NEW DELHI: Direct top-level politico-diplomatic intervention is now likely to de-escalate the almost month-long military confrontation between Indian and Chinese soldiers in eastern Ladakh, which has seen both sides continuing to pump in additional troops and build fortifications for the long haul in the region.
There are an estimated 1,200-1,500 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers now directly engaged in the almost eyeball-to-eyeball face-offs at four-five locations on the northern bank of Pangong Tso, Demchok and the Galwan Valley region, which are spread across a broad frontage of the unresolved Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The immediate provocation for the PLA incursions 1-3 km into what India considers to be its territory this time was to object against the construction of small feeder link roads in the ‘finger areas’ (mountainous spurs) on the northern bank of Pangong Tso and near the Galwan river. Some of the intrusions are in areas that have not been points of contention. Some analysts have read the Chinese moves in the context of India’s recent decisions to scrutinise Chinese investments and may be a warning not to be proactive in supporting calls for an investigation into the origin of coronavirus. The construction of border roads in the past few years, which improve India’s military access to remote points on the LAC, has also been a sore point for the Chinese.
“The PLA has also moved some of its border defence regiments closer to the LAC, with at least 5,000 soldiers being diverted towards the border from an exercise being held in the region,” a source said on Monday.
Though the Indian Army continues to maintain a studied silence, it has also moved battalions under the Leh-based 3 Infantry Division (a division has 10,000-12,000 soldiers) to their ‘forward operational alert areas’, with other units replacing them in the ‘traditional depth areas’, as earlier reported by TOI.
Sources said there were no signs of any thaw yet in the high-altitude military stalemate despite several rounds of ‘hotline talks’ and brigadier-level negotiations at the Chushul-Moldo and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO)-Tien Wien Dien (TWD) border personnel meeting (BPM) points in eastern Ladakh.
“The decision on how to defuse the situation will have to come from a higher level now, either through unstructured talks or existing bilateral mechanisms between India and China,” the source said.
“The well-coordinated PLA incursions at multiple points, which includes the largely peaceful Galwan Valley region, are obviously part of a larger design with orders coming from the top Chinese military and political hierarchy,” he added.
Bilateral border issues and disputes are discussed in meetings between the two special representatives (national security advisor Ajit Doval and his counterpart Wang Yi last met in Delhi in December 2019) or in the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC), which was set up in January 2012.
While no bullets have been fired in anger along the 3,488-km long LAC since 1976, unlike the daily firing duels between India and Pakistan along the 778-km Line of Control, there is always the risk of something going wrong in tense face-offs like the ones currently underway in eastern Ladakh.