India matches up to China’s military in standoff near Karakoram Pass

New Delhi:India has decided to not back down from a standoff with China — along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh — that centres around a strategic bridge being built near Daulat Beg Oldi, the last military post south of the Karakoram Pass, and has moved troops to counter Chinese forces stationed in the region, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named.

The idea is to not allow any alteration of Indian territory and to face the Chinese challenge with “strength and restraint”, the people cited above said on Tuesday against the backdrop of a high-level security meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The PM met National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat to assess the situation along the LAC amid atense stand-off between thousands of Indian and Chinese troops , especially in Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh. The CDS briefed PM Modi on the military inputs and suggestions to handle the situation in Ladakh.

“The bottom line is that we will not allow any change in the status quo on the LAC. That we will not permit,” said one of the people cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We have faced similar situations in the past, and we will face this situation with strength and restraint,” the person added.

In many ways, India’s position is a reiteration of the stance it adopted during the 73-day standoff at Doklam in 2017, when Indian troops dug in and stood their ground in the face of a rapid mobilisation by the Chinese side.

Indian security officials said that the focus of the Chinese action in the area was to “dominate the region” and “deter India” from completing the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road, which, once fully metalled, will give India a major advantage in terms of access and military mobilisation. A key part of this is the construction of a bridge at Daulat Beg Oldi that China wants to stop.

“India has decided to stand up to China — in terms of troops, capacity and resources,” one of the officials said on condition of anonymity, adding that this included the induction of specialised forces in the area. China is believed to have marshalled close to 5,000 soldiers on its side of Ladakh sector. The situation in the Sikkim sector, meanwhile, has eased off, the official added.

The people cited in the first instance also reiterated the external affairs ministry’s comment of May 22 that all activities by Indian troops were on the Indian side of the LAC in the Ladakh and Sikkim sectors. They repeated the ministry’s accusation that it was Chinese troops that were hindering normal patrolling by Indian forces on the Indian side of the LAC.

“The Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC. The Chinese have raised similar objections and made similar attempts [to hinder the activity of Indian troops] in the past too. Their motives and intentions in the current circumstances are not clear,” one of the persons said.

“But we are very firm and very clear – there have no violations by us,” the person added.

A second person, who too spoke on condition of anonymity, said India’s construction activities in forward areas will not stop because of the standoff.

The issue is being dealt with on the Indian side by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and CDS General Bipin Rawat, a senior official aware of the matter said.

Indian and Chinese soldiers are eyeball-to-eyeball at four locations along the LAC and several rounds of talks between local military commanders have failed to end the standoff that began with a violent confrontation between rival patrols three weeks ago near Pangong Lake.

The standoff is also expected to figure prominently on the agenda of the three-day army commanders’ conference that begins on Wednesday, officials said. Army chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane will chair the meeting.

“The apex level leadership of the Indian Army will brainstorm on current emerging security and administrative challenges and chart the future course for the army,” an army spokesperson said.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday reviewed the situation in the Ladakh sector of the LAC during a meeting with the chief of defence staff and the three service chiefs.

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) plans to complete all 61 strategic roads assigned to it along the border with China by December 2022, officials said. These roads are spread across Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and will allow swifter mobilisation of troops and stores to forward areas.

HT was the first to report on May 10 about tensions flaring between India and China in north Sikkim, where 150 soldiers were involved in a tense clash a day earlier. Four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers were injured at Naku La during the confrontation.

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