Talks must move into Modi-Xi orbit; Ground situation unchanged despite diplomatic momentum in Moscow

Though India and China have officially reached a five point consensus to attempt de-escalation, none is ready to take the first step in this direction.

For that to happen, the two sides must agree to create a ‘space’ between the two armies which are currently engaged eyeball to eyeball.

The PLA, which has heavily fortified its positions in the areas it has infiltrated, which have put it in striking distance of Indian deployments, is not likely to backtrack on months of preparation.

On the ground, the huge build-up of troops suggests the two countries are headed for a localised conflict. An indication of the tinderbox like situation that exists in eastern Ladakh came from Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, who told the Parliament's Standing Committee on Defence on Friday that India's armed forces are ready for any eventuality.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, too, wasted little time and went into a huddle with the NSA, Rawat and the service chiefs to take stock of the fluid situation emerging from the Moscow deliberations. While there was an acknowledgement of the diplomatic momentum, there was also a realisation that for the resolve to translate into action on the ground, the Moscow deliberations must move into the political orbit inhabited by Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi.

According to a wire report, China has set up a military base near Finger 5, on the north bank of the Pangong Lake, completely cutting off the Indian Army. Two months ago, Indian intelligence agencies flagged that cranes, concrete mixture trucks, and other building construction machineries were spotted near Finger 5. They had also flagged that China is making military barracks and underground tunnels.

The fine print is that the Indian Army is unable to move ahead of Finger 4, where the PLA troops dominate the key heights. True, India has taken pre-emptive steps by also occupying some heights overlooking the positions in control of the PLA but that is not acting as a deterrent. Rather, it has become another provocation for skirmishes.

According to one report, next month, the Chinese Communist Party will be holding a key plenum, where Chairman Xi wants to be seen as the leader next only to Mao. Keen to project that China is at its strongest under him, Xi can ill afford to be seen as making concessions to the Indians or climbing down.

All that emerged out of the Moscow meeting was a joint statement which said India and China will take steps to restore "peace and tranquillity". Both sides, the statement added, also agreed the situation was not in their best interests and that troops should quickly disengage and ease tensions. The Chinese Foreign Minister also said he backed enhanced dialogue between troops to resolve "specific issues".

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