"Our worry is that a small mistake, an accidental exchange of fire at night, might lead to an unintended escalation," a senior officer confessed
Even as India and China work towards finalising a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement to prevent faceoffs with a potential to escalate into serious skirmish, the Army's Northern Command is worried over a change in pattern in the border intrusions in Ladakh and a discernible aggressive attitude of the intruders of late.
In mid-July, for instance, two of the three intrusions in a week happened around midnight. Chinese troops on horseback came across the perceived Line of Actual Control in the dark. Strict instructions and rigorous training of the troops deployed on the LAC has prevented any untoward incident so far, Northern Command sources said. "Our worry is that a small mistake, an accidental exchange of fire at night, might lead to an unintended escalation," a senior officer confessed.
The aggressive and sometimes rude behaviour of the Chinese troops is also a matter of concern, these sources added. The Indian security establishment has tried to analyse the pattern of intrusion in Chumar which lies close to the Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh border and concluded that the Chinese have chosen to concentrate on this area mainly because they are at a disadvantage in terms of infrastructure and roads. While India has a good road connectivity to Chumar, the Chinese are still dependent on horses and mules for transportation in this sector. India's infrastructure for housing troops and logistics support too has improved in recent times.
The other reason for increasing Chinese intrusions in Ladakh is to put India under pressure before the conclusion of the BDCA and slow down India's programme to ramp up infrastructure and capability development in the region. Even before the Mountain Strike Corps becomes a reality, the Northern Command has rationalised its deployment in Ladakh. While the Siachen Brigade was converted to an Independent Brigade Group directly reporting to 14 Corps a couple of years ago, the 3 Infantry Division now has its full complement of three brigades with the return of 70 brigade to its original location at Kairi and 81 Mountain brigade inducted into Ladakh in recent times. The Tangse brigade, responsible for Chusul area, of course remains under 3 Division.
Aware of these developments, China had wanted India to sign a BDCA that proposed freezing of troop levels and infrastructure development at the current level, a proposal that India has rejected. The revised draft of the BDCA now apparently talks about more predictability in settling "disputes" at the local levels, more frequent border personnel meetings (BPM) and more BPM points. So far, the BPMs take place at Bum La in Arunachal Pradesh, Nathula in Sikkim and Chushul in Ladakh. Two more locations have been suggested -- one at Kibithu in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh and the other at Mana pass in Uttarakhand -- but they are yet to be finalised.
A hotline between Indian Director General of Military Operations and his equivalent in the PLA is also one of the suggestions but sources say it is unlikely to be accepted by India immediately although Army HQ is open to a telephonic link between the Eastern Army Commander and the head of the Chengdu Military Region.