Indian army personnel carry out drills at Kibithu close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh

A visit to the remote India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh reveals Delhi’s increased efforts post-Doklam to counter Beijing’s military might. TOI finds the morale of the men in uniform high despite daunting ground realities

by Rajat Pandit

KIBITHU: India is no longer the India of 1962, with weak defences along the border, paltry number of troops deployed in isolated and uncoordinated forward posts, and poor military command and control structures that virtually collapsed at the first sign of a Chinese invasion all those years ago.

This is the enduring refrain of military commanders as one travels along the border in the eastern sector amidst heightened shadow-boxing with China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, despite troop disengagement from the 73-day face-off at Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction seven months ago. 

Yes, there are daunting challenges for the Indian troops, ranging from lack of requisite roads, bridges and inter-valley connectivity to shortages of artillery, helicopters, drones and specialised ammunition stocks. But the operational readiness and troop morale is high, with India slowly but steadily adding some much-needed muscle to its military capabilities all along the 4,057-km long LAC to offset the stark military asymmetry with its larger neighbour. This has picked up pace after the People’s Liberation Army occupied north Doklam throughout the winter this time, even as it is disengaged from the actual face-off site on Bhutanese territory, say officers.

Four infantry mountain divisions (each with over 12,000 soldiers) under the 3 Corps (Dimapur) and 4 Corps (Tezpur), with two more divisions in reserve, are for example tasked for the defence of Arunachal Pradesh alone. The troop density at Tawang, which China claims to be part of south Tibet, is particularly high to thwart any nefarious designs.

The memorial and advanced landing ground at Walong, where the outnumbered Indian troops heroically fought the Chinese invasion for almost a month during the 1962 war.

“Our primary task is to maintain the sanctity of the LAC and dominate the heights in peacetime, and be ready for war if it’s thrust on us. We shall not allow them to pass this time,” said a senior officer, overseeing the forbidding frontier in the Kibithu-Walong sector.

An expansionist and aggressive China is surely flexing its muscles. The number of its “transgressions” across the LAC went up to 426 last year, with around half of them resulting in troop face-offs, as compared to 273 in 2016. The upward trend continues this year.