The move to open a sensitive military location- tasked with guarding the border with China- to the foreign officers, comes amid a dip in intrusions in eastern Ladakh this year as compared to last year when ties between India and China fell due to the Doklam standoff. However, with the improvement in relations, the ‘Hand in Hand’ exercise between the armies of the two countries will take place in China in December. The exercise, which is supposed to be held annually, was not conducted last year.
The Indian Army is now conducting a ‘forward area tour’ to Leh of Foreign Service Attaches (FSAs) or military officers, posted at embassies in India. The tour consists of about 22 FSAs from the US, Russia, France, Australia, Hungary, Singapore, South Korea, Senegal, South Africa and Nigeria, who reached Leh on Monday. On Tuesday, they were briefed on the security situation at the 14 Corps headquarters, which has a mandate of guarding the LAC in eastern Ladakh. The FSAs were also taken to the Nanak Hill Military Station and a local Brigade headquarter. They were also briefed and shown some of the military equipment being used in that region, which witnesses extremely cold weather conditions that reduces an equipment’s abilities.
“The objective of the tour is to familiarise the Attache community with the prevailing situation, challenges and operating environment in the border areas. It is also to enhance mutual understanding between the Indian Army and the armies of friendly countries,” explained an official, adding that the FSAs of China and Pakistan are not part of the tour.
Such a tour to Leh by the army is happening after a very long time. These tours usually take place once in two years to locations under India’s three defence services.
During the current trip, the FSAs will be shown the army’s field formations around Leh. The group on Wednesday visited Pangong Tso, a 135 km long lake in eastern Ladakh. The LAC passes through the lake, but India and China don’t agree on its exact location. The mountains sloping on the banks of the lake form finger-like structures. India controls area up to ‘Finger 4’, which is a bone of contention with China, as both lay claim to it. Chinese border posts are at ‘Finger 8’. On August 15 last year, the area had witnessed a clash between Indian and Chinese troops, including stone pelting, after Chinese troops were prevented from moving beyond Finger 4.
The incident coupled with the Doklam standoff had led to severe distrust between the militaries of the two countries. The situation began to change following the Wuhan summit where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued “strategic guidance” to their militaries to build trust. Accordingly, the ‘Hand in Hand’ exercise will take place at Chengdu, where China’s Western Theatre Command tasked with guarding the India-China border is located. A final planning conference to fix the dates will take place in Chengdu from November 1-3. The modalities of the exercise will also be discussed. An Indian contingent comprising of 175 personnel will be participating in the exercise.