India-China standoff: Why area along Pangong lake became a flashpoint

In July last year after the Galwan clash, India has firmly told the Chinese side to vacate Finger 5 area in Pangong lake.

North and south bank of the Pangong Lake

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh while making a statement on ‘Present Situation in Eastern Ladakh’ in Parliament said today that India, China have agreed to disengage from Pangong lake.

"We have now been able to reach an agreement on disengagement in the North and South Bank of the Pangong Lake," adding,"China will keep its troops to the east of the Finger 8 at the north bank of Pangong Lake. India will keep its troops at its  permanent base near Finger 3."


Vacate Finger 5 area in Pangong lake: India tells China

In July last year after the Galwan clash, India has firmly told the Chinese side to vacate Finger 5 area in Pangong lake. India has occupied several dominating heights close to China's existing positions at finger 4, north bank of Pangong Lake.  

As part of disengagement, India had repeatedly asked Chinese forces to go on its side of LAC and vacate the area. China had reportedly deployed tanks in front of Indian posts opposite Rezang La, Rechin La and Mukhosri locations.

The heights were captured by the Indian army on August 29 and 30 last year. The tanks are reportedly lightweight and have been made using modern technology. The Indian Army had also deployed tanks at the hills of Rezang La, Rechin La and Mukhosri.


India-China standoff

Tensions between India and China has been at fever pitch ever since the forces of the two countries clashed at Galwan Valley in June-15-16 last year leading to the death of 20 Indian soldiers, although the Chinese Army had suffered casualties as well, however, the Chinese foreign ministry has refused to divulge its casualty list.

After the Galwan clash, Chinese and Indian military commanders had held several rounds of talks to deescalate tensions and ensure troops from both countries pull back, however, China has continued its troop presence along the LAC.


China's heavy deployment in eastern Ladakh

Indian Air Force chief RKS Bhadauria had said earlier that China has deployed heavily along the border in eastern Ladakh to support the army. "They have a large presence of radars, surface-to-air missiles and surface-to-surface missiles," Bhadauria had said.

"They had brought their J-20 fighter aircraft to areas close to eastern Ladakh," the IAF chief had said, adding,"The moment Indian Rafales were brought in, their J-20 was there." 

After a series of commander-level talks after the Galwan Valley clash military commanders from India and China had agreed to "stop sending more troops" to the Line of Actual Control(LAC) along the Himalayan border.


India fortifies after Galwan clash

According to reports, India had moved its premier T-90 battle tanks to eastern Ladakh in late June in the aftermath of the Galwan clash between Indian soldiers and Chinese troops even as India and Chinese commanders began their long drawn talks to disengage along the LAC.

The Russian-built T-90 Bhishma tanks were acquired by India in 2001. The month of July last year marked a pivotal time in which the Indian army was able to move the tanks to the Line of Actual Control putting its best military firepower at the head of its defensive and offensive capabilities to take on the PLA.


Extra troops at LAC

Despite the talks, another incident flared up in early September when shots were fired for the first time in 45 years on the border. After the deadly June clash -- which also resulted in an unknown number of Chinese casualties -- the world's two most-populous nations sent tens of thousands of extra troops to LAC.

India and China fought a war over the frontier in 1962. Amid rising tensions, the Indian Air Force tested the new French Rafale jets taking it on "familiarisation" flights above the LAC.


Tensions along LAC

In October last year, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened a Himalayan tunnel that will drastically reduce the time needed to rush troops to the country's remote Chinese border as tensions grew between the Asian neighbours.

The tunnel traverses India's northern Himachal Pradesh state and lies on one of two main routes for troops headed to border areas in Ladakh. The $400-million, nine-kilometre (six miles) tunnel will cut the journey by about 50 kilometres (30 miles) and four hours, enabling travellers to bypass a tricky route across a landslide-prone Himalayan pass.

The tunnel, at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres (10,000 feet), has been hailed as a feat of engineering.


Flashpoint Ladakh

Eastern Ladakh, where the flare-up occurred, is typically manned by 20,000-30,000 soldiers. But the deployment has more than doubled with the tensions, a military official said, declining to provide exact numbers.

Temperatures in Ladakh can fall well below freezing, and troops are often deployed at altitudes of over 15,000 feet, where oxygen is scarce, officials said.

Since snow blocks mountain passes into Ladakh at least four months every winter, Indian military planners have already moved more than 150,000 tonnes of materials into the region.


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