In a clear sign, both of distrust as well as logistical problems caused by melting snow swelling the Galwan river, the Indian Army will shortly pull back the last of its infantry fighting vehicles from near Patrol Point 14. It was here, 40 days ago, that Indian and Chinese troops faced off in an extended and violent clash that left 20 Indian Army men and at least 16 Chinese Army personnel dead.
It is this rollback of the Indian Army vehicles that will mark the grueling completion of the first pullback phase agreed upon by both sides in this area.
In the days that followed the bloodshed, Indian infantry fighting vehicles and other military vehicles had rumbled towards the flashpoint from posts near the Shyok-Galwan confluence.
In the first week of July, with both sides agreeing to form a buffer zone of 1.5 km on each side, troops had pulled back, though several Indian Army vehicles had remained in the buffer zone. The Chinese side had fully cleared the buffer zone of its positions by this time.
Following an agreement at the fourth round of Corps Commander-level talks between the two armies at Chushul, the Indian Army pulled back most of the vehicles by July 20. India Today TV learns the last of the Indian vehicles will be pulled back by this weekend across a set of new bridges constructed on the river.
The rollback of the Indian Army vehicles has been a difficult process owing to the swollen river breaking its banks. Chinese positions near the buffer zone have similarly been marooned by swelling bends in the river, through areas earlier identified have also since cleared.
The necessarily slow rollback at Galwan has amplified the huge terrain and logistical challenges faced by both sides in the narrow river valley. The pullback of the vehicles will, however, complete the first phase of the pullback agreed upon by both sides.
But things could change dramatically in the Galwan Valley, with developments across two other friction points — the Gogra Post at Patrol Point 17A and the Fingers complex at Pangong Tso — validating India’s distrust of Chinese commitments to troop disengagement.
As India has reported consistently since the standoff began, the Pangong sector has proven to be the trickiest flashpoint to disengage from, and now the tentative pullback of token troops stands fully paralysed at Finger 5.
Serious differences over status and claims have brought the de-escalation process to a complete halt for over 10 days now, with both sides now clear that another Corps Commander-level meeting — it’ll be the fifth — will be necessary. India Today TV learns this could happen next week.
More ominous than the Chinese refusal to pull back further is the overriding Indian perception that the Chinese could actually re-occupy positions. Indian Army surveillance resources are currently fixed on the ‘mob of disengaged Chinese troops’, since infrastructure on the Chinese side provides them with the flexibility to bounce back at short notice.
This is true across the friction points, and especially true at the Hot Springs sector. Here, the Chinese have pulled back more than at any of the other flashpoints. But smoother infrastructure allows them to rush back if necessary.
While the Indian Army had always known that the disengagement process would be tedious, it is not taking any Chinese movements at face value. Monitoring of depth areas has gained enormous primacy, since this is where the Chinese could easily redeploy from — and in even bigger numbers.
All of Ladakh’s rivers in spate has only heightened the difficult verification process. The Army is also keeping a close watch on China’s training areas along the western highway and the PLA’s capacity development in the area, because these are the area that will be activated should ‘intent’ change at any time.
As India Today has reported, China’s deployments and mobilisation in the area confirm that the Ladakh standoff was no spontaneous flare-up, but part of a wider strategic effort by the People’s Liberation Army under Xi Jinping.
What is clear is that the Chinese are in no mood to pull back any more or any further, forcing India to reinforce positions and plan logistically for what will be its largest winter deployment at those heights in decades. The Indian Army is also seriously looking to end the concept of a ‘road close period’ as soon as possible, with the current crisis hugely underscoring the need for 365 day connectivity across sectors. The determined infrastructure effort across four highways and multiple bridges in Ladakh is towards that end.
Courtesy – IndiaToday