India and China continue to militarily reinforce their positions with the almost two-month long troop standoff in Doklam showing little signs of de-escalation, even as the Army on Thursday denied it had ordered evacuation of some villages near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction.
Government sources said there has been “some build-up” in terms of additional troops and tanks as well as artillery and air defence units in the Tibet Military District by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but there is “no major or unusual mobilization” towards the Line of Actual Control as yet to send alarm bells clanging in the Indian security establishment.
“Any major PLA mobilization towards our border will be detected since it will take around a week. Our well-acclimatized troops, backed by artillery, rockets and other heavy-calibre weapons, are currently deployed in the ‘no war, no peace’ mode. They are ready to respond quickly if required,” said a source.
Diplomatic channels, however, are also being used in a bid to diffuse the tense faceoff in the Bhutanese territory of Doklam, which erupted after Indian soldiers pro-actively blocked an attempt by the PLA to build a motorable road towards the tri-junction in mid-June. “There is likely to be a border personnel meeting at Nathu La on Friday,” said another source.
The Army, on its part, rejected reports that some villages and hamlets in areas like Kuppup, Nathang and Zuluk near the border in Sikkim were in the process of being evacuated due to the heightened tensions. “No village has been evacuated. Neither does the Army propose to get any evacuated. Unnecessary panic should not be spread,” said a source.
But the Army continues to maintain high operational readiness along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, having initiated its annual “operational alert” much before the usual September-October timeframe. “Our troops are better placed and entrenched in the Sikkim tri-junction area. It makes more military sense for the PLA to create mischief in some other sector if it actually comes to that,” said another source.
The Army, however, is taking no chances on the Sikkim axis. The force has been steadily but discreetly moving the bulk of its soldiers under the 17 (Gangtok) and 27 (Kalimpong) Mountain Divisions (each has over 10,000 troops) of the Sukna-based 33 Corps to their “operational alert areas” to cater for any contingency.
“With China being belligerent and showing its teeth to make India buckle down, the Indian Army has taken counter-measures as a precaution,” said the source. As was first reported by TOI, around 2,500 soldiers were moved forward to Zuluk and Nathang Valley in Sikkim after “proper acclimatization” by early-July to reinforce the over 6,000 soldiers already deployed in eastern and north-eastern parts of the state.
At the actual faceoff site in Doklam, which China is keen to usurp to add strategic depth to its narrow Chumbi Valley, there are only 300-350 soldiers ranged against each other. Concertina wire coils around 150 metres long separate them at the site located over an altitude of 11,000-feet, with both having also built makeshift defences after earlier pitching tents and establishing logistical supply lines. The PLA has deployed another 1,500 soldiers just beyond the standoff site to flex its muscles, as earlier reported by TOI.