The Army’s move to occupy dominant heights in the Chushul sub-sector and bolster its position in the border face-off with China in eastern Ladakh was taken after a political go-ahead in May to occupy “six to seven locations” along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a senior government official told The Indian Express.
Following these directions, the top official said, the Army formulated plans and outmanoeuvred Chinese troops in August-end to occupy the heights, including Mukhpari, Rezang La, Rechin La and Gurung Hill among others, and the south bank of Pangong Tso in the sub-sector.
The political leadership “had given instructions to the forces in May itself, to identify six to seven locations where we can go”, the official said. Underlining the significance of these positions, the official said several of them are beyond the LAC. “It has given India something to bargain with,” the official said.
On the current state of play, the official said, India is awaiting a response from China to a memo it had sent for the ninth round of discussions at the level of the corps commander. The eighth round of discussions had taken place on November 6.
According to the official, China had previously shown willingness to pull back its troops from Finger 4 to Finger 8 on the north bank of Pangong Tso, but that has now changed because “it seems their top leadership doesn’t want it”.
At the same time, the official said, China has demanded since September that Indian troops should move back from heights in the Chushul sub-sector and the south bank of Pangong Tso, where they overlook China’s Moldo garrison and the Spanggur Gap.
“China wants us to go from the south (bank)”, the official said, adding, “we have told China that the solution has to be a package,” so that disengagement from all friction points is discussed together. “There is no question (of) vacating the south” bank positions first, the official said.
The negotiations can take time and the government is willing to wait, the official said. “The government and the forces are ready for the long haul if a resolution cannot be found,” the official said.
Referring to the issue in Depsang Plains, the official said it predates the current standoff by several years. In Depsang Plains, which is close to the strategic Daulat Beg Oldie post near the Karakoram Pass in the north, Indian troops are unable to access their traditional patrolling points 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13.
In 2013, there was a standoff after Chinese troops occupied an area known as the Bottleneck, which is 18 km inside the LAC. The issue was resolved after 21 days.
The standoff in eastern Ladakh is now more than seven months old, with no sign of disengagement. Both the countries have positioned nearly 50,000 troops each in the region — along with tanks and air defence assets — amid the harsh winter where the temperature can drop to around minus 40 degree Celsius in some parts.
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