(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
Indian military planners point to the presence of a large number of tank transporters at area headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at Rudok and Xiadullah across Rezang La and Karakoram Pass respectively as an indication that the Chinese Army has plans to move armour from the East Ladakh front lines to depth areas in Xinjiang and Tibet — part of the disengagement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh that ends a 10-month standoff between PLA and the Indian Army.
“All I can say is that the disengagement process is moving on well, though the date of next meeting of military commanders is yet to be decided,” said a senior Indian official who asked not to be named. The military commanders of the two countries have met nine times to facilitate the disengagement, although the breakthrough is recent.
The withdrawal spans several friction areas along LAC. The scale of the withdrawal, the planners said, shows the extent to which Beijing had built up its military presence in the area.
Analysts said a combination of smart manoeuvring by Indian troops, resolve from New Delhi, and non-military pressure brought to bear on Beijing on both the diplomatic and economic fronts. While the Northern Command of Indian Army on Tuesday released pictures to confirm withdrawal of armour by both sides, there is evidence of the presence of around 28 tank transporters on the southern banks of Spanggur Tso, near Rezang La ridgeline, to ferry armour from the front-line to the depth areas, the people cited in the first instance added. Spanggur Tso, a bitter water lake, houses the Moldo garrison of PLA on its banks. Although the PLA withdrawal is on track, Beijing’s decision to suddenly restore status quo ante on both banks of Pangong Tso has baffled many within the Indian security establishment.
While a section of national security planners believes that this withdrawal is tactical and driven by internal considerations, others believe that Beijing acted to stem the rapid slide in bilateral relations. However, one thing on which both agree is that China will have to be watched very carefully for the remaining part of the year before coming to any conclusion.
Since February 10, there has been intense activity between finger 4 and finger 7 mountainous spurs on the north banks of Pangong Tso with no less than 25 vehicles, 10-12 tanks and 14 tents being seen at Srijap complex, east of finger 8 of the lake.
At Rudog, which has been PLA headquarters since the 1962 war and is situated 63 kilometres diametrically opposite Rezang La in occupied Aksai Chin, at least 250 heavy military vehicles are being used to transport deployed troops to depth areas.
At Xiadullah, again a PLA headquarter since 1962 and 96 kilometres across Karakoram Pass, as many as 12 tank transporters are being used to ferry tanks from deployments across the Daulet Beg Oldi sector.
PLA is known to have deployed its strategic missiles near Xiadullah.