Shekhar Gupta explains that after the standoff began on 20 April, the Chinese occupied Finger 4 at Pangong Tso, adding that the Indian Army on 29 and 30 August took positions on the crest line of Kailash range. Thus, he adds, negotiations between the two countries would be focused on whether status quo should be restored to what it was until 20 April or 29-30 August. 

Strategic Importance of Taking Position On Kailash Range

Explaining what the Indian Army did on the night of 29-30 August, Gupta says they climbed the entire Kailash range and took all the dominating heights on the Southern Bank of Pangong Tso lake. 

Referring to an article by Lt Gen H.S. Panag (Retd), Gupta explains that going up to these high locations on the Southern Bank neutralised the advantage the Chinese might have had when they took position at the patrolling points in the Depsang region. 

Gupta adds that if the Chinese threaten India through Depsang and the Daulat Beg Oldi, India has the ability to go into the Chinese underbelly through the Spanggur gap and Moldo Garrison. And, he adds, it is also the closest access to China’s Xinjiang Tibet Highway.

Calling the Indian Army’s actions on 29 and 30 August “heroic and dashing”, Gupta says it has now given “India a new bargaining position”. And a “bunch of negotiating chips”, which India did not have earlier.

According to Gupta, the question was to go back to the status quo ante of April or August, because if it was the former, then India would have to come down from the Kailash range, which some military commanders are anxious about.

Gupta says the Kailash range had never been occupied earlier, adding that people such as General Panag have called for India to sit on the range and if China demands more and wants India to get off these heights, then it would have to make concessions in Depsang.

The worry, Gupta says, is that if India got off the heights (of the Kailash range) then China would never let India get back on as they now know what India is capable of.

Speaking about the Indian Army, Gupta says it is no pushover but in fact a very tough army that can take attrition as well as inflict attrition. And it also has a great deal of expertise in higher altitude warfare.

By taking position on the Kailash range, India is no longer negotiating from a position of weakness.

The Benefits of Disengagement

Speaking about the benefits of disengagement, Gupta explains that it benefits both countries as India is in a crisis situation in so many other areas, while for the Chinese, the diplomatic, military, and political consequences of this would be phenomenal. And this could also distract them from their priorities in the area of Taiwan or South China Sea, which Gupta says was a “calculation”.

“So, both sides, it seems are now keen on disengagement,” Gupta says.

The next round of talks will focus on withdrawing heavy artillery and armoured tanks and the negotiations will be regarding how far back to take them, Gupta says.

India does not want to scale too far back because if China’s intentions change, it will take India much longer to bring back its artillery and deploy it in the battle zone.

India’s Options

Concluding his episode, Gupta reiterates that both China and India knew that in Ladakh the terrain worked to India’s disadvantage. And it is very tough for India to defend Ladakh against a really determined Chinese push. However, the picture was very different in the eastern sector as there the terrain works to India’s advantage.

“So remember that push comes to the shove, India has options. And the Chinese know that,” Gupta says.

He also asserts that theories of the US President being elected out and Joe Biden being elected in (almost), which would result in India’s negotiating position weakening was a “whole lot of nonsense” and “hogwash”. India will not settle for less, he says.