China’s insistence on India vacating its advanced positions on the south bank of Pangong Tso as a precursor to discussions on Delhi’s demand for status quo ante of April has emerged as the new sticking point in efforts to resolve the military standoff along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, highly placed government sources said Friday.
Sources said Delhi is insisting on simultaneous withdrawal of forces from the Pangong north bank — where Chinese troops have crossed the point which India says marks the LAC — and advanced Indian positions on the south bank to mutually agreed locations. A source in the ruling establishment, familiar with developments on the Ladakh frontier, said India crossed the LAC at “seven places” to counter the Chinese transgressions.
“We have crossed over at seven places. Why do you think China is still at the negotiating table?” the source said. The Chinese demand comes in the backdrop of Indian troops occupying advanced positions, beyond its patrolling points, in the Chushul sub-sector towards the end of August.
These positions on the southern bank of Pangong Tso allow Indians to dominate the region because they not only overlook the Spanggur Gap, but also the Chinese garrison at Moldo.
“In their latest talks, they (the Chinese) wanted India to vacate southern bank positions first. India demanded that both banks should be vacated by both sides simultaneously to mutually agreed positions,” the source said.
This assessment of the Indian establishment, after the seventh round of talks between Indian and Chinese Corps Commanders last Monday, underlines the military standoff which began early May.
The Indian political establishment, however, remains wary of Beijing’s commitment despite the dialogues that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had with their Chinese counterparts in Moscow.
“The talks between Defence Ministers and Foreign Ministers of both sides were on similar lines. Beijing only says that it wants peace and tranquillity at the border between the two countries. But this is what India also wants. They (the Chinese) don’t, however, explain the reason for their troop build-up,” the source said.
“Kuchh bhi ho sakta hai. Vishwas nahin hota hai China par. We are prepared for any eventuality,” the source said, pointing out that enough supplies for the winter have been made available to Indian forces to mirror the Chinese build-up at the Ladakh frontier.
A joint statement after the seventh round of talks last Monday stated: “Both sides agreed to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution for disengagement as early as possible.” It did not mention the points of negotiation by either side.
Given the complex and tricky nature of the negotiations, the two sides have maintained confidentiality on details and positions during the talks.
“Discussions are on; what is going on is something confidential between us and the Chinese,” External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said in response to a question on the Sino-Indian talks at a gathering of the Bloomberg India Economic Forum Thursday. “There is not very much that I am in a position to say in public. I certainly do not want to prejudge it,” he said.
With temperatures dipping in Ladakh, troops on both sides are bracing for extended deployment during the harsh winter months.