Depsang Plains – UPSC Prelims

Depsang Plains:
  • Depsang is an enclave of flat terrain located in an area the Army classifies as Sub-Sector North (SSN), which provides land access to Central Asia through the Karakoram Pass.
  • It is a few km southeast of the important airstrip of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO).

Depsang Issue with China:
  • The Chinese army has blocked Indian patrols since 2020 at a place called Y-junction or Bottleneck.
  • A joint patrol of the ITBP and Army takes place at the areas near Y-Junction once a month.
  • The Y-junction is 18 km on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control, even though the Chinese claim line lies another 5 km further west, to the east of Burtse town.
  • But, Indian Army Chief has delinked Depsang issue with ongoing border issues with China.
Significance of Depsang:
  • Depsang plains are one of the most vulnerable regions for the Indian Army in Ladakh.
  • Sub-Sector North’s (SSN) flat terrain of Depsang, Trig Heights and DBO provides direct access to Aksai Chin.
  • The region is suited for mechanised warfare but is located at the end of one very long and tenuous communication axis for India.
  • China has multiple roads that provide easy access to the area.
  • This leaves SSN highly vulnerable to capture by the PLA, with thousands of km at stake.
  • SSN lies to the east of Siachen, located between the Saltoro ridge on the Pakistani border and the Saser ridge close to the Chinese border.
  • Technically, it is the only place for a physical military collusion between Pakistan and China and poses the challenges of a two-front war.
  • If India loses this area, it will be difficult to launch military operations in the Gilgit-Baltistan region to counter Pakistan.
  • Depsang is also seen as a launchpad for a military offensive by India in Aksai Chin.
Implications of delinking Depsang
  • The danger of delinking Depsang from the current border crisis is of certifying the Chinese argument, which overrules the Indian claim over the territory.
  • In low populated areas like Ladakh, with limited forward deployments, regular patrolling is the only assertion of territorial claims.
  • By arguing that the blockade at Y-junction precedes the current stand-off and that goes back years, the Chinese can affirm that Indian patrols never happened in this area and thus India has no valid claim on the territory.
  • With the disadvantage of being a lesser power compared to China, the argument further weakens India in negotiations.
  • As demonstrated by China post the 1962 War, there should be no holding back in asserting one’s claims when it comes to safeguarding the territory.
Note: Indian Army Chief has said that five friction points with China have been resolved, which are:
  • Galwan
  • Gogra
  • North Bank of Pangong Tso
  • Kailash Range
  • Demchok
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