Lingering Stand-off

AS India-China stand-off in Ladakh enters its third year, the situation looks unlikely to change for the better. China is reportedly building a second bridge over territory held by it in Pangong Tso, which is capable of carrying armoured columns. The first bridge whose construction was started towards the end of the last year is now complete. If anything, it shows that China is in no mood to withdraw from the territory captured by it and may, in fact, be eyeing more misadventure in Ladakh. But New Delhi is already prepared for any eventuality. Over the last two years, India has massed troops along the border to deter any further ingress by the People’s Liberation Army.

Going forward, it is difficult to predict how the Ladakh stand-off would go. In all likelihood, the situation will remain unchanged. For the Army, the northern border, however, remains a major challenge. The two countries have failed to arrive at a breakthrough in successive rounds of Corps Commander-level talks. The two sides have been looking at a possible agreement for disengagement from Hot Springs as part of the comprehensive disengagement and de-escalation efforts in eastern Ladakh. Last year, the two countries had disengaged from the friction point at Pangong Tso lake but ever since they have struggled to replicate the agreement at the other friction points: Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army has enhanced its military profile on the border by deploying thousands of its soldiers and equipment.

Thankfully, the Line of Control with Pakistan has calmed down since February last year after the two countries reinstated 2003 ceasefire. The agreement has since held. It doesn’t look like things will change much this year. This, however, has not paved the way for a restoration of the dialogue between the neighbors. Pakistan, going by the statements of its leadership, has given up on any engagement with New Delhi as the latter wouldn’t reverse the withdrawal of Article 370. China, on the other hand,  wants to cement the new status quo along the LAC.

This has created a spectre of  LOC-ization of the LAC, although the LoC has been now peaceful. China’s ingress in Ladakh has brought the two countries eyeball to eyeball on border.  But there are huge geo-political stakes for both the countries that can’t be ignored. A lingering state of confrontation between the two will not be in the interest of either. More so for India which would not want a 3800 km border with China become an extension of LOC with Pakistan. India has to also do a tough balancing act between its thickening relationship with the US and that with China. Here is hoping that China eventually sees the reason and rationale of having India as a partner in the economic advancement of the region than an enemy.

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