'The Chinese are mobilising more men and machinery into the Galwan Valley and other standoff points in the region'

The situation on the ground in the Galwan Valley and three other locations in eastern Ladakh remains tense and army-level talks with China on Wednesday were inconclusive, defence sources said in New Delhi at night.

“Multiple rounds of talks between the two armies are scheduled in the next few days to find ways to resolve the stalemate,” said an official on condition of anonymity, adding that Wednesday’s dialogue was held at the major-general level.

The sources said the Chinese were continuing with their build-up despite an agreement on de-escalation during military commander-level talks on June 6.

“There is no disengagement as such. As per our assessment, the Chinese are mobilising more men and machinery into the Galwan Valley and other standoff points in the region. The situation remains tense,” a security official told The Telegraph.

In the absence of formal briefings by the army, a steady flow of “leaks” through the day portrayed a gruesome picture of the massacre on Monday night. Indian soldiers were flung off jagged cliffs and several drowned when they fell into a river or were beaten to death with nail-studded clubs or bamboo sticks wrapped in barbed wire, these accounts suggested.

Both sides fought in the dark and many Indian soldiers were pushed down the slopes while they were trying to climb up for higher-altitude combat, the defence sources added.

During intrusions by Pakistanis in 1999 during the Kargil war, several Indian soldiers had been pushed down while trying to move up the slopes.

On Wednesday, both domestic and foreign media organisations rippled with such descriptions but all were attributed to unnamed sources and none of this information was denied by the Indian government.

If the sources were willing to share so much of specific information with domestic as well as foreign media, it was not clear why the defence establishment did not field senior officers in a formal media conference — as it was done soon after the Balakot airstrikes.

The French news agency AFP reported on Wednesday, quoting an Indian Army source, that “many of those killed appear to have been punched or shoved off a ridge onto rocks and into an icy river below”.

“They came hurtling down like free-falling objects,” AFP said, quoting the source.

Post-mortem examinations on those killed showed that the “primary reason for death is drowning and it looks like they fell from a height into the water because of head injuries”, the agency quoted an official as saying.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday morning met chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat and the tri-service chiefs to review the border standoff in eastern Ladakh.

At 12.19pm on Wednesday, Rajnath tweeted that the loss of soldiers in Galwan was “deeply disturbing and painful” — the first statement by the political leadership after 36 hours of the killing of the Indian soldiers, including a colonel.

There was, however, no mention of China in the tweets.

“The loss of soldiers in Galwan is deeply disturbing and painful. Our soldiers displayed exemplary courage and valour in the line of duty and sacrificed their lives in the highest traditions of the Indian Army,” Rajnath tweeted.

“The nation will never forget their bravery and sacrifice. My heart goes out to the families of the fallen soldiers. The nation stands shoulder to shoulder with them in this difficult hour. We are proud of the bravery and courage of India’s bravehearts,” he added.

Sources in the defence ministry on Wednesday iterated that there was no firing during the face-off on Monday evening but violent hand-to-hand scuffles.

“Both sides also hurled stones at each other. Later, the Chinese troops used rods and nail-studded clubs during the face-off that lasted for hours till Monday midnight,” an official said.

The Indian Army has so far not disclosed the exact number of Chinese casualties, although it had announced on Tuesday that there had been deaths on both sides. China too has provided no information on casualties on their side.

“Four Indian soldiers are still in a critical condition,” the defence ministry official said.

A senior official in the security establishment told this newspaper that the scuffle between the two sides was triggered by an argument over the position of Chinese soldiers who were pitching a tent on the southern bank of the Galwan river, the official said.

“A heated altercation between Indian and Chinese troops had taken place on Monday afternoon after the People’s Liberation Army tried to erect a makeshift tent near Patrolling Point-14 on the Indian side of the Galwan region along the LAC. The situation turned violent in the evening when the PLA troops attacked a small contingent of Indian troops led by Colonel B. Santosh Babu who was among the 20 killed,” the official said.

He said that initially the Chinese troops were outnumbered but later a large contingent of PLA soldiers reached the spot, all of them armed with clubs, rocks and barbed wire.

“After the reinforcements came in, the PLA soldiers outnumbered the Indian troops. The Indian soldiers were on a slope below which was the confluence of the Galwan and Shyok rivers. During the violent face-off, many Indian soldiers fell into the cold water after being hit. Since it was already midnight, several of them could not be rescued immediately,” the official said.

Sources in the defence ministry said despite multiple rounds of talks with the PLA since June 6 to resolve the dispute amicably, India was still concerned about Chinese deployment along the LAC in the region and that the Pangong Lake remaining the bone of contention.

The main standoff point is the Finger 4 area along the Pangong Lake where the Chinese troops came in early last month and erected tents and have been hindering normal patrolling by Indian troops, besides the PLA’s build-up in the Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie.