With no fresh disengagement or thinning of troops at the friction points with China along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, there is a stalemate and India has started to prepare for the long-haul.
It is learnt that the Army is preparing to retain some of the additional troops of three extra divisions moved to the region to mirror the Chinese build-up in the depth areas.
With no further movement since the fourth round of talks between the Corps Commanders on July 14, and complete disengagement only at two of the four friction points, sources said there is uncertainty about the next round of discussions.
Troops from both sides had stepped back at Patrolling Point 14 (PP14) in Galwan Valley and at PP15, with Chinese troops moving back to their side of the LAC. But there are still about 50 troops on each side, less than 1 km from each other, at PP17A.
At Pangong Tso, which has become a major point of contention, the Chinese troops have stepped back to Finger 5, but they continue to occupy the Finger 4 ridgeline. Chinese troops had built substantial structures in the 8-km stretch between Finger 4 and Finger 8 which India says marks the LAC.
As per the understanding reached between the two Corps Commanders, neither side is allowed to patrol the four friction points. India has been seeking status quo ante – of troops returning to locations before the standoff began in May.
In the Depsang Plains, though the troops are not involved in a faceoff, China has blocked Indian access to traditional patrolling limits in the area.
On preparations to retain additional troops deployed there throughout the winter months, a top source in the Army said “even by a conservative scale, the requirement is going to go up by double” for the Advance Winter Stocking. “This will cause problems not only in terms of transportation, but also provisioning of supplies and equipment.”
“We are looking at a solution, but it is a major challenge,” the source said.
Lt General Devraj Anbu, who retired as Vice Chief of the Army in August 2019 and was the Northern Army Commander earlier, said “it should not be a major problem because we have got to know about it earlier in the season”.
“You still have time till about November. They can put in additional resources to do that. Because you have the rest of the season still available. Had it been a little later, around October, probably then there would have been a crisis… It is quite a complicated exercise, but not insurmountable,” he said.
Retired Major General AP Singh, who headed the operational logistics of XIV Corps between 2011 and 2013, said: “It will be a huge economic cost. Mirror deployment through the winter will be a huge trade-off. The economic cost to the nation will be debilitating.”
He said in the terrain and altitude of eastern Ladakh “the soldier is fighting three elements: the enemy, the weather and his own health”.
He said Depsang Plains, Galwan Valley and Gogra Post are all over 15,000 feet high, and soldiers require specialised personal kits.
The volume of the supplies and equipment moving in convoys will double, and with the two routes through Zoji La and Rohtang Pass closing by November, there is not enough time.
But “the main thing now”, he said, will be to create shelters for the extra troops, shelters suited for conditions with the temperature dipping to minus 20 degree Celsius.
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