View: Why there can be no ‘Buffer Zones’ on the LAC

There can be nothing like a ‘buffer zone’ for India on the Line of Actual Control with China. It appears patrolling restrictions – usually put in place after any face-off — have been conflated with an old Chinese construct, which first played out after the 1962 war when Beijing proposed that either side should withdraw 20 km from where its forces had reached.

The fact is neither then, nor now, have Indian forces made a bid to capture territory. And in the present case, the Indian forces have scrupulously stayed on their side of the LAC. So, where’s the question of withdrawing within Indian territory to create a ‘buffer’?

The reason such terms become ominous is because they tend to convey that India is not sure where the LAC passes. That’s not true. India, for its part, has always been clear about the location of the LAC. China is the one which contests the Indian perception at certain places. Like in Galwan now, and in the Finger areas of Pangong Tso, it has tried to gradually advance its claims.

A buffer zone gives a misleading impression that some kind of a neutral area is being created, which just cannot happen because Indian troops know the LAC well and have stayed within its confines. India must remember that China has always used ambiguity to its advantage. So, any notion of buffer or neutral zone must be quashed right at the start.

Chinese interlocutors may have interchangeably used the expression in discussions, but on the ground it can mean no more than restrictions which were put in place after major face-offs like the Depsang incident of 2013 and Chumar face-off in 2014.

The logic here is fairly simple. Since the two armies have been literally eyeball-to-eyeball for a long period, the usual disengagement norm is for both sides to pull back and not send out any patrol for a few weeks. This is done to prevent any clash during the withdrawal process, since tempers could still be running high.

The June 15 violent clash in Galwan took place when both sides were in the process of disengagement. So, in the present situation, patrolling restrictions become a bit more critical because both armies must not come face-to-face during the withdrawal process. This is essential to avert the possibility of another heated clash.

But this arrangement is temporary, and in due course patrolling will resume. There are no new demilitarized buffer zones being created between both sides. It just can’t be. The fact is Indian Army, which is ‘forward deployed’, will return to its camp and monitor the situation.

What’s important to note is the new Indian fallback positions are, in all likelihood, way ahead of where Indian forces used to be before this stand-off in Galwan. However, the question of how these areas will be patrolled remains a subject of discussion as, until now, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police was taking a lead role in many of these areas.

The issue really is not regarding the force, as much as who will control it. The Army is keen to have operational control on the ITBP, much like the way it works with the Border Security Force at the Line of Control. The BSF is deployed, but under operational control of the Army.

This idea has been mooted in the past but has often fallen through in the inter-ministerial, inter-services tussle. The arguments are back on the table, and the key issue will eventually be whether the political leadership ought to have an alternate line of reporting on the LAC from the ITBP or whether it should weigh in favour of operational clarity.

But all of this is internal to how India wants to manage its LAC. The disengagement process in no way must appear to create any new zones, which add to the fog. Clarification of LAC is a proposal China has been avoiding for the past two decades, precisely because the ambiguity of an undemarcated boundary serves its purpose better, allowing for calculated transgression and intrusion to register dominance.


Source link

Leave a comment