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India Reactivates Air Base Close to China in Kashmir

  • Shahnawaz Khan

India has reactivated a strategic air base close to the Chinese frontier in Indian administered Kashmir, more than 40 years after it was abandoned. As Shahnawaz Khan reports, India plans to revive more bases close to the Chinese frontier, asserting its military prowess near China and central Asia.

On Saturday the Indian Air Force pilots landed a Russian-built Antonov-32 transport aircraft at the Daulatbeg Oldi air base in Ladakh province of Indian administered Kashmir. At an altitude of more than 4,937 meters, close to the Chinese controlled portion of Kashmir, the air strip is considered the highest in the world.

The revival of the base, abandoned in 1966, is seen by analysts as India's military standing up to China. This comes as the Air Force plans to revive two more bases in eastern Ladakh, both close to the Chinese frontier.

The news agency Press Trust of India quoted Air Force sources as saying that the Daulatbeg Oldi Base was revived to bolster India's aerial and land reconnaissance capability in the strategic region.

The news agency said that regular operations would be initiated at the base, while two other air fields,

Chushul and Fukche, also along the Chinese frontier, will be revived.

The Daulatbeg Oldi Air Base, abandoned in 1966 after an earthquake rendered it unusable, is located close to the Chinese controlled portion of Kashmir, also referred to as Aksai Chin. It is eight kilometers from the Karokaram Highway, that links Pakistan with China and is part of the historic silk route that linked Kashmir with central Asia.

The base was set up and used as an advance landing ground during the Indo-Chinese conflict in 1962.

Defense Analysts in New Delhi see the revival of the air base as an assertion of India's military power and a projection of India's defense posture near China and Central Asia.

Phunchok Stobdan is a senior fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Stobdan says India has been avoiding confrontations with China, and says the recent problems in Tibet were an immediate concern.

There have been limitations to what we could do, when the recent riots took place in Tibet," Stobdan said. "We could not stand up behind the Tibetans to interfere in China's internal issues. But I think strengthening your own borders furthers the implications of what is happening there. "

Adding that China made 24 attempts to take hold of the Dalulatbeg air base during the last India-Pakistan conflict in Kargil, Stobdan says India has awakened late to the problem.

"On the other side there are 13 such projects going on," Stobdan said. "Modernization of airports and creating more infrastructure. This has been going on for a very long time on the Chinese side. The Indian side has woken up very late.

For now however, Analysts say the base can best be utilized for dropping food and supplies to the troops posted in rugged mountainous terrain, where troops still rely on mules.

South Asian nuclear neighbors, India, Pakistan and China, each control portions of Jammu and Kashmir divided by a ceasefire line called the Line of Control, and Actual Line of Control. The major portions lie within India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars over the region, while China controls a largely unpopulated region.

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