides Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh, who were inducted in Indian Air Force fighter squadron on June 18, 2016.

Speaking to news agencies, Air Commodore Prashant Dixit said, “It is a unique achievement for Indian Air Force and the country.”

She is from Rewa district in Madhya Pradesh.  She completed her training at Hyderabad Air Force Academy. She did her schooling from Deoland, a small town in Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh. Completing her Bachelors in Technology from Banasthali University, Rajasthan in 2014, she passed the Indian Air Force exam.

Chaturvedi is inspired by her brother who is in the Army.

She was declared as the first combat pilot along with two of her cohort, Mohana Singh, and Bhawana Kanth.

Mohana Singh and Bhawana have also completed training to fly a fighter plane and will soon fly fighter planes. All three were given training in January.s inducted into the Indian Air Force fighter squadron on June 18, 2016. They were formally commissioned by then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

Chaturvedi, who is posted to No. 23 Squadron (Panthers), is from the first batch of three women officers who were commissioned as fighter pilots in the IAF in June 2016. Till last week, she had undertaken flights in twin-seater training jets, accompanied by Qualified Flying Instructors of the IAF. After completing her basic flying training on a Pilatus aircraft at the Air Force Academy, Chaturvedi underwent six months of training on Kiran trainer jets at Hakimpet, which was followed by a year-long training stint on Hawk advanced trainer jets at Bidar Air Base.

Only selected countries, such as Britain, the United States, Israel, and Pakistan, have allowed women in the role of fighter pilots.

It was in October 2015 that the Government took the decision to open the fighter stream for women. Meanwhile, combat roles in the Army and the Navy are still off-limits for women, due to a combination of operational concerns and logistical constraints.

On December 16, 2017, two women from the second batch to enter the fighter stream of the Indian Air Force were commissioned after graduating from the Air Force Academy, Dundigul.

It was only in 1992 that the armed forces began recruiting women to streams, other than the Medical stream. Since 1993, women officers have been inducted into all branches and stream as Short Service Commissioned Officers except in the fighter stream. However, IAF has revised Short Service Commission scheme to induct women into the fighter stream on experimental basis for five years.

The IAF has already selected the next batch of three women trainee pilots for the fighter stream.

 

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DEFENCE-SECURITY

India Test Fires Nuclear Capable Agni-II Missile

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Representational Picture (PIB)

India on February 20 test-fired its medium range nuclear capable Agni-II missile with a strike range of 2,000 km from Abdul Kalam Island off Odisha coast.

The trial of the surface-to-surface missile was conducted from a mobile launcher at the Launch Complex-4 of the Integrated Test Range (ITR).

The Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) has already been inducted into the services and Tuesday’s test was carried out by the Army’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) with logistic support provided by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), they said.

The 20-mt-long Agni-II ballistic missile has a launch weight of 17 tonnes and can carry a payload of 1,000 kg over a distance of 2,000 km.

The state-of-the-art missile, already a part of the country’s arsenal of strategic deterrence, was launched as a training exercise by the armed forces, a DRDO scientist said. Agni-II, a two-stage missile, equipped with advanced high accuracy navigation system and guided by a unique command and control system was propelled by solid rocket propellant system, he said.

The entire trajectory of the trial was tracked by a battery of sophisticated radars, telemetry observation stations, electro-optic instruments and two naval ships located near the impact point in the down range area of the Bay of Bengal.

Agni-II was developed by the Advanced Systems Laboratory along with other DRDO laboratories and integrated by the Bharat Dynamics Limited, Hyderabad.

The missile is part of the Agni series of missiles which includes the Agni-I with a 700 km range, Agni-III with a 3,000 km range, Agni-IV and Agni-V both having long-range capabilities.

The first prototype of the Agni-II missile was carried out on April 11, 1999, and the last launch was a user’s trial on May 4, 2017.

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