Indian Army trucks transport Arjun MBT near Indo-China LAC

NEW DELHI: The Army top brass kicked off an operational review of the overall security situation on Wednesday, even as the military assessment was that Chinese soldiers will have to unconditionally withdraw from Indian territory in eastern Ladakh for the “conciliatory” messages now emanating from Beijing to have any real meaning.

Defence sources said it would be a folly to “read too much” into the statements made by the Chinese foreign ministry as well as its ambassador on Wednesday till there is actual de-induction of People’s Liberation Army soldiers who intruded 1-3 km into what India considers to be its territory in eastern Ladakh. “Words have to translate into action on the ground,” said a source.

Around 1,200-1,500 PLA troops are currently engaged in the four to five virtually eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations on the northern bank of Pangong Tso (Tso means lake), Demchok and the Galwan Valley region across a broad frontage of the unresolved Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The PLA has also amassed additional troops within its territory near the face-off sites, diverting well over 5,000 soldiers from an exercise it was holding in the region.

With the Indian Army more than matching the Chinese deployments, there has been no breakthrough yet in the almost month-long military stalemate despite several rounds of talks between rival major-general, brigadier and colonel-level officers on the ground.

Hectic diplomatic negotiations had also finally defused the major 73-day military face-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Bhutanese territory of Doklam, near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, in June-August 2017.

But the fallout has been that the PLA has permanently stationed troops and built military infrastructure and helipads in north Doklam since then. “This time, the confrontation is on what we perceive to be our territory,” said a source.

This will be a top consideration in the three-day Army commanders’ conference, which is being chaired by General MM Naravane and attended by the senior Lt-Generals heading the six operational and one training commands of the over 12-lakh strong force. “There will be brainstorming on the operational situation and challenges along the border as well as administrative matters during the conference,” said an officer.

The worry is that China has been dragging its feet in either “clarifying” the 3,488-km long LAC stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, which would reduce face-offs, or setting up the long-pending hotline between top military commanders like the DGMO one between India and Pakistan.

Similarly, the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) inked between India and China in October 2013, which specifically prohibited either side from “tailing” each other’s patrols in areas where there is “no common understanding” over the LAC, has not also really been made operational on the ground till now. The top-level hotline, in turn, was first proposed in the BDCA and then agreed to during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to China in 2015.