The Indian government has no answer to the question that if we have not lost any territory, then why the 20 rounds of military-to-military talks?
The 20th round of India-China Corps Commander-level talks were held on October 9-10 at the Chushul Moldo border meeting point in eastern Ladakh. Despite China having indicated long back it will not pull back any troops, India has been insisting on continuing military-to-military talks in order to cover up the loss of control of thousands of square kilometres of territory to China in 2020, including traditional grazing grounds forcing the migration of locals.
In eastern Ladakh, India has lost access to 26 of 65 patrolling points and the PLA is lodged at Y-Junction in the area of Depsang, which is 20 km inside Indian territory. In addition, the buffer zones created are all in what was mutually considered Indian territory. But the government continues to deny any loss of territory. Now the Delhi High Court has recently sought the Indian government’s response to Dr Subramanian Swamy’s plea seeking information regarding Chinese encroachment on Indian territory under the Right to Information Act (https://x.com/Swamy39/status/1711572238758220221?t=WG2TJSj_C_rBgE5JmQ4JRw&s=03). But the government in all probability will not share any details citing the matter as “sensitive”, having used the same excuse in response to another RTI asking what inputs the Manipur government gave to the central government on the Manipur violence.
The October 11 statement issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) about the 20th round of India-China Corps commander-level talks, reads, “The two sides exchanged views in a frank, open and constructive manner for an early and mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues …. in accordance with the guidance provided by the national leadership …. building on the progress made in the last round of Corps Commanders' Meeting … They agreed to maintain the momentum of dialogue and negotiations through the relevant military and diplomatic mechanisms. They also committed to maintain peace and tranquility on the ground in the border areas in the interim.”
The MEA statement is the same flowery language used as earlier without much substance. The line “agreed to maintain the momentum of dialogue and negotiations through the relevant military and diplomatic mechanisms” is subterfuge because the diplomatic mechanism is reduced to exchanging pleasantries, with China having indicated in no uncertain terms that the PLA is sitting in its own territory. In fact, China has been accusing India as the aggressor – the price we are paying for not having the guts to call out China’s aggression in May-June 2020.
The Indian government has no answer to the question that if we have not lost any territory, then why the 20 rounds of military-to-military talks? Certainly, the PLA is not going to reveal its future intentions by continuing such talks.
A day after the MEA statement, a publication quoted “unnamed” defence and security officials to say that during the 20th round of India-China Corps commander-level talks, India and China have agreed to carry on with winter deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, which will see a reduction in troops, and aim to work out a plan ahead of the summer so that there is no surge in soldiers and equipment then.
The media report further says that one more round of talks will be held during the winter to cater to the summer deployment plans, and the plan is to reach an understanding during the next round of talks to NOT bring back additional troops during summers.
The above appears to be some type of wishful thinking and spin doctoring akin to a Hindi TV serial. The PLA has fully fortified its defences in the new locations occupied in 2020, replete with fortified bunkers, command posts, observation towers looking into Indian defences, artillery, air, air defence and logistics support. Why would PLA pull back even from its 20-km deep intrusion in Depsang when India committed the cardinal sin of vacating the Kailash Range in its own territory just to publicize PLA withdrawal from one solitary post on the north bank of Pangong Tso to a location to the east although both locations continue to remain linked with a metal road.
No PLA pullback
Since the Chinese aggression in 2020, the PLA has completed two bridges on the Pangong Tso to facilitate China’s offensive plans, helicopters and drones deployed forward, and Tibetan-origin recruits deployed along the LAC. As mentioned above, the buffer zones in eastern Ladakh are all in Indian territory. China claims the whole of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh anyway, so why will the PLA pull back troops? They simply will not, although there may be some reduction of tents in the area of Demchok during winter, as has been the case every year. But these reappear in summer. Aside from this, routine turnover and relief of troops will continue.
Our spin doctors may use the above movement to showcase progress in forcing the PLA to move back in order to impress voters in upcoming Indian state and general elections. But this would amount to fooling ourselves. China has not mellowed one bit and its offensive intent remains intact, if not stronger. We cannot let our guard down.
(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal)