India and China are expected to schedule the fifth round of talks at the Corps Commander level next week to resolve the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
New Delhi has decided to stick to its strategy of “incremental change despite slow progress” while pressing for the end-goal, the restoration of status quo ante as of April — before the start of the military standoff.
It has also ruled out application of any kind of military pressure against China as an option, so as to avoid any inadvertent escalation.
A government official told The Sunday Express that both sides have agreed to hold the talks at the level of the Corps Commander during the meeting Friday of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs, but the agenda for the talks is yet to be approved.
The date for the talks will be finalized only after the agenda is approved, and can be expected to be held towards the end of next week.
“It is a very institutionalized process. Before every Corps Commander talks, the agenda is approved in Delhi. There is a meeting of the China Study Group which sits down and approves what the commander can propose and agree to. He is an instrument in the process, not the decision-making authority,” the government official said.
After the last round of talks at the level of the Corps Commander on July 14 which failed to break the deadlock, there was a view within the government that there was a need to keep the Chinese off-balance in the next round of talks, as Beijing seemed to be comfortable with the new status quo on the border.
This view was based on the argument that if military options are ruled out and India is prepared for a prolonged standoff and winter deployment, it should not accept any half-measures or proposals for partial disengagement on the LAC at this stage.
“There was a view that we should adopt a strong and rigid posture on our demands for restoration of status quo ante. At this stage, we should show our stubbornness, we need to keep the Chinese off-balance, not comfort them,” an official told The Sunday Express.
The consensus in the government, however, seems to have veered around the continuation of its existing strategy of the past 12 weeks of the standoff. It rules out any use of military options, either as a quid pro quo action or in any other form of military leverage, while focusing on the end goal of restoration of the status quo ante.
“Our end goal is restoration of the status quo ante, in as many steps as it takes. Anything which facilitates the stated outcome is important for the end goal. Yes, the progress has been very slow but there has been incremental change despite slow progress on the ground. I mean, without going into specifics, there has been some thinning out of troops even in the last few days and there will be some positive results to show before the next talks between commanders,” a second government official said.
“The Army will remain deployed for the long haul, and logistics preparations have already started for that. If required, there can be even a permanent deployment. That is crystal clear,” the official said.
On the lack of discussion about the situation in Depsang Plains, where the Chinese have denied the Indian side access to five patrolling points, the official said “our aim is for resolution in the entire eastern Ladakh. But the current focus is on Pangong.”
A senior Army officer confirmed the government official’s stance on status quo ante and prolonged stand-off by pointing to a television interview given by Northern Army Commander, Lt General YK Joshi to CNN-News18 on Saturday.
“What I can tell you in simple words is that we shall continue all efforts to restore the status quo ante along LAC. I believe the negotiations and process of disengagement and the commitment of both sides to adhere to the laid down methodology would dictate the timelines of the stand-off,” Lt General Joshi told the news channel.
As reported earlier, there has been limited progress in disengagement on the ground, leaving the situation tense on at least three of the friction points: PP17A in Gogra, Pangong area and Depsang Plains. As per intelligence sources, a sustained strength of 2,000 PLA soldiers has been blocking Indian patrols in Depsang for 10 weeks now.
In the assessment of intelligence agencies, China is attempting to make the Kugrang Tsangpo river as the new LAC at PP15 and PP17A in the Hot Springs sector. It has also not removed its posts on the forward slope of Finger 4 at Pangong Tso, and has further strengthened its deployment close to Finger 6, sources said.