Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, accompanied by the Army chief, will begin a three-day visit to Ladakh from Sunday to carry out a comprehensive review of India’s operational readiness amid a stalemate with China on the next stage of disengagement at several friction points in eastern Ladakh, official sources said.
Singh’s visit with Army Chief Gen MM Naravane comes two days after India and China held a fresh round of diplomatic talks to resolve the prolonged military standoff that began in early May last year.
Sources said the defence minister will visit various key formations and high-altitude bases in eastern Ladakh to assess the ground situation as well as to boost the morale of the troops guarding the Line of Actual Control in a hostile environment.
The defence minister will be given a detailed briefing about the overall situation in eastern Ladakh at the Leh-based headquarters of the 14 Corps of the Army which is tasked to guard the LAC in the Ladakh sector, sources said.
It will be Singh’s first visit to eastern Ladakh after the Indian and Chinese militaries pulled back troops, tanks, infantry and other equipment from the Pangong lake areas in February as part of an agreement.
The disengagement process in the remaining friction points including Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang is deadlocked as China is reluctant to withdraw its troops from these areas.
Sources said the defence minister will also visit certain forward areas to take stock of the implementation of a number of key infrastructure projects.
At a virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs on Friday, India and China agreed to hold the next round of military talks at an early date to achieve the objective of complete disengagement in remaining friction points.
After the WMCC meet, the external affairs ministry said,”the two sides agreed to hold the next round of the senior commanders meeting at an early date to achieve the objective of complete disengagement from all the friction points along the LAC in the western sector in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols.”
The government refers to the eastern Ladakh region as the western sector.
Singh’s visit to the sensitive region also comes amid fresh sparring between India and China over the standoff.
India on Thursday blamed China for the standoff saying its amassing of a large number of troops close to the border and attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo along the LAC last year were responsible for seriously disturbing peace and tranquillity in the region.
India’s response came after China said its military deployment in the region is a normal defence arrangement aimed at “preventing and responding” to “encroachment and threat” on Chinese territory by India.
India and China were locked in a military standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh since early May last year. However, the two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong lake in February following a series of military and diplomatic talks.
The two sides are now engaged in talks to extend the disengagement process to the remaining friction points. India has been particularly pressing for disengagement of troops in Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang.
According to military officials, each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the Line of Actual Control in the sensitive sector.
There was no visible forward movement in disengagement of troops in the remaining friction points as the Chinese side did not show flexibility in their approach on it at the 11th round of military talks.
Last month, Gen Naravane said that there can be no de-escalation without complete disengagement at all friction points in eastern Ladakh and that the Indian Army is prepared for all contingencies in the region.
The army chief also said that India is dealing with China in a “firm” and “non-escalatory” manner to ensure the sanctity of its claims in eastern Ladakh, and that it was even open to initiating confidence-building measures.