Indian army's three-layer security at Doklam managing the restive situation

Sat Singh | Aug 15, 2017 | 8 min read


Manoj Kumar 

Nathu La: Fifty days into the standoff, it remains tense at the tri-junction of India-Bhutan-China. But if mind-games and diplomacy are being played out in Beijing and New Delhi, Doklam Plateau is where the tableau freezes: 250 Indian Army soldiers eyeball-to-eyeball with the PLA’s 250.


On August 2, China claimed in a “fact sheet” that India had cut its troop numbers at Doklam from 400 to 40. This was one time India chose to respond to China. Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj denied any troop reductions were made and the Foreign Ministry doubled down on her statement. First Post can now confirm that 250 soldiers of the battle-hardened Jat Regiment have been stationed at Doklam in two layers. A third layer compromises the Bofors guns – artillery that had cut its teeth in the 1999 Kargil War – primed to strike and pummel enemy positions. That apart, people of the Gorkha Regiment and Black Cat commandos  have been stationed at the location.


The pact between China and India is that at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), soldiers and arms must balance on both sides. So, only 250 soldiers each from both armies are at the standoff.  


Talking of Jats, a Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman boasted on July 24 that "it's easier to shake a mountain than the PLA". Maybe, he should have read this about the Jat: “It takes earthquakes and volcanoes to turn a regiment of these hard-bitten men out of a position they have been given to hold. The “position given” to the Jats to “hold” now is Doklam, and from all indications it would be very difficult for the PLA to shake the taller by half Jats from their perch on Doklam Plateau. More so, because the terrain favours the mountain-trained Indian Army stationed on the LAC.

Fully prepared 

Of the first two layers of the Indian Army’s security layer, the first has only 6' tall camera-toting Jats. From down below, it will make the shorter PLA-troopers crane their necks that much more.


Possibly, to the Chinese the first layer of Jat soldiers may even look not more than ‘40’. That could be possible but not probable. The orders to the ‘40’ are to keep a sharp eye on the enemy and capture his actions on film. Some of the ‘Jats’ in the first layer also have a nodding acquaintance with Mandarin. The job of these six-foot linguists is to keep their ears open for word of any Chinese perfidy.

If the PLA swings into motion, the first layer of unarmed Jat soldiers will take the brunt of the attack but hopefully not before they get a warning shout out to their heavily armed brothers-in-arms in the second layer. The Jat soldiers in the second layer are under strict orders to keep a light finger on the trigger but also take care not to lower their guard. At any signs of aggression from the enemy camp, they are to retaliate with all guns blazing.


In fact, though ‘patience’ is the word at Doklam, the image that comes to mind is of the hidden hand of the dragon and the open alertness of the crouching tiger.  


The rival armies have pitched tents, each on their sides of the aisle – cover for a snatched bite, a quick gulp or a brief shuteye. Sleep placates the ebb and flow of nerves. So does something to sip and nibble. 


The bulk of the battle-ready Indian Army contingent has been stationed 10 km from the tri-junction. “At Doklam, we’re face-to-face with the enemy with only 250 metres separating us,” a Punjabi soldier told Firstpost.


He said a platoon of “Black Cats” was the first to reach the spot after the standoff began, much before the Jats were called in from the Base Camp at Nathu La. This was confirmed earlier by a journalist who claimed that he walked right up to the ‘Indian position’ on Doklam.


“New bunkers are being built, the ground is being mined to pre-empt Chinese attack, machine-gun nests are being placed at strategic points, and soldiers are performing battle drills at least twice a day. But restraint is still the buzzword,” the journalist wrote, spilling the beans on Indian Army strategy/tactics. That could be the reason Firstpost was not allowed to proceed beyond a point in Nathu La. It seems screws have been tightened on media entry into Doka La – the Indian name for the region Bhutan calls Doklam and the Chinese refer to as Donglang – because of China’s use of its state media to distort news reported in other media.


