India has told China in the latest round of bilateral talks that its soldiers will open fire to defend themselves. India has said the Chinese tactic of “using mass” — or seeking to outnumber Indian soldiers, like in the 15 June Galwan Valley clash — will not be tolerated, top government sources said.
There is no sign of disengagement on the ground in Ladakh. India and China have been locked in a stand-off since April. Both sides have dug their heels in. The standoff is likely to continue through the region’s bitter winter and maybe beyond, the sources said. The Chinese have deployed around 50,000 soldiers and weapons, including missile systems, tanks and artillery, at the border.
The ground situation in Ladakh remains volatile despite the Chinese apparently adopting a reconciliatory approach during different levels of dialogue. According to China, India has changed its rules of engagement for the Line of Actual Control (LoAC). The enemy says the Indian side did not take recourse to firing of shots before the standoff under a bilateral agreement. But the Indian Army does not hesitate since the 15 June Galwan Valley clash, China says.
The clash had resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer, and 35 Chinese troops.
“We have told our soldiers that they can open fire if there is a fear of their own safety. They can fire for self-defence,” a source said, adding that China has been told the same.
Sources say there is no question of believing China’s words of peace unless their deeds on the ground match up. The sources further say that China has acknowledged during the talks that the PLA lost more men than the Indian Army in the Galwan Valley clash even though they don’t admit it in world forums.
Chinese soldiers far outnumbered Indian troops during the Galwan Valley clash, which took place after a disengagement effort went awry.
“The Chinese tactic was to come in large numbers with clubs and crude weapons and surround Indians, who followed the laid-down protocols and moved in a much lesser manner,” one of the sources quoted above said.
“According to the agreement, both sides are supposed to have a 15-20-member-strong patrol team. Over the last few years (since Doklam), the Chinese started increasing numbers,” the source added.
Sources said since the intervening night of 29-30 August, when Indian soldiers moved in to capture several heights near the southern bank of the Pangong Tso, there had been a number of occasions when shots were fired in the air.
Indian Army, PLA dig in heels for a long winter ahead
Both sides, sources said, were likely to stay deployed in the forward areas of Ladakh through the winter. China insists on disengaging from the southern bank of the Pangong Tso first while India has been clear that it has to happen in in all areas simultaneously.
“India is of the opinion that since it was the Chinese who initiated the aggression, they should be the first one to start disengaging,” a source added.
The sources admitted that while India has been seeking complete disengagement and status quo ante (return to positions before the stand-off began, following Chinese incursions in April), the current positions will continue to be held for some time, as reported by ThePrint earlier this week.
“I can’t put a time-frame on when the disengagement will happen. The position stays as it is,” one of the above-mentioned sources said.