Indian Army is keeping its 15 battalions as well as "reserve units" in eastern Ladakh on "high alert" to counter the People's Liberation Army in the ongoing shadow-boxing taking place in the high-altitude region to strengthen claims to disputed areas.
Diplomatic channels are now working overtime to de-escalate the border imbroglio at both Chumar and Demchok, after three flag meetings between local military commanders failed to make any headway, but India is not averse to playing "cartographic hardball" with China if required, say sources."The situation is fluid but not tense. Chumar has always been held by us. We will not allow the PLA to construct a road or anything else on what we consider our territory. If they withdraw, we will also simultaneously pull back some of our troops," said a source.
But no change in the ground situation in either the troop faceoff at Chumar or the so-called "civilian confrontation" at Demchok was reported till Sunday evening. Around 1,000 PLA troops were still occupying six to seven tactical positions in the Chumar sector, where heights vary from 12,000 to 15,000 feet.
"Some of them often re-position themselves for better logistics. A few return to their administrative bases in the rear for the night, and then come back in the morning. It's a well-planned operation by PLA, which has never set up camps in the area before," said the source.Over 1,000 Indian troops, too, are maintaining their forward deployment in the Chumar sector, where the "cat-and-mouse game" has now been underway since September 10 after Indian soldiers stopped PLA troops from building a road right up to Chepzi on the unresolved Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The close-quarter jostling for better tactical positions had even led to a young PLA officer being detained by the Indian troops after he had strayed into one of their positions last week. The Chinese lieutenant was later handed over to the PLA.
Though the standoff is currently limited to the southern part of eastern Ladakh, the Army-ITBP combine has stepped up patrols all along the LAC stretching from Daulat Beg Oldi in the north down to Chumar near the Himachal border. Both sides have also deployed helicopters and drones for sustaining their soldiers as well as surveillance to detect build-ups.The Army has enough personnel in the region to take care of such contingencies. There are four battalions each under the 70 Brigade at Kiari and the 114 Brigade at Tangtse, as also five units of the Ladakh Scouts. The 14 Corps at Leh, which looks after the Kargil sector as well as eastern Ladakh, also has the 81 Brigade as "a reserve formation", which can swiftly be deployed towards Kargil or eastern Ladakh when required.
Sources said China seems to be testing the Modi government's resolve both on the land boundaries as well as the Indian Ocean Region with its Maritime Silk Route construct. During the 21-day Depsang faceoff at the DBO sector in April-May last year, just before Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit here, India had got conflicting signals from the PLA commanders on the ground and the political leadership in Beijing.
Similar messaging is happening in the ongoing Chumar faceoff, which coincided with President Xi Jinping's visit here. "It's very difficult to believe that local PLA commanders would act like this without the top Chinese leadership's nod. We have asked China to adhere to the 2005 protocol on CBMs on the LAC," said the source.
It had taken intensive diplomatic intervention to finally defuse the DBO faceoff last year after India dismantled "a tin shed" at Chumar and the PLA troops simultaneously withdrew from the Depsang Valley. Similarly, this time the Chinese troops are also asking Indian troops to demolish a recently-built hut at Tible in the Chumar sector, as reported by TOI earlier. -timesofindia