Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Finger Area: The Indian Response

China’s fresh claims on 2.1 sq. km “Finger Area” of Sikkim amounts to the re-opening of that portion of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which was considered settled. It also raises doubts about China’s sincerity in resolving the boundary issue. While the northernmost tip of Sikkim was always part of Indian Territory, the Army earlier used to send in only regular patrols and had a few traditional defensive positions in the area. The 'Finger Area', which falls north of Gyangyong in Sikkim and overlooks a valley known as the Sora Funnel, is considered a strong defensive position to ward off any move by China to enter the Sikkim plateau.

According to Beijing which has backed up its claims over the Finger Area by producing maps which it states are more accurate because the map is purported to have been plotted using advanced technology – It has been reported that the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was attempting to prove the authenticity of the claim by using GPS and other satellite-based navigational equipment.

India, instead of refuting Beijing’s claims and reiterating the validity of the 1924 Survey of India map on which it has been relying for backing its claim over the area, directed the Survey of India to carry out fresh survey of the region in northern Sikkim using latest methods to validate and verify Indian positions. While the Chinese conveyed threats through diplomatic channels to destroy the cairns in the area, the Indian External Affairs Ministry chose to adopt an over cautious line bordering on appeasement. This Indian move may well open a Pandora’s Box encouraging the Chinese to “create” more disputes along the LAC as well as harden its position on the issue of Tawang.

India can ill-afford to ignore the overt Chinese threats to resolve the present territorial claim militarily as well as its veiled threats over Tawang.

According to sources, the Army always had a permanent presence in the area and had constructed bunkers and temporary posts since 1962. The stone cairns, which China had threatened to destroy, had also been modified as defensive positions by the Army. The Kalimpong-based 27 Mountain Division is responsible for the defence of Northern Sikkim and the Finger Area. India proposes to set up two mountain divisions (about 30,000 troops) dedicated for Arunachal Pradesh, a fleet of medium lift helicopters to service these troops and three bases for Sukhois at Tezpur, Hashimara and Panagarh.

India needs to do more than setting up two divisions and a few bases. It needs to expeditiously improve the infrastructure of the entire North Eastern Region including building all weather roads not only for rapid troop deployment but also for the development of the entire region. India must also step up reconnaissance of the areas particularly where there have been increased Chinese military activities and incursions in order to avoid a “Kargil” in the eastern sector.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chinese Hand in the Finger Area - Flashpoint in Sikkim

In a move which took India by surprise, China laid claim to a small tract of land in North Sikkim, referred to as the “Finger Area” by the Indian Army and even threatened to demolish existing stone structures there. India has strongly rebutted these claims, lodged an official protest and barred Chinese troops from entering the area. The area is in the northernmost tip of Sikkim, north of a place called Gyangyong, and because it appears like a protruding finger on the map, it is referred to by the name Finger Area. This territory overlooks a strategically important valley known as the Sora Funnel. It contains several stone cairns, which are essentially heaps of stones that can be used for shelter.

The row began last year when Chinese troops started incursions in the area frequently — this year itself about 50 Chinese transgressions have been reported in this area — and then started building a road towards the end of the year that crossed this tract of land. The official Indian response as usual was muted. In the past too Chinese troops used to cross the area during patrolling. However, this was attributed to the general confusion that occurs during patrols along the Line of Actual Control. In many other areas, Indian troops, too, would cross Chinese territory for the same practical reasons like taking the shorter and negotiable route which may involve bit of transgression.

China seems to have upped the ante because of largely India’s knee-jerk reaction to Chinese incursions in the past one year. Further, though it openly appreciated India’s efforts to curb Tibetan activities within India during the height of the agitation China views Indian role in the Lhasa flare up with suspicion. The Indian body language in response to any Chinese action on either the Sikkim or Arunachal border appears to be weak. This naturally encouraged the Chinese to lay claims to the Finger Area.

Chinese intentions are suspect; there seems to be an effort to revive claims over Sikkim which is an integral part of India by creating tensions along the border. Earlier, China destroyed a makeshift bunker at Doka La near the Sino-Sikkim-Bhutan trijunction sources have said, was a Chinese effort to bring Sikkim back into the boundary controversy. India needs to beef up its ground forces all along the Chinese border but also its air force sending a strong signal to China warning against any misadventure. However, India again has chosen to downplay the incident as well as the Chinese threat in the area.