(This was originally posted On Times Of India by Rajat Pandit)
India is keeping close tabs on the summer exercises launched by the People’s Liberation Army in its ‘depth areas’ facing eastern Ladakh, even as it maintains operational readiness of reserve forces’ to ensure China does not try anything at a time when the country is battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is as yet no decision to conduct the 12th round of corps commander-level talks between the two armies after the last one on April 9 failed to achieve any breakthrough due to PLA’s recalcitrance to even fully disengage, let alone de-induct troops and de-escalate the year-long troop confrontation.
“The PLA has now finished rotating its troops, including two motorized divisions, which are in areas across eastern Ladakh. It has also kicked off its annual summer exercises in depth areas, including Kanxiwar and Kashgar, located 100 to 250-km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC),” said a senior officer on Tuesday.
Closer to the LAC, at locations 25 to 120-km away, the PLA has unremittingly converted its troop shelters, ammunition depots, helipads and surface-to-air missile positions established last year into permanent positions now, as was earlier reported by TOI.
With the onset of summer, the Indian Army and IAF have also strengthened their “military posture” during the “campaigning season” in eastern Ladakh, as also other stretches along the 3,488-km LAC right till Arunachal Pradesh. “This is to ensure a `military surge’ is possible if the balloon goes up,” he added.
It was in April-May last year that India was caught utterly unprepared when the PLA, under directions from the top politico-military hierarchy in Beijing, suddenly diverted its troops from their annual exercises to undertake multiple incursions into eastern Ladakh in a well-planned manner.
India is clearly taking no chances this time. The pandemic, however, has led to some realignment of forces along the LAC. “After a risk-assessment and analysis, some troops have been pulled back to support the nation in fighting the Covid crisis. Areas have been identified where the guard cannot be lowered at any cost, while some thinning out has taken place in other stretches” said another officer.
Though the rival local commanders are keeping in constant touch over hotlines, the overall stalemate persists. The PLA has flatly refused to pull back troops from the friction sites at patrolling points (PPs) 15, 17 and 17A in the Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La area in eastern Ladakh, and continues to maintain considerable strength in the rear areas there.
The PLA’s persistent blocking of Indian patrols from even going to their traditional PPs-10, 11, 11A, 12, and 13 in the strategically-located Depsang Bulge area, which are well short of India’s perception of the LAC in the region, also continues to be a major problem area.