India’s deployment of an additional 35,000 soldiers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh indicates that Delhi is preparing for a long haul, perhaps even through the brutal winter months in the mountains. It has become evident that the Chinese troops are refusing to disengage fully along the LAC. Recently, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said that the disengagement process has not yet been completed. This is quite in contrast to the Chinese claim just a couple of days earlier that the two sides had completed disengagement at most locations at the border. Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a bitter standoff in multiple locations in eastern Ladakh for over eight weeks since May 5. The tension escalated manifold after the violent clashes in Galwan Valley. However, following a series of diplomatic and military talks, the two sides began a mutual disengagement process at most of the friction points on July 6. The first official acknowledgment of tensions on the border came on May 10, when the Army issued a statement about clashes between Indian and Chinese patrols at two places. Clearly, Indian and Chinese perceptions of the disengagement agreed upon are not in sync. Since the deadly face-off at Galwan in mid-June, Indian and Chinese military commanders have been discussing the specifics of disengagement. Last week, the two sides agreed on an “early and complete” disengagement of troops from the friction points at Galwan Valley, Hot Springs-Gogra, Depsang, Pangong Tso, etc. However, that does not seem to be happening. While India has said that there has been some progress in the disengagement, it is not to its satisfaction.
It does seem that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is unwilling to budge from areas on the Indian side of the LAC that it occupied in recent months. At Pangong Tso, for instance, although the PLA has moved back from Finger 4 to Finger 5, it has done so only on the banks of the lake. It has not pulled back from the mountain spurs. This half-hearted, indeed disingenuous, disengagement will not fool India. This is unacceptable. China’s reluctance to disengage is pushing Indian and Chinese soldiers into a long-drawn and perilous situation. Surviving a Himalayan winter is not easy. Since visibility is low during winter, the possibility of troops running into each other while patrolling will be high. Given the high level of tension, such run-ins could trigger larger confrontations. It is still not too late for the PLA to back off from its current strategy of obdurate confrontation.
Preparing for the long haul in the icy heights of the Himalayas will not be easy. In addition to building up troop levels, India will need to construct shelters for the soldiers that will withstand the fury of winter in the high altitudes. Food for soldiers, fuel and military equipment, too, will need to be stored in advance. China seems to have planned and prepared for this earlier in the guise of military exercises in the region. The Indian Army’s logistical capabilities will be under severe test in the coming weeks.