The Army is firmly pushing for mountaineering expeditions as well as research studies to publicise and consolidate India’s legitimate territorial claims in areas along the northern borders to counter the salami-slicing tactics of an expansionist China.
For starters, the Army is launching a major skiing expedition from the crucial Karakoram Pass in Ladakh to Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand, which will cover a distance of around 1,500km after being flagged off on March 3.
“China’s blatantly expansionist policy to grab territory needs to be effectively countered. While the Army rebalances with additional forces and firepower to the northern borders, it’s also essential to show and mark our presence in ‘unheld’ areas through mountaineering and other expeditions there,” said a senior officer.
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Similarly, India’s territorial claims, both along the line of actual control (LAC) and the international boundary (IB), need to be assiduously publicised by promoting research studies by scholars and their publication in national and international journals. “This will also involve documentation, geotagging of locations and evidence-creation,” said the officer.
The skiing expedition called ‘ARMEX-21’ will traverse the distance from the Karakoram Pass to Lipulekh Pass in about 80-90 days through areas close to the LAC in the Ladakh, Himachal, Garhwal and Kumaon sectors. The specially-trained personnel will negotiate forbidding mountain ridges, glaciers and multiple passes ranging from 14,000-feet to 19,000-feet like Parang La, Lamkhaga and Malari.
More such expeditions will be planned in coordination with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and other mountaineering institutes to peaks along the LAC and IB, with participation from the Army, civilians and foreign persons. “Increased footfalls in such remote areas will also promote tourism and integration of their population with the mainstream,” said another officer.
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The skiing expedition comes at a time when de-escalation in the 10-month-old military confrontation in eastern Ladakh is yet to take place despite troop disengagement being completed on both sides of Pangong Tso in the February 10-18 timeframe.
There was no concrete breakthrough in disengagement at the remaining ‘friction points’ at Gogra, Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang Plains in the 10th round of corps commander-level talks on February 20, though both India and China reiterated their commitment to work for a mutually-acceptable resolution through further dialogue, as was reported by TOI.
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There are, incidentally, 23 “disputed and sensitive areas” that have witnessed frequent transgressions and troop face-offs for years along the 3,488-km long LAC with China.
The flashpoints in Ladakh are Pangong Tso, Trig Heights, Demchok, Dumchele, Chumar and Spanggur Gap. In Arunachal Pradesh, they are Namkha Chu, Sumdorong Chu, Asaphila, Dichu, Yangtse and the so-called “Fish Tail-I and II” areas in Dibang Valley. In the middle sector of Himachal and Uttarakhand, in turn, the disputed areas include Barahoti, Kaurik and Shipki La.
But the People’s Liberation Army, apart from rapidly building military infrastructure in border regions, has become assertive in other areas as well. Indian and Chinese troops, for instance, physically brawled in the Naku La area of north Sikkim, first on May 9 last year and then on January 20 this year.
Army chief General M M Naravane himself last week said that China was in the habit of making “small creeping, incremental moves” to grab new territory without a shot being fired or loss of life, with each change by itself not being big enough to be contested.
“South China Sea is a glaring example of this. More than anything else what we have achieved is to show to China that this strategy will not work with us and every move will be met resolutely,” he said.