Rupa (Arunachal Pradesh): China has deployed a high number of reserve troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Eastern Command since tensions broke out with India last year, and it has also ramped up integrated military exercises, Indian Army’s top Commander said Tuesday.
Even as he noted that these developments, including additional troops in Chinese operational depth areas, are a matter of concern, Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Manoj Pande underlined that India too has built up its capacity and all contingency plans are in place.
He underlined that there are enough troops in the region to deal with any developing situation.
Addressing the media in Arunachal Pradesh’s Rupa, Lt Gen Pande said the dual (military and civil) use of new border villages created by China is a concern and this has been taken into operational planning.
He said that while there has been a “marginal increase” in patrolling activities in some areas along the LAC, there has “not been any noticeable change” if one takes the entire Eastern Command into the picture.
“What happened in the last year and a half (increased Chinese aggression along the LAC, especially in eastern Ladakh) is something which is a matter of concern to us. But from the view of the Eastern Command specifically, our focus has been on preparedness and our ability to respond and react to any contingency is on higher side,” he said.
Lt Gen Pande, who is the senior-most to take over as the Army chief when the incumbent Lt Gen M.M. Naravane retires in April next year, said a large number of emergency procurement has been done to beef up the operational requirements and the focus is on harnessing niche technology and its integration with the troops on the ground.
Lt Gen Pande further said that while the Eastern Command has increased its presence in certain vulnerable areas, there has not been any significant increase in troop levels.
ThePrint had reported how the Indian Army has sharpened its focus on technology rather than increased boots on the ground in the Eastern Command to deal with China.
Explaining the Chinese actions, Lt Gen Pande said that in terms of infrastructure, they are looking at a strategic infrastructure and that too close to the LAC.
“Likewise on our side, there are a number of initiatives taken at a higher level in terms of railway lines, airfield, advanced landing grounds, connectivity through Brahmaputra among others. So the disparity in infrastructure that is made out to exist is something I don’t agree to it,” he said.
The Army Commander added that in terms of capability development, the Indian Army was also engaged in capacity building to effectively counter the Chinese threat.
The Army commander also mentioned that India is reviewing existing border agreements and management mechanisms at the LAC
Increase in number of border defence groups
Talking about the activities of the PLA, Lt Gen Pande said that there are 3-4 issues.
“There has been some increase in the level of activity (by China) in annual training exercise in depth areas. Some of the reserves mobilised continue to remain in operational depth,” he said.
He said both India and China were beefing up the infrastructure and both are trying to build up along the LAC.
He said with Chinese infrastructure at the LAC at several places completed, “there is an increase in number of border defence groups”.
He also said that in Asafila in the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh, Indian troops have noticed some infra development close to the LAC in terms of habitat.
“That has led to correspondingly more number of troops placed there. That is an area of difference perception,” he said.
Talking about the Indian response, he said the Eastern Command has taken a number of steps.
“For most, it is about enhancing our surveillance, not just close to the LAC but also in depth areas. This we are doing by synergising all surveillance equipment, from strategic like satellite to tactical,” he said.
Lt Gen Pandey added, “In terms of troops, we have adequate number of forces in each sector to deal with any contingency that may arise. In certain areas where our deployment was thin, we have strengthened but largely there has not been a major increase in number of troops deployed at LAC,” he said.
He underlined that the Eastern Command is also looking at maximising technology for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Have both defensive and aggressive posture
Noting that along the entire LAC — a significant portion of it lies in the Eastern Command — there are a number of areas or points where “soldiers between both sides interact, as per schedule or by chance”, a euphemism for face-offs.
“There is also a difference in perception and sometimes patrols come face to face which results in face-off. We have a robust SOPs and mechanism which helps resolve the issue,” he said, adding that the role of junior officers and commanders is very important because they are the ones who should develop mutual understanding with the commanders of the other side.
“We have a robust conflict resolution mechanism through hotlines and Border Personnel Meeting Points. We had three hotlines in Eastern Command and recently operationalised the fourth,” he said.
Lt Gen Pande said that there are areas like Nakula where Indian and PLA troops do come face to face but there are standard drills agreed upon to resolve the issue.
“Sometimes, these face-offs last longer but most of them are able to reserve at tactical,” he said.
Asked about the posture of the Army along the LAC, Lt Gen Pande said during normal times, it is for maintenance of peace and tranquility.
“We try and not show aggressiveness and look to dealing with situation in a matured and friendly manner. But if there is a need, we need to be prepared for other postures and we have contingency plans. We have both aggressive and defence posture as and when needed,” he said.
On the issue of Doklam in Bhutan, which saw an intense standoff in 2017, he said that both India and China are fully aware of each other’s sensitivity.
“In terms of troop level, there has not been any major increase and infrastructure remains as it was earlier,” he said.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)