This assessment comes even as the two forces held a border personnel meeting (BPM) in eastern Ladakh on Wednesday to calm down tempers, a day after Indian and Chinese soldiers pelted stones at each other near Pangong Lake.
The PLA is unlikely to try anything near the already restive Sikkim-Bhutan-Sikkim tri-junction because Indian troops are militarily much better-placed there and can easily threaten China’s narrow Chumbi Valley in the region, if required, the according to India’s assessment. “But the PLA could try something in eastern Ladakh, as was seen on Tuesday, or eastern Arunachal Pradesh or Lipulekh Pass and Barahoti in the central sector (Himachal-Uttarakhand),” one of the sources said.
The Indian defence establishment, however, is sticking to its belief that China will not risk a full-fledged war despite its major build-up of troops, artillery, air defence, armoured and other units in the southern part of the Tibet Military District that falls under the Western Theatre Command (WTC) of the PLA, after the Doklam confrontation erupted on the eastern front in mid-June.
The stepped-up “needling” in some areas along the 4,057-km LAC, which stretches from Ladakh to Arunachal, will be part of the PLA’s game-plan to ratchet up pressure on India to unilaterally withdraw from the face-off site in the Bhutanese territory of Doklam before winter sets in November-December. “India is ready for mutual troop withdrawal to defuse the stand-off. But China is not. So, our troops are prepared for the long haul,” said the source.
But the channels of communication are also being kept open, with some sweeteners thrown in for good measure. Though the PLA declined the invite for the August 15 celebrations at different BPM points on the LAC, Indian soldiers did hand over “sweets” to their Chinese counterparts at multiple locations, including Doklam, on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, at the longish BPM held at Spanggur Gap in Chushul sector of Ladakh in the afternoon, official sources said the two armies led by brigadier-rank officers discussed the “incident” at the Pangong Tso (Tso means lake) as well as the need “to strengthen the existing mechanism to maintain peace and tranquility” to avoid confrontations.
Usually, the troops pull back after some jostling and banner drills in the disputed “Finger-5 to Finger-8” (mountainous spurs) area on the northern bank of the 134-km long Pangong Tso, two-thirds of which is controlled by China as it extends from Tibet to India.
But on Wednesday, they hurled stones and used iron rods to injure each other for the first time in recent years, in a clear indicator of the tense situation prevailing along the entire LAC. Pangong Tso, which is located at an altitude of 13,900-feet across the Changla Pass, and other areas like Chumar, Trig Heights and Depsang in eastern Ladakh have emerged as major flashpoints over the recent years.
Indian troops till some years ago were at a huge disadvantage in the Pangong Lake, saddled as they were with old patrol boats. There were even a few instances of faster and sturdier Chinese boats ramming into Indian ones to disable them. But after the Indian troops inducted 17 new high-speed interceptor boats, each of which can carry 16 to 18 soldiers, they have been conducting strong reconnaissance and area domination patrols in the region over the last few years.