More than five weeks after India and China stepped back from a standoff at Doklam on the Sikkim border, Indian soldiers remain on high alert with around 1,000 Chinese troops still present on the plateau, a few hundred metres from the faceoff site, government sources told The Indian Express.
However, sources said, India does not expect another “flashpoint” at the same site between the two countries.
The presence of the People’s Liberation Army has thinned in the area after the process of “disengagement” began on August 28, but one PLA battalion remains on the plateau, said sources. The battalion is located approximately 800m from the faceoff site, sources said.
The presence of Chinese soldiers in Chumbi Valley, where the plateau is located, was also acknowledged by Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa during his annual press conference on Thursday.
The Indian Express had reported on September 25 that a Chinese division of more than 12,000 soldiers, 150 tanks and artillery guns was moved opposite Sikkim at Phari Dzong in Chumbi Valley during the standoff. Sources confirmed the continued presence of PLA in the area but expect the deployment to be reduced by two-thirds to brigade-level in the coming weeks.
At the plateau, sources said, the Chinese have not dismantled any of their tents and temporary construction in the vicinity. The PLA battalion, which has been spread over the area due to lack of space, is being kept under surveillance by the Indian Army, said sources. The Chinese soldiers in the area still have road construction equipment and other stores, they said.
The Indian Express had reported on September 7 that the two sides had moved away by around 150m each from the faceoff site on August 28 as part of a “disengagement” process.
After the BRICS conference in China concluded on September 5, sources said, all the Indian soldiers returned to their posts at Doka La but their numbers have since been strengthened. Sources said that thrice the number of troops have been acclimatised for that altitude and placed closer to the area.
Besides, the tracks leading to Doka La were improved during the faceoff, leading to enhanced logistics supply lines. Road construction equipment, such as bulldozers and JCBs, have also been kept on location, sources said.
Although India doesn’t expect another “flashpoint” in the area, the assessment is that China could attempt a stronger intrusion at another location on the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) — possibly at Barahoti in Uttaranchal, in the central sector. Adequate measures have already been taken in that area by Indian forces, sources said.
According to sources, the Army has put in place measures to reduce its mobilisation time on the China border in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Plans have been put in place to acclimatise one-third of its troops at higher altitudes to reduce their induction time into operational areas, besides placing greater emphasis on construction and improvement of tracks in border areas.
Helipads have been constructed and aviation support reviewed in the border posts, which are cut off due to bad weather, apart from the “staging forward” of specific quantities of artillery ammunition for speedy operational deployment.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is scheduled to visit the border areas of Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday. This will be her first trip to the state, which is claimed by China as its territory, since taking over as Defence Minister. In the past, China has protested against visits by senior ministers to the state.