The eighth round of India-China military and diplomatic level talks is expected to take place next week to discuss disengagement in Ladakh even as armies of the two countries prepare for snow and winter deployment along the 1,597km Line of Actual Control (LAC).
According to senior officials, India and China, both sides are not impatient over a resolution on the friction points but have decided to keep the dialogue channels open at both military commander and diplomatic levels. The talks are also aimed at preventing any vertical escalation on the friction points either due to an accident or aggressiveness of an individual commander.
While the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has proposed that both sides withdraw armoured and artillery units as part of de-escalation first and then go for dis-engagement of infantry, the Indian side is very clear that armoured units cannot be withdrawn as it will give advantage to the adversary due to terrain and capability.
As a senior military commander explained, the issue is that the Indian Army’s approach to both north and south bank of Pangong Tso is through two very high mountain passes– the 17,590 feet Chang La and 18,314 feet Marsimik La. While Chang La lies between the road from Leh to the contested south bank of Pangong Tso, Marsimik La lies between the contested north banks of the lake and Kongka La. The road from contested Gogra-Hot Springs near KongKa La to north Pangong Tso runs through Marsimik La.
“If India were to withdraw its armoured units from south of Pangong Tso to beyond Chang La or beyond Marsimik La, then they will never reach back to the contested points in a worst-case scenario as both the passes are blocked by heavy snow till April every year. The PLA, on the other hand, have an advantage as they have a six-lane Kashgar-Lhasa highway just 10 km from both Marsimik La and Kongka La with roads running right up to their posts,” said a senior official.
While PLA launched aggression in Galwan Valley, Gogra-Hot Springs and north banks of Pangong Tso in April-May this year, the Indian Army was able to pre-empt their moves south of Pangong Tso to occupy the Rezang La -Rechin La ridgeline in last week of August. The situation continues to remain tense as the PLA is deployed in full in occupied Aksai Chin as well as in-depth areas up to Chengdu and Kashgar. PLA’s air force is continuing with its combat patrols in the area with nearby airbases active.
Given the circumstances, the Indian Army and the PLA are deployed on the contested points with distance being maintained so that any chance of an accident is ruled out. Indian medical facilities have come up along the LAC so that victims of high-altitude sickness get immediate treatment and not wait for heli-lift to a specialised hospital at Hundar in Partapur.