‘Maintaining adequate reserves to confront any challenge in Ladakh’
LEH: Sending a clear message to China, the Indian Army chief Manoj Pande on Thursday said that the de-induction of troops from the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh will follow only after India achieves its first and foremost aim of going back to the status quo ante which existed in the middle of 2020.
The Army Chief noted that the situation along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh is “stable” but “sensitive”, and asserted that Indian troops are maintaining a “high state” of preparedness to deal with any challenge.
Addressing a press conference ahead of Army Day in New Delhi, Gen Pande also said that both India and China continue to hold talks at military and diplomatic levels to find a resolution to the remaining issues.
To find the resolution is an ongoing process, the Army Chief said.
“The talks between India and China are taking place at various levels—at the diplomatic and military level. There are positive result…. The talks are held frequently,” he said when asked about the result of the ongoing talks.
However, our operational preparedness continues to be at a high level, he said, noting that the Indian Army is maintaining adequate reserves to confront any security challenge in the region.
The Army chief suggested that if China wishes to end the 43-month border military standoff with India, it must restore status quo ante.
“Currently our attempt is to continue with talks to go back to the status quo ante which existed in the middle of 2020. Once that happens, we can look at the larger issue of de-induction of troops.
“First aim is to be achieved,” he said.
He was responding to a query on whether the Army still wants the Chinese to return to their positions as of April 2020 or if the situation on the ground is the new normal.
Indian and Chinese troops are locked in an over three-year confrontation in certain friction points in eastern Ladakh even as the two sides completed disengagement from several areas following extensive diplomatic and military talks.
Despite that, both India and China currently have nearly 50,000 troops, besides equipment, deployed on the border.
On the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, Gen Pande said the ceasefire understanding with Pakistan is holding along the Line of Control (LoC) though there have been infiltration attempts.
We are foiling infiltration attempts along the LoC, he said.
Gen Pande said there has been a drop in overall incidents of violence in Jammu and Kashmir but such incidents have increased in Rajouri-Poonch sector.
Terror infra continues to thrive across the border, he said in an apparent reference to Pakistan’s support to various terrorist groups.
This is an area where our adversary is active in abetting terrorism, he said referring to Rajouri-Poonch sector.
Asked about talks between Bhutan and China to resolve their boundary dispute, Gen Pande suggested the developments having bearing on India’s security are being monitored.
He said India has a unique bilateral relationship with Bhutan based on “utmost trust, goodwill and mutual understanding”.
“This relationship also transcends into the military domain as we have IMTRAT (Indian Military Training Team) right from the early 1960s. They are at the centre of our relationship,” he said.
Gen Pande was responding to a question on China and Bhutan making progress in their boundary talks and whether any possible resolution would have security implications for India.
“Bhutan and we share mutual security concerns which both of us are aware of. The ongoing talks on the boundary which you alluded to, we are closely monitoring,” he said.
“We are interacting with our friends in Bhutan on a transparent and regular basis,” the Army Chief said.
He said India’s military relationship with Bhutan including training programmes is proceeding well.
Over two months ago, Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.
A Chinese readout on the talks said Bhutan firmly abides by the one-China principle and stands ready to work with China for an early settlement of the boundary issue and advance the political process of establishing diplomatic relations.
New Delhi has been keeping a close eye on the negotiations between Bhutan and China on their boundary row as it could have implications for New Delhi’s security interests, especially in the Doklam tri-junction.
In August last year, China and Bhutan agreed to expedite and take simultaneous steps to implement a “three-step roadmap to resolve their festering boundary dispute.
In October 2021, Bhutan and China signed an agreement on the “three-step roadmap” to expedite negotiations to resolve their boundary dispute.
The signing of the pact came four years after the Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a 73-day stand-off at the Doklam tri-junction after China tried to extend a road in the area that Bhutan claimed belonged to it.
The India-China standoff in the Doklam plateau in 2017 even triggered fears of larger conflict between the two neighbours. Bhutan had said the area belonged to it and India supported the Bhutanese claim.
About 416 Myanmarese soldiers crossed over to India in view of the situation arising out of the fighting between Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups and the government forces, and Indian military is “closely watching” the unfolding developments, Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande said.
Gen Pande described the situation near the Indo-Myanmar border as “concerning” and that some of the insurgent groups are feeling the pressure in the frontier region of that country and are attempting to enter Manipur.
“The situation across the Indo-Myanmar border is something that we are closely watching,” he said.
Officials said all 416 Myanmarese military personnel have already been repatriated.
The anti-junta groups have reportedly taken control of several key towns, military bases near Myanmar’s border with India and the volatile situation has forced scores of Myanmarese citizens to take refuge in Mizoram.
“That (situation along the Indo-Myanmar border) has been of concern to us. You are aware of the activities of the Myanmar Army and the ethnic armed organisations and PDF (People’s Defence Forces) in the past couple of months,” Gen Pande said.
The Army chief said the situation has about 416 Myanmarese Army personnel crossing over to India till date besides some civilians from that country taking shelter in Mizoram and Manipur.
“The situation across the Indo-Myanmar border is of concern as we also have some of the insurgent groups who are feeling the pressure and are now attempting to come to our side of the border in the state of Manipur,” Gen Pande said.
“That combined with the situation in Manipur is something we are keeping a close watch on,” he said.
The Chief of Army Staff said India is also considering strengthening fencing along the border with Myanmar.
“We have strengthened our posture, deployment on the Indo-Myanmar border, we have close to 20 Assam Rifles battalions which are deployed there,” he said.
Myanmar has been witnessing wide-spread protests demanding restoration of democracy since the military seized power in a coup in February 2021.
The Myanmarese military has been using airstrikes targeting its opponents and those carrying out armed struggle against the ruling regime.
Myanmar is one of India’s strategic neighbours and it shares a 1,640 kilometre-long border with a number of northeastern states including militancy-hit Nagaland and Manipur. The hostilities between Myanmar’s anti-junta groups and government forces in several key towns and regions near the border with India fuelled concerns in the Indian military establishment about the possible spillover effect.
Last month, India called for cessation of fighting between Myanmar’s military and the anti-junta groups near Indo-Myanmar border.
“On a larger perspective, we have always been encouraging peace there or a resolution or a return to democracy,” a spokesperson at the Ministry of External Affairs had said.
He also said that integration of Agniveers into the Army is moving forward well. The Army Chief also said that 2024 will be year of technology adoption for the Indian Army as part of overall modernisation of the force.