India last evening asked China — in a marathon meeting that began on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point at 11 AM on Sunday and continued till 2:30 AM on Monday — once again for ‘complete disengagement and de-escalation’ at all the face-off sites in eastern Ladakh. Amid a deepening trust deficit owing to the consolidation of military positions by the Chinese army PLA all along the frontier, India pushed China towards finalising of a “workable and sequential” roadmap for disengagement, de-escalation and de-induction. India wants China to cooperate in developing a joint verification mechanism while restoring status quo ante at the “friction points” in Pangong Tso, Chushul and Gogra-Hotsprings areas to begin with.
There was, however, no immediate official statement on the outcome of this ninth round of military talks between the delegations led by 14 Corps commander Lt Gen PGK Menon and South Xinjiang Military District chief Maj Gen Liu Lin.
A source said, “With hardened positions on both sides, any tangible breakthrough might be unlikely at this stage. The two delegations will now go to their respective political hierarchies for further directions on the proposals and counter-proposals exchanged during the talks,” said a source.
The Indian defence establishment suspects China has no real intention of a pullback of troops, tanks and howitzers from the frontlines. The belief is based on the observation that the PLA has consolidated its military positions and upgraded its infrastructure all along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LoAC) after the Ladakh confrontation erupted in early-May.
The Chinese army has, apparently under a plan, built new roads and lateral links, surface-to-air missile positions and helipads in different sectors stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, while also establishing civilian settlements in “disputed but occupied areas” in the eastern sector. Besides, time and again China’s President Xi Jinping keeps telling the Chinese army and people to prepare for war.
“But talks are important to maintaining the calm at the frontlines,” the source said.
China has been demanding the beginning of the proposed disengagement from the south bank of Pangong Tso-Chushul area. This is where Indian troops occupied tactically advantageous positions on the ridgeline stretching from Thakung to Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Reqin La (Rechin mountain pass) on 28-30 August.
However, with the Kailash range in Chushul sector providing India with some leverage in the negotiations, India has been pressing for “a simultaneous whole of eastern Ladakh” approach for the mutual disengagement. This will include the Chinese army vacating the 8 km stretch it has occupied from Finger 4 to 8 (mountainous spurs) on the north bank of Pangong Tso since early-May.
The Indian Army, with its long-standing Dhan Singh Thapa post between Finger-2 and Finger-3, has rejected the PLA’s proposal to convert the entire ‘Finger area’ into a no-patrol zone. India holds that the LoAC runs north to south at Finger 8 even though the current face-off is on the Finger 4 spur.
“The resources with the PLA are simply staggering. With roads leading right till the LoAC, the PLA can swiftly move more forces and firepower to the forward areas in the summer. India will now willy-nilly have to treat the LoAC just like the Line of Control with Pakistan, with permanent deployments and posts,” an officer said.
The new, as well as reinforced, PLA military positions stretch between a point opposite the Daulat Beg Oldie-Depsang, Chushul and Demchok areas in eastern Ladakh, Kaurik Pass in Himachal Pradesh and Barahoti Plains in Uttarakhand to north Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction and the Asaphila and “Fish Tail” areas in Arunachal Pradesh.
Moreover, China has constructed additional facilities at its airbases facing India like in Hotan, Kashgar, Gargunsa (Ngari Gunsa), Lhasa-Gonggar and Shigatse. The constructions include those of underground hangars and parking bays for fighters by digging tunnels into mountains in some areas.