India and China are expected to hold a fresh round of diplomatic talks on Thursday to carry forward the disengagement process to resolve the over three-month-long border stand-off in eastern Ladakh, people familiar with the developments said.
The virtual talks are scheduled to be held under the framework of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on border affairs, and both sides are expected to deliberate on ways to ensure early implementation of the disengagement process, they said.
The Indian delegation at Thursday’s talks is likely to be led by Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia) in the external affairs ministry, they said.
In the last round of WMCC talks on July 24, the Chinese side was headed by Hong Liang, director general of the department of boundary and ocean affairs under the Chinese foreign ministry.
After the talks, the ministry of external affairs had said both sides agreed that an early and complete disengagement of the troops along the Line of Actual Control in accordance with bilateral agreement and protocols was essential for overall development of bilateral relations.
Following the diplomatic dialogue, armies of the two countries held the fifth round of Corps Commander-level talks on August 2 with an aim to expedite the disengagement process.
However, the disengagement of troops from the friction points in eastern Ladakh has not moved forward as expected by India, according to military sources.
At the military talks, the Indian side insisted on complete disengagement of Chinese troops at the earliest, and immediate restoration of status quo ante in all areas of eastern Ladakh prior to May 5 when the standoff began following a clash between the two armies in Pangong Tso, they said.
The Chinese military has pulled back from Galwan Valley and certain other friction points but the withdrawal of their troops has not moved forward in Pangong Tso, Depsang and a couple of other areas since mid-July, the sources said.
The formal process of disengagement of troops began on July 6, a day after a nearly two-hour telephonic conversation between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on ways to bring down tensions in the area.
Even as both sides have been engaged in diplomatic and military talks, the Indian Army is making elaborate preparation to maintain its current strength of troops in all key areas in eastern Ladakh in the harsh winter months.
Chief of Army Staff Gen MM Naravane has already conveyed to all the senior commanders of the Army, overseeing operation of the frontline formations along the LAC, to keep up a significantly high state of alertness and maintain the aggressive posturing to deal with any Chinese “misadventure”, the sources said.
The army is also in the process of procuring a number of weapons, ammunition and winter gears for the frontline troops, they added.
The temperature in some of the high-altitude areas along the LAC drops to minus 25 degree celsius in the winter months.
The tension between the two sides escalated manifold after the violent clashes in Galwan Valley on June 15 in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed.
The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.
Following the Galwan Valley incident, the government gave the armed forces “full freedom” to give a “befitting” response to any Chinese misadventure along the LAC.
The army sent thousands of additional troops to forward locations along the border following the deadly clashes.
The IAF has also moved air defence systems as well as a sizable number of its frontline combat jets and attack helicopters to several key air bases.