They’ve been caught on camera before shoving each other and flinging abuse. But this new video clip shot from a mobile phone at 14,000 feet in the Himalayas is startling. It captures a particularly ill-tempered brawl between Indian and Chinese troops at the Finger Four area of Ladakh’s Pangong Tso lake area on August 15.
The soldiers on the left advancing forward are PLA troops, the men on the right belong to India’s Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). The video for the first time confirms reports this week that Chinese troops not only brought in a flag — standard practice during such posturing — but immediately escalated the situation by picking up and flinging rocks at the Indian men.
The video begins with an equal number of troops facing off in a curved line on the banks of the Pangong Tso. This group soon splits into two separate knots of bustle. The one closer to the hill erupts first in a fit of violence, with the second soon following suit. Fully apparent in the video is stone-pelting, shoving, kicking and injuries — one Indian soldier collapses towards the end of the video. The video also confirms speculation that injuries were sustained on both sides. Wind has disrupted much of the audio in this clip, but the atmosphere is still audible.
Indian intelligence agencies are seeing the scuffle as China’s likely effort to fulfill veiled threats it has consistently issued over the two months. Ever since its its troops were challenged by Indian forces in Bhutan’s Dolam area, a situation that persists today, China has threatened to escalate tensions in other parts of its borders with India, if Indian troops at Dolam do not pull back. Agencies have also made the following unofficial observations on the incident captured in the video above:
- Use of stones unprecedented and unusual. Appears to be deliberate attempt to provoke and heighten tension without use of lethal weapons.
- Troops coming face to face in Pangong Tso area not at all unusual. Happens often due to non-delineation of border both on land and on lake surface. But use of force appears to be part of considered design.
- Nature of incident threatens current protocol of peaceful resolution when troops come face to face at border. Could affect border management modus at troop level.
- Glaring question over how such an incident can be reasonably discussed at Border Patrol meetings. The worst that has happened earlier is a one-off slap from either side, or pushing as seen in recent videos. In this incident actual injuries have been sustained on both sides.