The talks on Sunday evening between India and China’s top officials for border issues have averted what might have turned out to be a costly and back-breaking exercise for both armies to hold on to advantageous positions on the line of actual control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
The inability of India and Pakistan to make a clean break at Kargil had led to both sides extending deployments on the peaks in this sector to winter months as well with no tactical or strategic advantage accruing from the lonely vigils in virtually immovable conditions.
Although this is no justification for Chinese behaviour, the parallel to Kargil remains restricted to the problem of holding ground in extremely high altitude areas. In this particular case, the build-up happened in the full knowledge of forward troops and was mostly restricted to the Chinese side of LAC. The transgressions are at three places, none of which was held or controlled by Indian side.
Both the Chinese and the Indian read-outs of the conversation between NSA Ajit Doval and State Councillor-cum-Foreign Minister Wang Yi that took place on June 5 put emphasis on a quick return to peace and tranquillity. More importantly they seem to be laying equal importance on restoring the status quo.
This means that as happened with the Chinese incursion into the Galwan Valley in July 1962 – the war took place three months later – Beijing is satisfied into withdrawing on the premise that India does not pose the threat of a quick military thrust into the Valley and across the plains of Aksai Chin.
Such a premise essentially involves ensuring that neither side sets up infrastructure close by that can serve as a springboard for offensive operations later on. If China continues to maintain any such indicators of infrastructure that could later pose a threat to India’s road from Daulat Beg Oldie to Shyok, India would have had to inevitably follow suit.
The Doval-Wang talks may have averted that possibility. Besides being a costly exercise which also puts an excessive burden on the human spirit, an eyeball-to-eyeball situation in eastern Ladakah could have slowly metastasised into a similar force posture all along the sprawling and demarcated LAC, increasing the chances of another bloody brawl as happened at Galwan Valley on June 15.
It is not known whether the restoration of status quo will also mean that India will have to curb its appetite for strengthening approaches to forward posts from the DBO-Shyok road.
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