Sources said India pushed for finalisation of a “workable and sequential” roadmap for disengagement, de-escalation and de-induction, with a joint verification mechanism, while restoring status quo ante at the ‘friction points’ in Pangong Tso, Chushul and Gogra-Hotsprings areas as the first step.
There was, however, no official word on the outcome of the ninth round of military talks, led by 14 Corps commander Lt-General P G K Menon and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, which lasted for over 10 hours on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on Sunday.
“With hardened positions on both sides, any tangible breakthrough seems 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,” a source said.
The Indian defence establishment is wary that China has no real intentions of a pullback of troops, tanks and howitzers from the frontlines, given the way it has consolidated its military positions and upgraded its infrastructure all along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) after the Ladakh confrontation erupted in early May.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has assiduously 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, as reported by TOI earlier.
“But talks are important to maintain the calm at the frontlines,” the source said. China has been demanding that the proposed disengagement should begin from the south bank of Pangong Tso-Chushul area, 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 August 28-30 last year.
But with these Kailash ranges 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 PLA 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. With its long-standing Dhan Singh Thapa post between Finger 2 and Finger 3, Indian Army has rejected the PLA’s proposal to convert the entire ‘Finger area’ into a no-patrol zone. As per India, the LAC 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 LAC, 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 LAC (just like) the Line of Control with Pakistan, with permanent deployments and posts,” an officer said.
As reported earlier by TOI, the new as well as reinforced PLA military positions are spread from 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 trijunction and the Asaphila and ‘Fish Tail’ areas in Arunachal Pradesh.
Moreover, additional facilities have been constructed at Chinese airbases facing India like Hotan, Kashgar, Gargunsa (Ngari Gunsa), Lhasa-Gonggar and Shigatse, which include underground hangers and parking bays for fighters by digging tunnels into mountains in some areas.