The dedication of Indian soldiers and veterans towards the country is an “exemplary example”, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Sunday soon after arriving in Ladakh on a three-day visit aimed at taking stock of India’s military preparedness in the region in the face of a prolonged border row with China.
In Leh, Singh interacted with senior elected representatives of Kargil, Leh and Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council with a focus on the overall development of the regions, officials said.
The defence minister, accompanied by Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, also met a number of armed forces veterans and discussed issues relating to their welfare as well as national security.
“The dedication of our soldiers and veterans towards the country is an exemplary example. I express my gratitude from the bottom of my heart to all,” Singh said on the occasion.
“Our aim is that all of you should be taken care of in the same way you had taken care of the country’s security. Despite this, if you have any problems somewhere, then a helpline has been arranged for to address them,” his office quoted him as saying.
Official sources said the defence minister will carry out a comprehensive review of India’s operational readiness in eastern Ladakh amid a stalemate in the next stage of disengagement with China at several friction points.
His visit to the sensitive region 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.
The defence minister is scheduled to visit various key formations and high-altitude bases in the region to assess the ground realities as well as to boost the morale of the troops guarding the Line of Actual Control in a hostile environment.
It is 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.
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.
Singh’s visit to the sensitive region 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.