File photo for representation
NEW DELHI: India and China will hold their next round of top-level military talks on the continuing troop confrontation in eastern Ladakh on Saturday, amidst indications the two sides will move towards completing the stalled disengagement at Gogra and Hot Springs.
But there is unlikely to be any breakthrough in the other 'friction points' at Depsang and Demchok, which may have to be taken up later. Progress on disengagement has eluded the two sides after the pull back by Indian and Chinese troops on both sides of Pangong Tso in February this year.
The 12th round of corps commanders-level talks, led by 14 Corps commander Lt-General PGK Menon and the South Xinjiang military district chief, will kick off on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point at 10.30am on Saturday.
It has taken almost four months for India and China to agree to these talks after the marathon 13-hour 11th round ended in a deadlock on April 9. The 15-month long military stalemate has persisted with the two sides having deployed over 50,000 troops each, backed by tanks, howitzers and surface-to-air missiles, along the frontier in eastern Ladakh.
Sources say there are now "positive indications" in a series of lower-level military talks through hotlines and other means that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is "agreeable" to completing the stalled troop disengagement at patrolling points (PPs) 15, 17 and 17A in the Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La area.
"But nothing can be said before the meeting. Gogra and Hot Springs are easier to resolve, with only a small number of rival soldiers at the friction points inside Indian territory. Both sides, of course, have thousands of troops deployed in the immediate depth areas," said a source.
The strategically-located Depsang Plains or "Bulge" area, the table-top plateau at 16,000-feet altitude towards Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) and Karakoram Pass in the north, is "unlikely" to register any progress. "It will probably have to be tackled later," said a source.
The PLA has been consistently blocking Indian troops patrols in the 'Bottleneck' area of Depsang, which is 18-km inside what India perceives to be its territory, from going to their traditional PPs-10, 11, 11A, 12, and 13 in the region since April last year, as was reported by TOI earlier.
"India will once again raise the restoration of unhindered patrolling rights in Depsang. The two countries do have vastly overlapping claims in Depsang but China should restore the status quo as it existed there in early-2020," said the source.
Both sides have massively reinforced their military positions in the region, with additional infantry brigades as well as armoured and artillery regiments since last year. China considers the DBO-Depsang region critical because of its proximity to its Western Highway G-219, which connects Tibet to Xinjiang.
Similarly, the 'friction' at the Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) track junction in the Demchok sector, which arose after the Chinese pitched some tents while also denying grazing rights to Indian villagers there, will be tougher to resolve.
"Demchok has for long been among the mutually agreed disputed areas in eastern Ladakh, which has seen frequent transgressions. Overall, there are 23 such 'disputed' or 'sensitive areas with differing perceptions' identified along the 3,488-km LAC, stretching from eastern Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh," said an official.