India’s top strategy group on China led by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met on Wednesday to review the withdrawal of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers from the standoff points in eastern Ladakh and decide the government’s next steps.
This was their first meeting after Chinese troops started withdrawing troops from three of the standoff points after Ajit Doval’s two-hour-long conversation with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Sunday evening, people familiar with the development told Hindustan Times.
Doval will have a second conversation with Qang Yi in about three weeks when the two sides will discuss the border situation again before the next step of de-escalation is ordered.
Apart from the country’s top civil servant Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, officials of the ministries of defence, external affairs and home, Wednesday’s meeting of the China Study Group was also attended by some special invitees including some senior ministers.
Government and military officials said the Chinese troops are falling back from Patrolling Point 14 (Galwan Valley), Patrolling Point 15 (Hot Springs) and Patrolling Point 17 (Gogra) in Ladakh’s Galwan region. The Galwan Valley, or Patrolling Point 14, was the site of the violent scrap of June 15 that led to casualties on both sides. It is here that the Chinese PLA has withdrawn around 1.5km with its tents dismantled and armoured personnel carriers pulled back.
The thinning out of Chinese soldiers is the slowest around the fourth standoff point near Pangong Tso, the saltwater glacial lake spread across 700 sq km. It is here that, according to the Indian assessment, the Chinese forces had an edge over Indian troops since they have built a road up to Finger 4 – the finger area refers to a set of eight cliffs jutting out of the Sirijap range that overlooks the lake – and had set up bunkers, pillboxes as well as observation posts.
Field reports have indicated that the Chinese PLA Air Force activity has declined considerably in the Ladakh sector but the PLA ground troops are fully deployed, and on high alert in the depth areas of both Tibet and Xinjiang region. There is also a build-up across the Arunachal Pradesh LAC.
At Wednesday’s meeting, government sources told Hindustan Times, the study group also made an assessment of the deployment of PLA troops close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC). A point made at the meeting more than once was that the PLA needs to withdraw from all areas along the 1,597 km LAC in Ladakh as well as along the 1,126 km LAC in Arunachal Pradesh.
For one, government and military officials pointed that the Chinese troops continue to remain in an aggressive posture in the Depsang Plains at 17,000 feet or the Raki nullah area. The Raki Nullah near Burtse is key to Indian patrolling in the Depsang plains and has seen incursions by the Chinese side on more than one occasion. One such incursion that was quickly detected by the border guards in April 2013 also led to a face-off between two sides. This Depsang incursion at Raki Nullah was designed to prevent the Indian patrols from reaching Points 10, 11, 11A and 13. Patrolling Point 12 lies outside the patrol line.
A top military commander said the army had also scaled up its presence in the area to match the adversary in troop numbers and support elements as a precautionary measure.
Government officials said it was on account of a gradual, an