Halted several kilometres from ground zero, Firstpost could only tap soldiers stationed at Nathu La Pass for news on army deployment. It was these soldiers who said that Jat soldiers at Doklam have been told not to lose patience at any cost and keep a sharp lookout for PLA “creep”. 


New Delhi sees China’s rhetoric as part of the psychological warfare that China wages against all countries but which has been losing its cutting edge coming up against India’s blunt and tardy responses.


A soldier stationed at Nathu La said the “PLA were making preparations” much before it tried to extend a Class 4 road into Doklam. He also said while Indian Army bunkers are makeshift, those of the PLA are more enduring. “But we are ready to counter attack with an uninterrupted supply line. Our three-tier defence is unassailable,” he said.


An army officer told Firstpost that the plateau will get snowed out in September. “Bunkers have been cleaned. Extreme cold weather is expected from September-October,” he said. “Each bunker can accommodate seven soldiers.” 

There are an estimated 1,200 bunkers in Nathu La.


Meanwhile, China has been keeping up its rhetoric. On August 4, it said its patience has hit rock bottom, and sought the immediate withdrawal of Indian troops from Doklam.


The tranquility and peace – which foreign minister Sushma Swaraj spoke off in the Rajya Sabha on August 3 – at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction appears to be on razorwire, strung so tight things could fall apart anytime.


Nathu La pass is at an elevation of 14,000 feet.  At the tri-junction, the Chumbi Valley shaped like a dagger points straight at the Siliguri Corridor in India, and by extension the slender Chicken’s Neck. PLA building a road into Doklam, which Bhutan considers as “disputed” territory with China, is seen by India as a direct threat to her national security. The apprehension on the Indian side is that the Chinese game-plan is to get a hold of Bhutan and cut India’s northeast loose.


“We were ordered to stop the Chinese penetration into Doklam,” a soldier told Firstpost on condition of anonymity. “But before we actually stopped them, they demolished some of our bunkers at Lalten Chowky.”


He said the Army’s base camp is just 15 km from the ugly face-off. Video footage of Indian and Chinese soldiers jostling with each other went viral on social media soon after the standoff, alerting families sitting in far-off Haryana.

The soldier's mind 

“Ek toh border ki tension, upar sey ghar walon ne aur tension paal li. Ab border sambhaalein ya ghar waalon ko,” a Jat soldier said, displaying a string of WhatsApp messages from home.


To keep soldiers' spirits up, senior officers of the Indian Army give daily pep talks to the “boys” deployed on a rotational basis at the tri-junction. They are gently told not to lose their tempers at any cost.

“Whenever a soldier returns from duty at the standoff, senior officers make it a point to talk to him, make him relax psychologically and emotionally,” said an Army officer.

“If we spot signs of anger, depression or irritation we take him off duty. The psychological warfare underway from both sides can take a toll on the best of soldiers,” he said. “It becomes crucial to make sure that no soldier makes a mistake in the tense situation.”

He said within 48 hours of the standoff on June 18, a whole company based at Gangtok was moved to deploy at Doklam – 3,000 soldiers. The Chinese reciprocated in copycat manner. Helipads have been constructed on the hilly terrain of Sikkim. The “long grass” has been “flattened” with the help of local residents of Kupuk and Julup villages. Soldiers posted on the difficult terrain usually find friends among the local villagers, who welcome them and chat with them over a cup of tea.


"My son is in the Army. So, who better than me to understand the difficulties under which men in olive green serve the country," Mangal Jeet Rai, a resident of Kupuk village told Firstpost. “The safety and security of the local population is entirely dependent on the Army.”


Rai said three young men from Julup village regularly supply chicken to the soldiers out of gratitude to the Army despite being under no obligation to remain in the danger zone.


Elders of Julup village told Firstpost they would stand by the men in uniform if there’s war. KB Rai, an ex-serviceman from Julup, said when winter arrives, villagers will move to the base camp in Gangtok but the Jat soldiers will remain in the icy fastness, guarding the frontier right up to the tri-junction and beyond in Bhutan.


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