India and China have agreed not to further escalate troop movement on either side but they have not indicated anything about the disengagement of forces along the Line of Actual Control, particularly in the standoff areas in and around of the Ladakh sector.
The details of the consensus between the two countries were announced in a joint statement issued on September 22, which said that during the sixth round of Corps Commanders meeting that went late into the night of September 21, both the sides agreed to stop further fortification and movement of their troops on frontline, and desist from unilateral changes in the situation. However, the statement issued at the conclusion of this 13-hour-long meeting was silent on the disengagement of troops along the LAC.
The meeting was held between the delegations headed by Indian side14 Corps Commander Lt-General Harinder Singh and on Chinese side by South Xinjiang Military District Chief Major General Liu Lin at the Chinese side of the Chushul/Moldo meeting point of the eastern Ladakh sector. For the first time, the Indian military delegation included a diplomatic representation by Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia) of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Among others, who represented India, included Lt.-General P.K.G. Menon, who is scheduled to replace Lt. General Singh in October.
The joint statement said: “They (the two sides) agreed to earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, strengthen communications on the ground, and avoid misunderstand.” The two sides agreed to finalize a de-escalation plan to clear entire border of the eastern Ladakh area. They also agreed to avoid unilateral changes on ground, and desist from any action that would complicate the situation. India and China further agreed to strengthen communications, avoid misunderstanding and misjudgments and earnestly implement the consensus arrived at by the leaders of both the countries and maintain peace along the LAC. The two countries expressed willingness to hold a seventh round of military commanders-level talks as soon as possible.
But, based on the past experience on such understandings with China which it had violated on all the occasions, India has decided not to slacken its defense preparedness to face any misadventure by the PLA troops.
During the talks on September 21, India is stated to have offered to reciprocate the China’s steps on the condition that it “should make the first move” as it had been the first to initiate military buildup since April that had led to the faceoff between the troops of both the countries on June15-16 and subsequent excesses by China, despite military, diplomatic and official level talks. And India reiterated and insisted on China to restore status quo ante in the area. India, being placed in a commanding position, in the Ladakh sector of the LAC, firmly told China to take “concrete” steps for disengagement of its troops and “complete” the de-escalation process from the “friction points” in the Pangong Tso, Chushul and Gogra-Hotsprings.
Last week, the agenda and issues to be raised by the Indian side at the meeting were discussed and finalized during a high-level meeting attended by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, and Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane.
According to a news agency report, the high-power China Study Group (CSG) met on September 18 and carried out a comprehensive review of the overall situation in the eastern Ladakh area, including India’s operational preparedness in view of the continued belligerence by the Chinese army and its attempts to “intimidate” Indian troops in the region. At a nearly 90-minute meeting of the group, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat, and the three service chiefs also looked for further enhancing the vigil along the nearly 3,500-km-long LAC, including in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim sectors.
Pending the outcome of the September 21 rival commanders’ level meeting, India armed forces have gone in for a full preparedness, and a massive advance winter stocking operation all along the eastern Ladakh frontier. Between the previous August 2 and the latest September 21 rival commanders level meetings, the Indian troops have successfully taken up preemptive operations and occupied the previously unoccupied tactical heights on the ridgeline stretching from Thakung on the south bank of Pangong Tso to Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Reqin La of Rechin mountain pass.
For the first time in a half-century, India had also launched an offensive against China, taking back strategic points the Chinese had grabbed earlier. The offensive had taken the Chinese forces aback and they retreated. The Indian troops have also occupied heights overlooking the PLA deployment on the ridgeline over Finger-4 on the north bank of Pangong Tso. These manoeuvres have led to at least four incidents of warning shots being exchanged after PLA tried to dislodge the Indian troops from the heights during the intervening period between August 28 and September 8.
The PLA troops were trying to aggressively advance towards the buffer zone of Indian side along the LAC with an intension to occupy the Indian territory in the Ladakh sector. But Indian troops had positioned themselves advantageously on several heights and deterred the PLA troops’ efforts. Despite these provocative maneuvers of the Chinese troops, Indian soldiers have been showing utmost restraint. India has always been insisting on China to maintain status quo ante of pre-May position, but Chinese troops are adamant showing no respite in their aggressive posture.
Briefing Parliament, the Defense Minister had confirmed that the transgression attempts by the Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh had been successfully foiled by the India troops. Rajnath Singh had further said India had conveyed to China through diplomatic channels that attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo would be in violation of the bilateral agreements.
At the same time, internally, in India, the 0pposition parties including the Congress Party leaders are ‘blaming’ the Indian government for allegedly allowing Chinese troops to occupy the Indian territory. The government has been repeatedly telling these leaders that India has been fully prepared for any eventuality and is protecting its sovereignty by not allowing China to occupy even an inch of Indian territory. However, some experts say, the opposition parties have misconstrued India’s restraint efforts as India’s surrender to Chinese “domination.” It is time that the entire nation, including all political parties stand united, extend solid support to the Indian government and provide further boost to the high morale of the Indian defense forces.
Unlike previous governments, the Modi government has increased India’s budget several folds and has been acquiring defense equipment and fully arming the country’s armed forces. India has acquired the most powerful Rafale jet fighters and inducted them into the Indian Air Force. These jets have already made sorties over the Ladakh area along the LAC. India has also placed orders with Russia for supply of more fighter jets. India, in full preparedness, has built high altitude airfields and helipads, deployed more troops on the border area and moved heavy military equipment and winter clothing, food and other essential supplies for the soldiers there. As a safety measure, some vulnerable border area villages have been evacuated. The navy has also been fully geared to face any maritime adventures by China. The three defense chiefs have been geared up to full preparedness.
China, where the COVID-19 pandemic had originated and spread worldwide weakening the global economy, is now fomenting trouble with its neighboring countries. It must know that no country has ever won a war, but the warring countries have suffered economically leading to human misery and destruction.
– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.
Picture: Representational Image (Credits – PTI)