Nearly 50,000 Indian Army troops are currently deployed in a high state of combat readiness in various mountainous locations in eastern Ladakh in sub-zero conditions as multiple rounds of talks between the two sides have not yielded concrete outcome to resolve the six-month-long military standoff.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also deployed an equal number of troops, according to officials.
The last round of Corps Commander-level talks had taken place on October 12 but there was no breakthrough on the disengagement of troops from the friction points. The standoff between the two sides erupted in early May.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar recently said the ties between India and China have come under “severe stress” and that the agreements inked by both sides on management of the border must be respected “scrupulously” in their “entirety” to restore normalcy in relations.
The Indian delegation at the eighth round of military talks will be led by Lt Gen PGK Menon, the newly-appointed Commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps.
A joint press statement by the two armies after the last round of talks said both sides agreed to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution for disengagement “as early as possible”.
India has all along been maintaining that the onus is on China to carry forward the process of disengagement and de-escalation at the friction points in the mountainous region.
Following the sixth round of military talks, the two sides announced a slew of decisions including not to send more troops to the frontline, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground and avoid taking any actions that may further complicate matters.
The sixth round was held with a specific agenda of exploring ways to implement a five-point agreement reached between Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at a meeting in Moscow on September 10 on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) conclave.
The pact included measures like quick disengagement of troops, avoiding action that could escalate tensions, adherence to all agreements and protocols on border management and steps to restore peace along the LAC.
The situation in eastern Ladakh deteriorated following at least three attempts by Chinese soldiers to “intimidate” Indian troops along the northern and southern bank of Pangong lake area between August 29 and September 8 where even shots were fired in the air for the first time at the LAC in 45 years.
As tensions escalated further, the foreign ministers of India and China held talks in Moscow on September 10 where they reached a five-point agreement to defuse the situation in eastern Ladakh.
During the previous rounds of Corps Commander-level talks, the PLA had insisted on withdrawal of Indian troops from the strategic heights in Mukhpari, Rezang La and Magar hill areas around the southern bank of Pangong lake.
However, India maintained that the disengagement process has to start simultaneously in all the friction points.