NEW DELHI • India is preparing to position an additional 35,000 troops along its disputed Himalayan border with China as the possibility of an early resolution to the deadly tensions between the two neighbours fades.
The move would change the status quo along the contested 3,488km Line of Actual Control and stretch the nation’s already tight military budget, senior Indian officials said, asking not to be identified due to rules on speaking to the media.
Twenty Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed in an ugly skirmish on June 15 and since then, both sides have rushed thousands of soldiers, artillery guns and tanks to the region. With India-China border agreements not holding, the situation required more troops, the officials said.
“Additional troops rushed by either side will not move back unless there is a rapprochement at the highest political level,” said Mr B.K. Sharma, a retired major-general and director of Delhi-based think-tank The United Service Institution of India.
For now, the skirmishes have stopped. And after several rounds of high-level military talks, Beijing said troops were disengaging in most locations.
The extra deployment to eastern Ladakh comes as the Indian Army is heavily committed – from protecting the 742km disputed border with Pakistan, to counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and north-eastern states, to monitoring every ingress point along its border with China.
India yesterday welcomed the first five Rafale fighter jets bought from France in a multibillion-dollar deal and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the jets will make the Indian Air Force “much stronger to deter any threat that may be posed on our country”, in a veiled warning to China.
Strengthening border defences comes at a huge cost and places new pressure on the nation’s military modernisation programme. While New Delhi is the world’s third-biggest military spender, its air force, navy and army are still equipped with weapons that are largely obsolete.
About 60 per cent of defence spending goes to paying salaries for India’s 1.3 million soldiers – one of the world’s largest standing armies.
The remainder is spent on past purchases, leaving the forces with obsolete equipment and not enough ammunition.
“The additional commitment in Ladakh would put further pressure on serviceability, research and development and capital expenditure as revenue costs rise,” said Dr Laxman Kumar Behera, a senior research fellow at the Delhi-based think-tank Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
“It will be painful if the defence budget isn’t increased,” he added.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE