New Delhi: As the second Covid wave ravages the country, the soldiers are sitting tight in Ladakh while monitoring Chinese activity through physical means besides drones and satellite imagery even as various infrastructure development activities are on to cater to enhanced troop levels and future exigencies, ThePrint has learnt.
The Army’s Northern Command has put in place a series of protocols to ensure the virus doesn’t hit operational capabilities.
This comes even as the Chinese troops maintain a considerable amount of strength in depth areas after the disengagement from the Pangong Tso including armoured columns.
The second wave of Covid has meant that there is unlikely to be any Corps Commander level talks between India and China over the next couple of months, said sources in the defence and security establishment. The 11th round of talks was held on 9 April.
Junior officers and local formations, however, remain in communication with their Chinese counterparts through the hotline.
Currently, China is seeking de-escalation first rather than disengagement from the four friction points including Depsang, Gogra and Hot Springs. Moreover, ThePrint has learnt that China also wants easing of the economic offensive by India since the deadly Galwan clash last year, which affected the operations of certain Chinese businesses in India.
Sources said this was indicated during the diplomatic talks that have been held and not at the military level.
Infrastructure development a key focus
Explaining how the troops are coping in wake of the second Covid wave, a source said, “We have to prevent ourselves from the second wave. While there is almost 100 per cent vaccination coverage among the soldiers in Ladakh, we are sitting tight because we can’t afford any chances on this front.”
The steps taken on the front to hold on include cancellation of all non-emergency leaves, only necessary troop rotation, limited movement and non-physical interaction as much as possible.
However, the sources said the infrastructure development activities in the region are currently on despite the Covid situation. “Summer is the period when we get to carry out our infrastructure activities. This also includes habitat and other logistics work for the enhanced troop level in the region. There are also channels of transportation that need to be fixed and also made,” a source said.
On 12 April, ThePrint had reported the new summer plan for China, mentioning that there is a significant increase in both its defensive and combat capability than previous summers even as India pulled back many formations sent in during the peak of the crisis last year.
Another source explained that while Chinese troops have disengaged from the Pangong Tso side as well as the Galwan Valley, they are much closer to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) than they were before April 2020.
This means that the Chinese will take a shorter time than before to return. India, accordingly needs to have infrastructure in place to ensure that the Indians too can do the same.
For example, the Chinese moved back their soldiers from the southern banks of Pangong Tso to a place called Rutog, which is about 70 kilometres from the LAC. The Chinese had built additional accommodation centres and even installed a surface-to-air missile system in this area.
China Study Group has not yet met due to Covid crisis
Asked about possible movement in the Corps Commander level talks since the last round earlier this month, the sources said the Covid outbreak meant that things have gotten delayed.
It is learnt that the China Study Group — the central and sole advisor to the government on policies related to China — has not formally met because the attention currently is on steps to be taken to counter the second wave of Covid.
“The next round of talks could take time. It could be held after a month or two. However, the local commanders are maintaining contact through the hotline on a regular basis,” a source cited above said.
In Ladakh the troops are maintaining constant surveillance through unmanned aerial vehicles and other ways, the sources said.
Asked about the recent statement by the Chinese military that India should cherish the “current positive trend” of de-escalation and cooling down of tensions in the border area, other sources said this needs to be seen in a different light.
“Cherish does not mean that there will be no movement further. It means that both sides have achieved something and hopefully more positive news will come,” said a third source.