NEW DELHI: India and China will hold their sixth round of top-level military talks within the next few days in a bid to defuse the tinderbox-like operational situation in eastern Ladakh, which has seen casualties and shots being fired for the first time in 45 years.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) may not have made any “aggressive or provocative” moves for the last couple of days but there is “a complete breakdown of trust” between the two armies, with thousands of rival soldiers, tanks and howitzers amassed within shooting distance of each other in the Pangong Tso-Chushul area as well as other stretches of the frontier in eastern Ladakh.

“It remains to be seen if diplomatic consensus translates into ground realities. Talks between military commanders will work only if there are clear-cut political directions from the top to the PLA to disengage and refrain from its strategy to push the Line of Actual Control (LAC) westwards,” said a senior official.

The military situation along the 3,488-km long LAC from eastern Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh was also reviewed by defence minister Rajnath Singh in a two-hour meeting with the chief of defence staff and three Service chiefs on Friday.

The rival corps commanders, 14 Corps commander Lt-General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, have not met since August 2, though communication channels have been kept open at the brigadier and colonel levels on a daily basis.

“The exact date and modalities for the corps commander-level meeting are being finalized. We will have to wait and watch whether the PLA is open to troop disengagement from the friction points,” said another official.

“The PLA, after all, had earlier reneged on its promise to withdraw from `Finger-4’ (mountainous spur) on the north bank of Pangong Tso. Restoration of the status quo as it existed in April is nowhere on the horizon,” said another official.

A lot will depend on what exact directions Chinese President Xi Jinping gives to the top PLA hierarchy, including Western Theatre Command (WTC) chief General Zhao Zongqi, who was also in charge during the 73-day Doklam face-off in 2017, and WTC ground forces commander Lt-General Xu Qiling.

“The PLA’s multiple and coordinated incursions into Indian territory in April-May, the amassing of huge forces along the LAC and the ongoing military confrontation with aggressive behaviour, after all, is all being driven from the top in China,” said the official.

The Indian Army has learnt its lesson by the PLA’s steadfast refusal till now to withdraw eastwards from the 8-km stretch it occupied and fortified on the north bank of Pangong Tso from `Finger-4’ to `Finger-8’. The LAC runs north to south at Finger-8.

The PLA, incidentally, on the morning of August 29 had conveyed through the hotline to the Indian forces that both sides should not undertake night patrolling and mountain manoeuvres. “But the PLA did exactly that towards the evening,” said an officer.

Indian soldiers then swiftly rushed to seize previously-unoccupied tactical heights on the ridge line stretching from Thakung on the southern bank of Pangong Tso to Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Reqin La (Rechin mountain pass) by August 30.

Simultaneously, as earlier reported by TOI, Indian soldiers also occupied heights overlooking the PLA deployments on the ridgeline over `Finger-4’ on the north bank of Pangong Tso. Outmanoeuvered in the race to grab the heights, the PLA has been smarting ever since.