NEW DELHI: India continues to pump in additional troops and weapon systems on the entire eastern front in face of continuing belligerence from China on the Doklam standoff, even as diplomatic and military channels are being utilised in a bid to defuse the almost two-month-old crisis.
Sources said a top-level flag meeting between major-general rank officers from India and China was held at the Nathu La border personnel meeting (BPM) point in Sikkim for the first time on Friday, following failure of a similar meet between brigade commanders on August 8 to break the deadlock.
But the meeting also proved “inconclusive” with China remaining adamant that India should immediately withdraw its troops from the Bhutanese territory of Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction. “The Indian side held China should first remove its road construction equipment from the site. Both sides will now report back to their headquarters,” said a source.
The meeting between top military officers indicates a line of communication at the ground level and efforts to exchange perceptions and possibly explore means to contain the confrontation.
The Army has steadily but stealthily moved troops to their “operational alert areas” on the borders with China in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, while also maintaining high operational readiness of its other formations and units all along the 4,057-km long Line of Actual Control stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal, as was reported by TOI earlier.
In the eastern theatre, this primarily includes the 33 Corps headquartered in Sukna, with the 17 (Gangtok), 27 (Kalimpong) and 20 (Binnaguri) Mountain Divisions under its control. Each division has 10,000-15,000 soldiers who have undergone acclimatization for the high-altitude forward areas.
The 3 Corps (Dimapur) and 4 Corps (Tezpur), with similar infantry and mountain divisions under them, have also been activated as a precautionary move. IAF airbases in the North-East are also maintaining a high operational alert, with “combat air patrols” on a regular basis, said sources.
India’s troop mobilisation comes in response to muscle-flexing by China, which has amassed troops, tanks and artillery in the Tibet Military District. “While the People’s Liberation Army is showing its teeth in a bid to make us cower down, we have cranked up our caution levels,” said a source.
But at the actual faceoff site located at an altitude of over 11,000-feet in Doklam, which China is keen to grab from Bhutan to add strategic depth to its narrow Chumbi Valley, there are still only 300-350 soldiers ranged against each other. The PLA has deployed another 1,500 soldiers just beyond the standoff site as part of its aggressive posture.
Defence minister ArunJaitley, incidentally, assured Lok Sabha on Friday that the Indian armed forces are geared for all contingencies, while responding to questions on Chinese troop movements in Tibet and the Army vice-chief’s statement that Pakistan’s indigenous defence production industry was better than India’s. “Our defence forces are ready to take on any eventuality,” he said, without making any specific reference to to Doklam.
In sharp contrast to China’s belligerence and threats of military reprisals, through both its officials and state-controlled media, India has chosen to remain largely tight-lipped about the entire faceoff from the beginning. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, in fact, had recently stressed the need for both sides to mutually withdraw their troops from Doklam simultaneously.
At least two flag meetings were also held earlier between the local commanders after Indian troops had proactivelyblocked the attempt by the PLA to construct a motorable road in Doklamon June 18, but they had proved futile with both the armies refusing to budge from their positions.
Uncertainty also hangs over the traditional annual invitation to the PLA at the five BPM points on the LAC – Daulat Beg Oldi and Chushul in Ladakh, Bum La and Kibithu in Arunachal, and Nathu La in Sikkim – to celebrate India’s Independence Day on August 15. Indian troops, however, had not crossed over to the Chinese side to mark the 90th anniversary of the PLA on August 1 due to the ongoing tensions.