Senior military commanders from India and China on Monday met in the eastern Ladakh sector in their latest attempt to break the logjam in talks to reduce tensions along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC), with a joint secretary from the Indian external affairs ministry taking part in the military dialogue for the first time, officials familiar with the developments said.
The military dialogue started at 9 am at Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC in the Chushul sector and was on when this report was filed. The outcome of the talks was not immediately known.
Two Indian lieutenant generals were among the officers who took part in the talks — Harinder Singh, who heads the Leh-based 14 Corps and his soon-to-be successor PGK Menon, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Menon is tipped to replace Singh in Leh after the latter completes his one-year term as corps commander next month. Menon attended Monday’s talks — the sixth between corps commander-ranked officers since June 6 — as a representative of the army headquarters, the officials said.
A joint secretary-ranked diplomat was roped in for the dialogue as a step to ensure that the talks yield some headway, as reported by Hindustan Times on Monday. The Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs — the diplomatic dialogue between the two countries — involves a representative of the Indian defence ministry.
Military tensions are high in the eastern Ladakh theatre where both armies have made arrangements for holding positions through the winter.
Monday’s meeting between the Indian and Chinese corps commander-ranked officers was their first after the Indian Army swiftly moved and occupied a series of key heights to prevent the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from grabbing Indian territory on the southern bank of Pangong Tso in a stealthy midnight move on August 29.
The Indian Army now controls ridgeline positions on the southern bank of Pangong Tso that allow it to completely dominate the sector and keep an eye on Chinese military activity, with the positions scattered across Rezang La, Reqin pass, Gurung Hill and Magar heights.
The Indian Army has also taken control of key heights overlooking the PLA’s deployments on the Finger 4 ridgeline on the northern bank of Pangong Tso where rival soldiers are deployed barely a few hundred metres from each other, as reported by Hindustan Times on September 10.
The recent developments on both banks of Pangong Tso have increased India’s bargaining power as there will definitely be an element of quid pro quo in the talks, the officials said.
A high-powered panel on China reviewed the latest developments in the Ladakh sector last week, focussing on charting the course of future negotiations to restore status quo ante of mid-April on the disputed border. The agenda for Monday’s talks was discussed at the high-level meeting, even as the situation in Ladakh remains tense after a series of recent manoeuvres by the two armies in the Pangong Tso area.
Last week, defence minister Rajnath Singh told lawmakers in Parliament that no force in the world can stop the Indian Army from patrolling the country’s borders in the Ladakh sector, signalling a strong resolve to regain access to several areas that are now difficult to reach due to actions by the Chinese army along the LAC.
In tensions that began in early May, Indian and Chinese troops have come face-to-face at multiple points along the LAC. In some of these areas, particularly the Finger Area and Depsang, Indian forces have been cut off from reaching forward areas they could previously patrol.