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Hot Springs to top agenda at latest Ladakh talks, Depsang & patrolling could remain sore points

New Delhi: Amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and concern in the Indian establishment over the conflict’s possible fallout in the region, India and China have decided to hold the 15th round of military commander talks this week to ease the standoff at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, which is nearing the two-year mark.

The talks will be held on 11 March on the Indian side of the Chushul-Moldo meeting point, official sources in the defence establishment said.

Striking a positive note, a source said that “recent statements by both sides to find a mutually acceptable solution have been encouraging and positive in nature”. The source also pointed out that the 14 rounds of talks so far have “resulted in the resolution of the North and South banks of Pangong Tso, Galwan and Gogra”.

Both sides will now focus on achieving resolution of friction in the remaining areas, sources said.

However, this is where the standoff gets tricky, said other sources in the defence establishment, when asked about the expectation from the next round of talks.

While reporting that the 14th round of military talks in January had failed to immediately break the logjam over disengagement in the Hot Springs area, ThePrint had cited sources to report that “breakthrough was likely next time”.

The resolution of the issue at Patrol Point 15, commonly referred to as the Hot Springs, is expected on 11 March, sources told ThePrint. However, other friction points like Depsang Plains and Demchok, besides resumption of patrolling rights along the LAC, is unlikely to see any progress.

“The disengagement at PP 15 was first agreed to in July 2020 and the process did start but the Chinese stopped it in between. So we still have two small groups of soldiers camped opposite each other at PP 15. During the last meeting, there was a broad understanding on resolution of PP 15 and hence the expectation is higher this time,” a second source told ThePrint.

Also read: China raises defence spending by 7.1% despite lowest GDP growth forecast in 3 decades

Importance of remaining friction points

The main remaining friction point is not Hot Springs but a ‘semi standoff’ at the critical Depsang Plains and resumption of patrolling rights at the LAC and de-escalation, said the second source.

As reported earlier, the Chinese have been blocking Indian patrols, which go by foot beyond the feature called the Bottleneck area, and hence limiting India’s access to PP 10, 11, 12, 13.

The Chinese claim line here is about 1.5 km from an Indian military camp in an area known as Burtse. Indian forces also block the Chinese patrols from coming beyond the bottleneck area.

Besides its proximity to Daulat Beg Oldi, where India has a landing strip, what makes the area strategically important is that if the Chinese come in further, they could gain control of the critical Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DS-DBO) road and also attempt to take over the Saser La pass, which could cut off Siachen Glacier from India .

Concern arising out of Russia-Ukraine war

ThePrint had earlier reported that there is a concern in the defence and security establishment about the lessons China could draw from the Russia-Ukraine war, and how Beijing could react in the future, given that there is already a standoff at the LAC.

Sources had then said that the fact that none of the Western powers have militarily joined the war with Ukraine against Russia, could act as a boost to the Chinese, who will become more aggressive given their plans for unification of Taiwan, sources said.

On 4 March, when Army chief General M.M. Naravane reviewed the 1 Strike Corps, which has been re-balanced to take care of the northern borders instead of western, news agency ANI quoted a “senior Army officer” saying “the Ukraine situation has to be seen in the context of similar attempts that could be made by the Chinese PLA along our contested Northern borders”.

“At no stage should people lose focus on the Northern borders,” the unnamed officer was further quoted as saying.

The officer added that the current situation along the northern borders warrants the Indian Army to re-align the operational tasking of its reserve formations and refine its war-fighting capabilities in high altitude mountainous terrain.

Also read: Aryabhata to Gaganyaan, S-400 & nuclear energy — India’s age-old ties with Russia run deep

Source: The Print

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