Indian Army in Ladakh
Ever heard of Chinese made polypropylene innerwear? It's standard issue for the Indian Army in the sub zero climes of Ladakh! It's a way of knowing your enemy, a young officer whispered. And did you know that all military and civil vehicles in that region move on jet fuel? Kerosene is added to diesel to ensure the latter doesn't freeze up. It's something to chew on as your vehicle alternately staggers, bucks and rolls through Ladakh's cratered Martian landscape.
On a five day trip to no go areas like Demchok .. Pangong Tso and Chushul .. I was forcefully reminded as never before that our griping about Delhi's crumbling roads is unfair when compared to Ladakh which has none at all. On some stretches there's a thin layer of black asphalt but usually it's a mix of dirt trails and mule tracks with a column of stones on either side to indicate your on the right track. The only advantage here is that since Ladakh is an extension of the Tibetan plateau, the landscape is generally flat and the frequent movement of military vehicles has in many places helped to compact and harden the dirt. So movement gets a little easier, but only a little.
The flat nature of the terrain makes Ladakh ideal 'tankable country'. Don't forget AMX light tanks were airlifted into Ladakh during 1962 and while the Indian Army brass will not comment on whether tanks are deployed here or will be deployed, BMP infantry combat vehicles are. In fact the scale and size of the Indian Army build up in this region is impressive. Acres and acres of desert have been fenced in to build military stations, upgrade logistic hubs (as in Chushul) and airfields (like Nyoma). One could argue that this should have come at least a decade earlier, but better late than never.
Living standards of troops have improved (my father recalled being flown by Dakota into Leh in 1947 to rudimentary accommodation and tented toilets!). The army is now experimenting with high tech shelters being marketed by a private firm.
The shelters can accommodate eight jawans, is heated and integrated with toilets and a dining area. But the stink from the toilets (poor ventilation and non functional DRDO developed 'biodigesters') suggests it's still work in progress. The shelters are not cheap but if a decision is taken in favour, the enormous requirement of the army, ITBP and even civilians should bring the costs down considerably.
The Army is critical to Ladakh's economy. At the lowest level it hires porters and taxi drivers and leases vehicles, at the higher end the Ladakh Scouts Regiment comprises men drawn from that region. They don't require acclimatisation, know the land and the large number of retired men spread all over, especially in sensitive border areas, gives the army access to ground level intelligence.
But there's no doubt where Ladakh's future lies. The small but steadily increasing flow of foreign tourists into the region during the summer months (despite limited hotel accommodation and poor facilities) tells you where the growth (and obviously money) is to be made. It could also be a good idea to open up so called sensitive areas (Demchok, Chumar, Chushul), at the minimum it will leave Beijing in no doubt whose land it is!
More about Surya GangadharanSurya Gangadharan is International Affairs Editor at CNN IBN and was in Egypt to cover the anti-government movement. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, the UN intervention in Somalia and Rwanda, elections in Pakistan and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka where he interviewed the top leadership of that time. He has worked for the Straits Times Group in Singapore and also for PTI, the Indian Express and India Today in India.
- + Serious deficiencies hinder counter-insurgency operations in the Maoist heartland
- + Sino-Indian border dispute: a reality check
- + India-China face-off in Ladakh: reading between the lines of actual control
- + Pros and cons of a two-front war
- + Five Indian Armymen killed in South Sudan: could it have been prevented?
- + Something's churning in that feudal institution called the Indian Army
- + India takes a convincing step towards achieving nuclear triad capability
- + The big picture: Turbulence along the LoC
- + Honour for our soldiers will come when our people demand it