India and China have been engaging in diplomatic and military dialogue to achieve de-escalation along the LAC in eastern Ladakh where a violent face-off in Galwan Valley led to casualties on both sides in June

The disengagement planned between Indian and Chinese troops hit a dead end as some of the friction areas still remain tense, with troops continuing to be separated only by metres.

As China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) shows no signs of pulling back from friction points in Ladakh at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), anxiety over China altering the status quo has increased in the security establishment and among those observing developments.

As a stalemate continues, Indian patrol troops are unable to go up to the LAC as they did before.

While the government clarified that it is a temporary situation until the disengagement process is over, many feel it could alter the status quo if the situation continues for long.

Deadlock Over Disengagement

The disengagement planned between Indian and Chinese troops hit a dead end as some of the friction areas still remain tense, with troops continuing to be separated only by metres.

Major General Ashok Mehta (Retd) feels the disengagement dialogue cannot be left to the military commanders alone.

“There is very little de-escalation. The reason for this is we put the cart before the horse. You cannot leave this disengagement and de-escalation to military commanders. This should have been preceded by high-level political talks, where a decision ought to have been taken about withdrawal, about status quo ante,” he said while speaking at the India Today TV show Newstrack on Friday night.

“Chinese are more or less sitting where they are in positions more advantageous. In Galwan, they ensured LAC moved 1 km to the west,” he added.

Former Army officer Lt Gen SL Narsimhan, who is a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) — also part of the discussion on the show — rejected the claim that LAC is 1 km into Indian territory and said this notion wrongly placed.

Calling the suspension of patrolling a “temporary moratorium” he said, “It's been done the view that tempers don’t run high during process of disengagement as it happened on 15th June.

Only June 15, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash in Galwan. While there were losses on the Chinese side also, China has not put out the number of casualties.

“The disengagement process is in step 1 stage. It will continue. Would like to dispel the notion that there is a demilitarised zone. We don’t agree to 20 km retreated in 1962 why will we agree now,” Gen Narsimhan added.

Large Build-Up And Mobilisation

The build-up of large troops mobilisation continues. In fact, the Indian Army has already started to plan for the winter deployment.

In response to the Chinese mobilisation, India has moved in additional boots on the ground already.

The strength is around 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers and arrangements need to be made to sustain them even in peak winter conditions when temperatures can drop to minus 25 degrees and below. With most places that are tense falling in super high altitude category at more than 14,000 feet, the planning has to start now.

Pangong Lake Remains Volatile

The Pangong Lake and Hot Spring-Gogra area that is part of Patrol Point 17A still remain volatile.

At the Pangong Lake, the biggest flashpoint the Chinese did move back from Finger 4 to Finger 5 on the bank but still remain on the mountain spurs or the ridge line. The Indian troops are positioned between Finger 3 and Finger 2 on the bank of the lake.

Sources said there are still no signs of the Chinese army dismantling the structures they had set up between Finger 8 and Finger 4.

The distance between troops from both sides is 4-5 km on the bank of the river but on the mountain ridges of the lake the troops are separated by less than 1 km, sources said.

This situation has not changed since the last 10 days after the Corps Commander level talks on July 14

This shows the disengagement is still not complete at the lake where the Chinese had camped at Finger 4, which was always under Indian control.

The Chinese had come in 8 km till Finger 4 from Finger 8. India maintains the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which runs through Finger 8. The mountain spurs jutting into the lake are referred to as Fingers in military parlance.

In fact, the Chinese have only been strengthening their positions between Finger 5 and Finger 8.

Col Vinayak Bhat (Retd), a satellite imagery expert, said, “It alarming that there are artillery positions, air defence positions that the We also see the signal and engineers store. A small hospital is also seen. PLA ground force naval unit has also come up to finger 5.”

Col Bhat analysed recent satellite images that show almost completely the areas between Finger 4 and slightly beyond Finger 8 up to the PLA’s pre-1998 base of Rimuthang, located east of the Indian Claim Line.

The new images provide an insight into the main headquarters, three artillery gun positions, an air defence battery, a small hospital and signals and engineering detachments.

A few tents under camouflage nets have been observed in the Spangur Tso area. This is expected but not alarming. The total strength in this entire area could be a combined arms brigade not more than 10-20,000.

Other than Pangong Lake, the situation remains tense in the Hot Springs, Gogra area referred to as Patrol Point (PP17A), where thinning of troops happened but 40-50 soldiers still close to each other separated only by 600-800 metres, sources said.

In Galwan, at PP14 where the bloody clash took place on June 15, the Chinese have moved back 1.5 km from LAC and the distance between troops on each side is 3 km.

A full disengagement has still not happened here but sources say at least there is enough distance between the two sides to avoid a physical brawl like the ones that have taken place before.

At PP15, the fourth friction point, disengagement seems to be complete with Indian and Chinese troops separated by 8-10 km.

The current disengagement was only focused on friction areas. There are no signs de-escalation in-depth areas.

Military Options Being Weighed

With no change on the ground Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has asked forces to be ready to respond at a short notice.

Sources say all military options are being discussed to launch operations if required. The Defence Minister in his recent visit to Ladakh dropped a big hint of no headway for a resolution when he said talks are on but there is no guarantee on the outcomes of the discussion.

Former Air Vice Marshal of Arjun Subramaniam is of the view that the situation only doing to de-escalate after some coercion that forces the other side to back off.

“Options of quid pro quo or limited coercion are being talked about to make the Chinese think twice whether this whole thing is actually worth it,” he said.

“Economic coercion not going to make any dent. That is not what will force China to step back. Whenever PLA has got embroiled in such a conflict it’s extremely difficult to push them back,” he added.

In the wake of the recent developments, the army is preparing for a long haul keeping in mind winter deployment and logistics.

With additional troops to be deployed for long a lot of planning a logistics is required.