By Devjyot Ghoshal
LEH, India, Sept. 14 (Reuters) – Two Indian officials said Chinese troops were laying a fiber-optic cable network at a western Himalayan flashpoint with India, suggesting they were digging for the long term despite high-level talks aimed at resolving an impasse there.
Such cables, which would provide forward troops with secure lines of communication to bases in the rear, have recently been spotted south of Lake Pangong Tso in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, a senior government official said.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to questions on the matter from Reuters, while defense officials could not be reached immediately for comment.
Thousands of Indian and Chinese soldiers supported by tanks and planes are locked in a difficult stalemate along a 70 km long front south of the lake. Each country accused the other of aggravating the impasse.
A third Indian official said on Monday that there had been no significant withdrawals or reinforcements on either side since the two countries’ foreign ministers met last week. is as tense as before, ”he says.
Over Leh, the main city of Ladakh, Indian fighter jets flew all morning, their engines booming and echoing through the valley surrounded by barren brown mountains.
“Our biggest concern is that they have laid fiber optic cables for high-speed communications,” the first official said, referring to the southern shore of the lake, where Indian and Chinese troops are only distant from a few hundred meters in some places.
“They laid fiber optic cables on the south shore at breakneck speed,” he said.
Indian intelligence agencies noted similar cables north of Pangong Tso Lake about a month ago, the second government official said.
The first Indian government official said authorities were alerted to such activity after satellite images showed unusual lines in the sand of high-altitude deserts south of Pangong Tso.
These lines were deemed by Indian experts – and corroborated by foreign intelligence agencies – to be communications cables laid in trenches, he said, including near the Spanggur moat, on top of the hills where soldiers recently fired in the air for the first time in decades. Officials say a build-up of border infrastructure on their side is also likely to have played a role in the months-long standoff.
The Chinese have complained about India’s construction of roads and air tracks in and around their disputed border, and Beijing says this has sparked tensions along the border.
A former Indian military intelligence official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, said fiber optic cables offered communications security as well as the ability to send data such as images and documents.
“If you talk on the radio it can get caught. Communications over fiber optic cables are secure,” he said.
The Indian military is still dependent on radio communications, the first official said, although he said they were encrypted.