Six infantry battalions of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, supported by artillery and air defence units, stay crowded in the northern bank of Lake Pangong in eastern Ladakh.
The PLA battalions may not be up to the strength required, but even if they are just about 500 soldiers strong, it still adds up to about 3,000 infantrymen entrenched in the heights overlooking Finger 4 and behind those positions, said a source.
An artillery battalion (the Chinese have artillery and armoured battalions as opposed to regiments) and additional artillery companies dug in close to the Finger 7 area are backing them.
Then, strong air-defence units in the northern bank are present too. There are large numbers of HQ-16 medium-range surface to air missiles in the area.
The PLA moved from Finger 8 to Finger 4 in May, moving back just a little bit to establish itself on the heights overlooking Finger 4. India wants the entire PLA detachment to move back to Finger 8. The proposals suggest it could happen in the second phase of disengagement and de-escalation.
The northern bank is one of the ‘contact points,’ said the source, with Indian troops quite close to where the Chinese are. That is the way the two armies have been for the last six months.
India’s insistence on status quo ante ― of troops returning to their April locations ― and China’s reluctance to disengage, especially on Lake Pangong’s northern bank, saw the two sides deploying thousands of troops, tanks, artillery and air assets in the region.
Sources said the Chinese proposed disengagement when Lt General PGK Menon, commander of Leh-based XIV Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of South Xinjiang Military Region, held one-on-one discussions during the eighth corps commander-level talks in Chushul on 6 November.
In the previous seven rounds of talks, entire delegations were engaged. On 6 November, however, the commanders also held one-on-one talks, sources said, underlining that there is no agreement yet on the Chinese proposal and the commanders are likely to meet again soon.
“There was a proposal” from China, a senior security establishment official said, “that it is ready to move back to Finger 8” on the northern bank of Pangong Tso. The proposal, the official said, mentioned that Indian troops would be at the Dhan Singh Thapa Post, just west of Finger 3.
In late August, Indian troops surprised the Chinese by occupying dominating heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso, and in the larger Chushul sub-sector.
Indian troops positioned themselves on Gurung Hill, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rechin La and Rezang La. They now have direct view of China’s Moldo Garrison, and the strategic Spanggur Gap, which can be used to launch offensives ― as the Chinese did in 1962.
Indian troops readjusted their positions on the north bank of the lake, occupying features to dominate Chinese positions on the ridgeline connecting Finger 3 and Finger 4. This scramble for heights led to warning shots being fired by the two sides.