At Pangong Tso, troops are just 500 m apart

Aggressive patrolling from both sides resumed in 2019

At Pangong Tso, troops are just 500 m apart

Indian boats patrol Pangong Tso in Ladakh. Tribune photo

Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 27

All along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, the military postures between India and China at the north bank of Pangong Tso have hardened.

Story Highlights

  • The ‘finger’ trouble

    At approximately 14,000 ft, Indian Army and PLA troops stand deployed around what is called the ‘Finger 4’. India has always claimed territory till ‘Finger 8’. PLA has unilaterally stopped Indian troops from patrolling crucial areas east of Finger 4. Each spur or ridgeline is identified as ‘finger’ in military parlance and each ridgeline is separated by 2-5 km

As of now positions of the Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are within 500 metres of each other, or within the range of handheld rifles carried by troops on the either side.

At 135-km long glacial melt lake, which is at an altitude of approximately 14,000 ft, Indian Army and PLA troops stand deployed in good numbers around what is called the “Finger 4”. India has always claimed territory till “Finger 8”, which lies east of “Finger 4”.

The PLA has unilaterally stopped Indian troops from patrolling crucial areas east of “Finger 4”. Eight mountain spurs of the Chang Chenmo range end at the north bank of this lake. Each spur or ridgeline is identified as “finger” in military parlance and each ridgeline is separated by 2-5 km. On the intervening night of May 5-6, troops of both sides clashed, resulting in injuries and damage to patrol boats of both sides. The PLA removed some Indian structures and the Indian Army repaid.

Two other brawls were reported on May 14 and May 31, but were not as serious as the one on May 5-6.

It is not that 2020 started these clashes. Things had been changing in the past few years. The PLA had been edgy about Indian patrols and often a face-off would occur in the disputed area – between Finger 4 and Finger 8 – a source said, adding the first physical clash happened in August 2017. This was when the two armies were locked in a 73-day stand-off at the Doklam plateau at the edge of South-eastern Sikkim, troops of the either side clashed north of Pangong Tso. The two locations are separated by more than 2000 km.

After a lull of one year, aggressive patrolling from both sides resumed in 2019. In the latter half of 2019, China started objecting to India patrolling to east of Finger 4. With the snow season commencing in October-end, the patrolling was restricted.

In latter part of February and early March, patrolling parties of both sides once again had a few face-offs. Indian troops found another route to complete their patrols east of Finger 4, which the PLA blocked. The Indian Army at its meetings with PLA has asked for restoration of status quo ante.

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