Doklam: An Update on the Ground Situation

Chinese officers did not attend Indian Independence Day celebrations at the Nathu La border on Tuesday according to a new story from PTI. However, soldiers of the Indian Army and ITBP reportedly exchanged sweets informally with their Chinese counterparts in the same area, which is only 25 kilometres from the standoff in Doklam.

Tuesday’s developments were on expected lines. The Chinese had not invited Indian personnel for PLA Day on August 1, as they normally would.

Meanwhile, a significant flag meeting scheduled for Friday between the Indian Army and PLA did not take place, according to reporting from The Economic Times.

‘The arrangements were made for the meeting from our side, but the Chinese didn’t show up. They (China) were undecided on attending it’, the story quoted an anonymous Indian government official as saying.

The border patrol meeting between an Indian major general and his PLA counterpart of equal rank, was also to take place in Nathu La.

Earlier last week, a border patrol meeting between brigadier-level officers failed to make headway.

Alerts

In other reporting last week, Ajai Shukla of Business Standard wrote that villagers in Nathang, ‘a border village 10-12 kilometres as the crow flies from Doklam,’ had been asked to evacuate as a precautionary measure. However, Nitin Gokhale, a former defence reporter with ties to the ruling BJP contradicted this assertion, tweeting that the ‘village(s) are never evacuated since they are too much in depth and not in a risk of any collateral damage’.

Separately, other stories indicated that up to 50,000 Indian Army soldiers around Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh had been put on notice. Retired major-general Ashok K. Mehta also concluded that a ‘quiet buildup is underway on both sides.’

‘As abundant precaution, a general alert has been sounded in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Sukna’s 33 Corps with three Mountains divisions – 17, 27 and 20 – are moving into battle stations earlier than usual by end-August for the annual Op Alert which is normally held in the campaigning season of September and October’, Mehta wrote.

Also, according to Mehta, 20 Mountain Division will move into Bhutan and 33 Corp will war game ‘different battle scenarios’.

The Indian side is also contemplating possible Chinese responses in other sectors. In his story, Shukla reported that a ‘senior general’ believes the PLA could try and take over the Lipulekh pass on the India-Nepal-China trijunction.

“China could occupy Lipulekh, and use that as a face-saver for a mutual withdrawal from Doklam. Then, after the 19th Party Congress is concluded, all sides could return to the status quo”, Shukla quoted the anonymous general as saying.

Lipulekh is presently controlled by India but claimed by Nepal.

It’s worth noting that the anonymous general’s comments are in line with those of former foreign secretary Shyam Saran. In an interview with The Indian Express, Saran warned that while India holds favourable terrain in Doklam, the Chinese ‘could act somewhere else.’

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