'India's challenge is status quo ante. China's challenge is a face-saving exit'
"There is a difference between a face-off of a patrol in Naku La, North Sikkim and the situation in Eastern Ladakh."
"China has come and deployed its troops in Eastern Ladakh. When you position troops and create quasi permanent structures then it is a different scenario altogether. You cannot compare the two," says Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd) PVSM, AVSM, SM.
General Bhatia, a former corps commander at the Line of Actual Control in Sikkim, tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih that the situation at the LAC is a game of patience.
You have served in Sikkim as corps commander. What is the Naku La area like and what are the challenges there in terms of dealing with the PLA?
Naku La is a pass at 5,000 metres. It is very near the tri-junction of the India, China and Nepal border. China has access because they are on the plateau side, while we are on the hill side.
In Naku La we have no doubt about our perceptions of the International Boundary. The PLA troops try to come to our side of the pass and Indian troops stop them -- that is how face-offs take place.
On their side, the Chinese are around 30 km away.
What face-offs have you or your troops encountered over there in the past, and how were they dealt with?
We have five border agreements and both sides followed the rules of engagement.
Whenever a face-off took place, we basically adhered to the standing operating procedures. We told them to go back and they told us to go back and we resolved the issue.
These are high altitude areas where temperatures are low, but tempers are high.
There was pushing and shoving at times, but never more than that. Pushing and shoving can lead to minor injuries on both sides.
This has been happening for years; it is not the last time and it will continue to happen.
We are prepared. There should be no real cause for concern because the Indian Army is fully deployed in that area.
Is there any reason that we have to be perhaps more cautious after this clash in Naku La when tensions have already been high for the last nine months?
We have an effective defensive deployment and enough troops in that area. We are aware of the challenges, but we have to be mindful that the actions can or cannot have a connect with what is happening in Eastern Ladakh.
There are local dynamics at play also because both sides patrol their perception of the LAC. There have been Chinese transgressions in the past also.
As long as the LAC is not defined and the border issue is not resolved, these things will continue to happen.
The Indian Army is fully prepared and will maintain vigil to ensure that territorial integrity is non-negotiable.
Is there a possibility of China trying to open up another front in Sikkim?
At least not yet. If China has to open up another front it will be in April-May, not before that.
China will wait. It is a game of patience for both sides. At Naku La, the Indian Army is right up front, while China is some distance away.
There is a difference between a face-off of a patrol and what is happening in Eastern Ladakh.
In Eastern Ladakh, China has come and deployed its troops out there. When you position your troops and create quasi permanent structures then it is a different scenario altogether.
You cannot compare the two situations.
You said China is looking for a favourable face-saving exit. How do you see that happening?
I don't see that happening in the immediate future. The talks are going on and we have to see how things pan out. It is difficult to forecast what will happen.
We have to ensure our positions and our strength. China respects strength. We have to ensure our status quo ante; how we do that is a challenge.
Our challenge is a status quo ante.
China's challenge is a face-saving exit.
We will continue to maintain peace and tranquillity and ensure territorial integrity.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com