Situation on the LAC is not as calm as what news channels may have reported. A report published by a leading newspaper, The Indian Express, says that not all was well between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA while External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi reached an agreement in Moscow on September 10.
It is known that amid heightened tensions, incidents of firing or “warning shots” were reportedly fired by Chinese troops followed by Indian retaliation on the north bank of Pangong Tso in the Chushul sub-sector.
A top government officer, aware of the details, said that, “100 to 200 shots” were fired in the air by both sides on the ridgeline where Finger 3 and Finger 4 merge before moving north as one ridge. Both countries issued statements on the incident on September 7 that took place on a feature called Mukpari Heights.
It was the first time in 45 years that shots were fired along the LAC. Till date, neither side has officially said anything about the firing that took place after the Chushul incident, and was bigger in scale.
Government officer told the newspaper that tensions remain on the ground because the next round of talks between Corps Commanders of the two sides is awaited.
“In the first week of September, there was a lot of movement” on both the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, the officer said, mentioning “multiple” incidents of firing in the region in the first week of September.
There was, he said, “one small incident” about which, he said, “our chaps didn’t even feel was serious enough to report”. This, he said, was “the Mukpari incident, in which a couple of rounds were fired, which we came to know one day later”.
“Then on the north bank, 100-200 rounds were fired by both sides,” the officer said. “This was near the ridge of Finger 3 and Finger 4, and from where it starts climbing up.”
In the week after the night of August 29-30, when Indian troops preempted Chinese actions and out-manoeuvred them to occupy certain heights along the LAC, putting India in a position of advantage, there were continuous attempts by the Chinese to “dislodge” Indian troops. At several positions in the Chushul sub-sector, on Pangong Tso’s south bank, the Indian and Chinese troops are less than 300 metres apart.
It was during these times that Indian and Chinese troops fired around 100 rounds each, in the air. In this area too, troops from two sides are positioned less than 500 metres from each other.
“Now things have cooled down because of the talks between our Defence Minister and their Defence Minister and the Foreign Ministers. The focus has shifted towards dialogue,” he added.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe in Moscow on September 4. Jaishankar met Wang on September 10. While the meeting of Defence Ministers did not manage to break the stalemate, the Foreign Ministers issued a joint statement to “continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions” and work towards new confidence-building measures” between the two sides given the existing trust deficit.
“The Chinese were trying to do similar activity on the south bank” of the lake when Indian forces pre-empted their move. Now, the heights where Indian troops are positioned “are between the two lines” of the differing perceptions of LAC of the two countries.
On current positions on the Fingers on the north bank, the officer said Indian soldiers were above the Chinese deployment on Finger 4.
Chines troops, he said, are “trying to go further up” but “we are in a slightly better position, there is a limit to how much you can keep jockeying” on that ridgeline, and that the Chinese would not be able to sustain themselves at a point higher on the ridge than where the Indian soldiers are.
“Logistically,” the officer said, the Chinese will “not be able to stay” where they want to go, “especially in another month” when the peaks start getting snow. The Indian side, he said, had a shorter connection to their base at Finger 3 than the Chinese to their base between Finger 6 and Finger 7.