“It has been decided that it would be incorrect for our troops to take part in an exercise where People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers will also be present, even if it is a multilateral drill,” said a senior defence officer on Saturday.
Complete coverage: LAC stand-off
“PLA soldiers, after all, crossed all red-lines by brutally attacking our soldiers in the premeditated attack in Galwan Valley on June 15 (20 Indian and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers were killed in the skirmish). It cannot be business as usual with the PLA,” he added.
The decision to withdraw from the ‘Kavkaz 2020’ counter-terrorism and “strategic command-post exercise”, to be held in Astrakhan region of south Russia from September 15 to 27, was taken after meetings attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh, external affairs minister S Jaishankar, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat and Army chief General M M Naravane on Friday.
TOI had earlier this week reported that eyebrows were being raised about India sending a tri-Service contingent of around 200 officers and troops for the exercise, in which China would have a major presence with soldiers and warships.
The official reasoning at that time was that Indian soldiers would exercise not just with Chinese and Pakistani troops but about 13,000 military personnel from at least 19 countries, including Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members as well Central Asian Republics. India and Pakistan in 2017 became full members of SCO, which was initially constituted by Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 2001.
But with growing disquiet about India’s participation in the exercise in the backdrop of the military confrontation in eastern Ladakh, which will enter its fifth month next week, the “government sanction letter” was withheld till the final decision was taken on Friday. “Russia has now been told of our withdrawal from the exercise. The raging Covid pandemic was also another concern,” said another officer.
Rajnath Singh, however, will attend the defence ministers’ meeting of the SCO in Russia next week, but he too is “highly unlikely” to hold a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe. Jaishankar, in turn, is slated to visit Moscow for the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting on September 10.
“There is no change in the ground situation in eastern Ladakh despite several rounds of diplomatic and military talks,” said the officer. China has so far remained intransigent about completing troop disengagement in Pangong Tso and Gogra as well as reducing its military build-up in the strategically-located Depsang-Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector.
The PLA, instead, continues to furiously build its military infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control since its troops intruded deeply into Indian territory at multiple points in eastern Ladakh in early-May.
The infrastructure ranges from building roads, lateral links, bridges and helipads in several sectors close to the LAC to laying optical fibre cables for its troops at the face-off sites in Pangong Tso and Gogra-Hot Springs, while also augmenting its airbases at Hotan and Kashgar in Xinjiang as well as Gargunsa, Lhasa-Gonggar and Shigatse in Tibet, as was earlier reported by TOI.
India, of course, has matched the PLA troop build-up and deployment of tanks, artillery, surface-to-air missile batteries and other heavy weaponry in all the three sectors of the 3,488-km LAC stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
“In addition to the over 30,000 troops in eastern Ladakh alone, we have also deployed Akash air defence and BrahMos precision-strike supersonic cruise missile systems, apart from other systems, at different places along the LAC,” said an officer.