Over the past four decades, no shots were fired along the LAC between India and China. Both sides are now locked in a standoff, which started in May following Beijing's attempts to change status quo at the LAC

by Areeba Falak

NEW DELHI: In a first in over four decades, shots were reportedly fired along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China in Ladakh on September 7. Though no casualty was reported, it escalated an ongoing standoff between India and China, which started in May following Beijing’s attempts to change the status quo at the LAC.

Where Were The Shots Fired?

The PLA Western Theatre Command spokesperson said that the Indian troops had provoked China by illegally crossing the LAC at the "shore of the Shenpao Mountain area". However, defence experts said, India does not recognise any part of the disputed region as Shenpao Mountains. According to India, the terrain lies at the western shore of the Pangong Tso lake.

What Happened On September 7?

As per the Indian Army, the PLA troops attempted to close in on one of India's forward positions along the LAC on September 7. Subsequently, Indian troops tried to dissuade them but “the PLA fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate.”

Some reports suggest that Indian troops fired a few warning shots in the air after they detected aggressive PLA troops trying to move towards the Mukhpari peak and Reqin La (Rechin mountain pass) in the larger Chushul area, which forced the PLA troops to retreat to their positions. Nonetheless, the Indian Army maintained its troops refrained from opening fire despite the grave provocation.

On August 29-30, Indian troops occupied the Mukhpari peak, the highest feature among the multiple heights it occupies and observers are reading PLA’s escalation as a reaction to India’s proactive military manoeuvre.

Indian troops currently block the ridgeline stretching from the southern bank of Pangong Tso at Thakung to Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Reqin La, much to China’s dismay.

Why Firing At India-China Border Is A Matter of Concern

The use of firearms, even if just in the air to intimidate the opponent, marks a serious escalation along the 3,488-km LAC, where no shots have been fired by either side for the last 45 years.

The countries fought a brief border war in 1962, but officially no shots have been fired in the area since 1975 when four Indian troops were killed in an ambush.

While the two countries have had a skittish border, forces by convention do not use guns to avoid escalations of violence in remote terrain.

Because the frontier has never been properly demarcated and the high-altitude terrain is often disorientating, the practice for decades has been for neither side to use weapons.

The clashes in the Galwan Valley region on June 15—where troops fought with fists and mediaeval-style weapons such as clubs studded with nails—there were no reports of firearms being used. The clashes resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers.

Why No Firing?

India and China have signed five agreements, in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013, to resolve the long-simmering border dispute issue and each of these have guidelines against the use of firearms at the disputed border.

We look at some of the agreements both the sides have agreed to:

The 1993 Agreement

The agreement titled “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas” was signed 27 years ago on September 7, 1993 by the government under the then PM PV Narasimha Rao.

The agreement was largely generic in nature and advised both sides to practice restraint “in case personnel of one side cross the line of actual control” and “upon being cautioned by the other side, they shall immediately pull back to their own side of the line of actual control.”

The 1996 Agreement

The Agreement on “Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas” was signed on November 29, 1996 by the then PM HD Deve Gowda.

It says that neither “side shall open fire...within two kilometres from the line of actual control”. This agreement provided a comprehensive protocol to be observed by the armed forces of the two neighbours at the LAC. It also limited number of troops to be deployed by both the countries, restricting them from deploying field artillery to a bare minimum. Air force sorties or flights within 10 km of the Line of Actual Control were also barred.

The 2005 Agreement

The 2005 agreement serves more of a guiding principle to settle the boundary dispute issue reiterating commitment to abide by the agreements signed in 1993 and 1996.

The 2012 Agreement

Under the 2012 agreement, India and China agreed to establish a ‘working mechanism’ for consultation and coordination in maintaining peace and tranquillity at the border areas. The mechanism was meant to address issues and situations in the border areas, but was not authorised to discuss the resolution of the boundary question.

The 2013 Agreement

In the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed in October 2013, India and China have agreed that “if the border defence forces of the two sides come face-to-face…(they are to) not use force...and prevent the exchange of fire or armed conflict”. The agreement clearly mentioned that either side “shall not follow or tail patrols of the other side in areas where there is no common understanding of the line of actual control in the India-China border areas”.

Second Front In Arunachal Pradesh

Amidst the standoff at Ladakh, India has also increased army deployment in the eastern district of Anjaw in Arunachal Pradesh.

On September 3, members of the Tagin tribe in the state had accused PLA of abducting five people. Initially, PLA denied any responsibility. However, on September 8, Union minister Kiren Rijiju said that the PLA had confirmed that the five men were found on their side and the modalities of the handover were being worked out.