Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General MM Naravane made it clear on Tuesday that the Army will continue confronting China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the Ladakh-Tibet border, rather than caving in on the dialogue table.
Addressing his annual press conference in the run-up to Army Day on January 15, Naravane stated: “Eight rounds of talks have taken place. Each of these rounds have preceded or been followed by diplomatic parleys. We will ensure that, through the medium of talks, we reach a solution that is acceptable and is not detrimental to our interests.”
He said the Army was awaiting the scheduling of the ninth round of senior officers’ dialogue. Naravane confirmed Business Standard’s report last week (January 7, Army’s pivot to the north), stating: “As events in eastern Ladakh show, there was indeed a requirement of carrying out rebalancing of the northern border. That is what we have put in place.”
The COAS was referring to the allocation of a new operational responsibility to 1 Corps, one of the army’s three mechanised strike corps, which is now tasked to prepare for offensive tasks across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
For now, however, Naravane said the situation in Ladakh remained frozen. “There has been no change in the status quo. The situation is the same as last year. Disengagement from friction areas and overall de-escalation in the forward areas are the way ahead,” he said.
The Army chief admitted that the Chinese military had taken the Indian Army by surprise last April-May when PLA troops, which had ostensibly mobilised for training to the border area adjoining Ladakh, suddenly wheeled west and occupied several pockets of land on the Indian side of the LAC.
“The PLA mobilization last year was an annual affair as they come [at this time] for exercises. We were fully aware of their deployment but they had a first mover’s advantage,” he said.
Naravane said that Indian troops enjoyed the same “first mover’s” advantage in August when they occupied dominating heights on the Ladakh Range, taking the Chinese by surprise south of the Pangong Tso lake.
The COAS downplayed reports of the withdrawal of some 10,000 PLA troops, which had deployed close to the LAC to back up Chinese units that were face to face with Indian soldiers. He said there was no dilution of PLA troop numbers or of their posture at any of the points of confrontation.
The Army chief dismissed a think tank report that more than half the Army was suffering from stress of various kinds. “Even I am stressed,” he quipped, pointing out that the report had been drawn from a very small base.
Asked whether the Ladakh deployment had placed an unbearable burden on the Army, Naravane pointed out that despite having a greater number of troops deployed at high altitude, cold-related casualties had remained broadly the same.
Last year, 0.13 per cent of troops deployed became casualties. This year the figure is 0.15 per cent.
Asked about the fiscal squeeze, the COAS said the Army was confident that it would receive additional funds under the revenue head. He said the Army had been allocated the budget that was needed last year to enhance capability.