As Indian troops are engaged in a standoff on the south bank of Pangong Tso (lake) for the past one week, a massive build-up had again begun in the Finger area of the north bank, a senior government official told The Hindu.
The ground commanders met on Wednesday to solve the stalemate but it remained inconclusive. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had occupied the ridge lines and amassed troops on the north bank, where Fingers 4-8 are located, the official said.
There was a worrying concentration of troops on both sides, with China dominating the area, the official noted.
The development comes a day before the Foreign Ministers of both countries are expected to meet in Moscow on the sidelines of a meeting of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
As reported, China has ingressed about 8 km in the Finger area of the north bank. India has not been able to patrol beyond Finger 4 since April last week when China amassed troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. Earlier, Indian troops could patrol up to Finger 8.
Several rounds of meetings at the military and diplomatic levels have not yielded any results. China partially retreated to Finger 5 and as per the agreement, Indian troops were pulled back to Finger 2.
‘China dominating area’
“China is dominating the ridges in the Finger area of Pangong Tso for the past four months. Since last evening, it has rushed additional forces. We have had no option but to match the presence,” said the official.
The build-up on the north bank comes even as the attention has shifted to areas south of the lake, where for the past one week, the Indian Army has been dominating the ridges and hills in the Chushul area.
For the first time in 45 years, aerial shots were fired along the disputed LAC. The Indian Army said on Tuesday that Chinese troops fired some rounds in the air on September 7, as they attempted to close in on one of India’s forward positions and “intimidate” troops deployed there to dislodge them.
Brigade Commander-level talks were held at Chushul on Wednesday in the wake of Monday’s firing incident which, a defence source said, were routine ground-level talks to de-escalate the situation. Both sides agreed to hold another round of Corps Commander-level talks, for which the date was yet to be finalised, the source added.
China has repeated its accusations of India firing first. A Chinese source said that during the talks, both sides agreed that there should not be further incidents of firing.
Tensions have been high since August 29, when Chinese troops engaged in a “provocative action” trying to change the status quo on the south bank, which forced India to take pre-emptive moves. India has since occupied the key heights in the area.
On Tuesday, some pictures of the Chinese troops deployed on the south bank surfaced. They showed the soldiers carrying spears, rods and clubs.
The official said the issue was raised with the Chinese commander. “The Chinese say that the rods and spears are for construction work to build temporary sheds on their side of the LAC. But it is evident that such tools serve no such purpose,” the official pointed out.
In the past fortnight, three top officials — Army Chief Gen. M.M Naravane; Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) Director General S.S. Deswal; and Secretary, Border Management, Sanjeeva Kumar, visited Ladakh.
On Wednesday, China’s State media reported that the PLA was “mobilising forces, including bombers, air defence troops, artillery, armoured vehicles, paratroopers, special forces and infantry units from different parts of the country to the bordering plateau region” after the latest tensions.
Bombers and transport aircraft from the Central Theatre Command, which is responsible for Beijing and surrounding provinces, and an air defence brigade from the Eastern Theatre Command, which is focused on Taiwan and Japan, have been mobilised to the Tibetan plateau and linked up with the Western Theatre Command, which covers Tibet, Xinjiang and the India border.
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The Central Theatre Command said in a statement that it had deployed H-6 bombers and Y-20 large transport aircraft to the Tibetan plateau for training missions as part of the mobilisation. The Eastern Theatre Command had mobilised an air defence brigade to the northwest and “held live-fire confrontational drills with anti-aircraft guns and missiles”, State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported. It said the military was conducting “long-distance manoeuvres, deployment exercises and live-fire drills” last week.
The Communist Party-run Global Times said the manoeuvres were taking place “after India crossed the LAC near the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake and near the Reqin Mountain pass on August 31”.
(With inputs from Ananth Krishnan, Dinakar Peri and Suhasini Haidar)