As Delhi and Beijing turn to their working mechanism at the level of diplomats to reduce military tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, there’s evidence of the Chinese having deployed towed artillery and mechanised elements on their side of the LAC opposite the Galwan valley.
Highly placed sources told The Indian Express that a detailed analysis of satellite images has shown extensive deployment of towed artillery and mechanised elements on the Chinese side, bringing Indian deployments within striking distance.
Satellite images also show the presence of at least 16 tanks with a mix of infantry combat vehicles, though camouflaged. Flatbed trucks, excavator machines, dumper trucks too have been identified in the imagery, sources said, adding that these suggest permanent defences are being prepared by the Chinese in the area.
“Bunkers, troops on ground and machine gun emplacements can also be seen which may also show that the Chinese have been anticipating an offensive and have made defensive positions too,” sources said.
“Suitable” counter-deployments, sources said, have also been done on the Indian side of the LAC to neutralise any advantage that the Chinese may accrue due to the deployments they have done in depth.
At Pangong Tso, where Chinese and Indian troops came to blows on May 5-6, the Indian side, sources said, has been concerned about the Chinese occupation of a place called Foxhole Point, the southern-most point on the northern banks of the lake. This is located between Finger 3 and Finger 4, giving the Chinese an advantage in area domination.
As reported by The Indian Express, Chinese forces have moved into Indian territory by crossing the LAC at some places in eastern Ladakh: in the Pangong Tso area, and at three separate locations in the Hot Springs sector.
The perception of the two sides about the LAC has been different at Pangong Tso, leading to tensions and disputes on the lake and on the northern banks. But the locations that saw Chinese incursions in Hot Springs – Gogra, Patrolling Point-14, PP-15 – have not been disputed so far, and they have come in 2-3 km ahead of the LAC.
The Indian side is also concerned about the threat posed to the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road by the Chinese deployment, opposite the Galwan river on its side of the LAC. The 255-km road was thrown open last year by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who inaugurated a 1400-feet bridge on Shyok river to the north of this area.
Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council Executive Councillor (Education) Konchok Stanzin said: “While it is difficult to say how many Chinese troops have intruded inside Indian territory in Pangong Tso area, they are camping in Four Finger and Green Top areas also, apart from Patrolling Point 14-15.’’
Stanzin represents Chushul constituency in Leh district. “People in a number of villages like Merak, Lukung, Urung, Man, Spangmik and Kakstel along the Pangong lake are worried over the Chinese intrusions. I have come to reassure people in the villages,’’ he said.
The Indian Army has not commented on the Chinese incursions, but for a statement denying reports that an Indian patrol had been detained by the Chinese soldiers last week. It has, however, acknowledged that soldiers from both sides clashed on the night of May 5/6 in Pangong Tso and on May 9 at Naku La in Sikkim.
On Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry struck a conciliatory tone, saying the “border area situation is overall stable and controllable”. Sun Weidong, Beijing’s envoy to Delhi, too said: “We should never allow our differences to shadow the overall development of our relations… We should gradually seek understanding through communication and constantly resolve differences.”
The Indian establishment is still waiting for signs of any de-escalation by the Chinese in eastern Ladakh.
“The next 72 hours are crucial in which we have to watch for any reduction in the soldiers and equipment from the Chinese side. So far (as on Thursday afternoon), there has been no change in their deployment. Our side also remains on high alert, we haven’t changed anything either,” an official told The Indian Express.
“The progress so far has been achieved at diplomatic levels in Beijing. Both the sides are talking, but we are holding our military position. That has not changed,” the official said.
On the ground situation in the Galwan valley area, another official said: “The situation is presently at a standstill and both sides are dug-in, awaiting the next move from the opposite side.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines