Indian and Chinese military commanders are set to meet in Ladakh on October 12 for their seventh round of talks to reduce friction in the sector, but the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is showing no signs of disengagement, deploying solar- and gas- heated troop containers and pitching snow tents on the ridgelines to defend its positions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC)
According to government officials with knowledge of the situation, the PLA has dug in for the winter, with each container accommodating some four to six soldiers, and with new hospital facilities coming up in the depth areas to cater to those suffering from altitude sickness or high-altitude pulmonary edema.
While the Indian side believes that comprehensive disengagement and de-escalation will require multiple rounds of military and diplomatic dialogue, PLA commanders have complicated the drawdown by insisting that the Indian Army first disengage from the southern bank of Pangong Tso and the Rezang La-Rechin La ridgeline before the Chinese Army goes back from the Finger Four spur on the north bank of the salt water lake.
While the PLA has transgressed into the Indian perception of LAC on the north bank, the Indian Army is holding ground on its perception of the LAC on the southern bank of the Pangong Tso. The Chinese, from their standpoint, believe that India has transgressed into their perception of LAC south of Pangong Tso.
Indian military commanders say the PLA should withdraw first from the Finger Four spur on the north bank and restore status quo ante by going back to Finger Eight, as was the case in April 2020. According to them, since the Chinese first unilaterally changed the status on the north bank, they should withdraw first and establish trust. Given that the PLA have a road right up to their posts on the LAC, they will occupy positions on the Rezang La -Rechin La ridgeline the moment Indian troops withdraw from their current positions on the south bank. The Indian Army occupied these positions on the south bank through military manoeuvres on August 29-30 by pre-empting planned PLA aggression.
With disengagement on both the north and south banks locked in a stalemate, it has also come to a halt in the Gogra-Hot Springs area, north of the lake, and the PLA is continuing its efforts to block patrols in the Depsang Bulge area. This has alerted the Indian army to possible Chinese move to transgress into the Indian side of the LAC before snowfall begins after October 15.
Even though the PLA Air Force activity is reduced in the area, its troops are deployed in full strength in occupied Aksai Chin and depth areas all the way up to Lhasa and Chengdu. The Indian Army and Air Force remain on high alert with similar troop strength and support systems.
“ If China is looking for incentive from India to disengage from Ladakh, then it will have to wait for another time. The LAC status was unilaterally changed at the directions of PLA Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping. It is he who has to restore status quo ante,” said a senior South Block official who didn’t want to be named.