New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh's visit to Ladakh has been put off for the moment. Singh was to leave for Leh early on Friday morning to review operational preparedness, visit forward locations and drop in at the Leh Hospital to meet soldiers injured in the violent clashes with China in Eastern Ladakh's Galwan Valley last month.
No one is entirely clear why the trip was "rescheduled". Sources indicate India wants to wait and watch if the Chinese honour the commitment made during the Corps Commander-level talks over three rounds -- on June 6, June 22 and June 30.
"When the Defence Minister comes to meet soldiers deployed at the front, it is a huge morale booster. It's also a signal to the enemy that we are ready in case there is an escalation. We are not lowering our guard," a source said.
After the third round of meetings in Chushul on June 30, the Indian Army released a cautious statement. "Both sides have emphasised the need for an expeditious, phased and step wise de-escalation as a priority. The discussions reflected the commitment of both sides to reduce tensions along the LAC. The process of dis-engagement is complex and in such a context, speculative and unsubstantiated reports need to be avoided," it said.
The Chinese were more optimistic about the outcomes of the meeting on June 30. Global Times, the official mouth piece of the Communist regime, said, "China and India have agreed to disengage front-line border troops in batches and take effective measures to ease the situation in border areas."
Sources in South Block confirm that the Chinese have agreed to "step back" a bit from Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Pangong Tso. There is a consensus to create some distance between Indian and Chinese troops, who are eyeball to eyeball at these flash points, and create a buffer zone to avoid any further escalation. Then why is the Army being careful with its words?
Sources in South Block said, "Last time we had issued a rather optimistic statement based on what was agreed upon by Lt Gen Harinder Singh and Maj Gen Lui Lin. And then for the next 10 days there was no movement from the Chinese side to honour their commitment. It later emerged that as the two commanders were talking, the Chinese had come into PP14 in Galwan Valley, where the bloody clash took place, and built a wall and put up tents. Now they have put up a signage in Mandarin that says 'China at Finger 4 in Pangong Tso'. They say something at meetings but go back and do nothing. We have decided we will not use the word 'dis-engage' till it actually happens on the ground."
The disengagement process will be long, tedious and in phases. After every step taken back, there will be a verification after which another step will be taken.
The Indian Army has already started stocking up for the winter for the 40,000 extra soldiers deployed in Eastern Ladakh in response to the massive Chinese build-up. Each day, more convoys with men and material are making their way up the mountains.
Most questions to Army officials these days are met with two phrases: "Let's wait and watch" and "long haul".
It has been 59 days. Singh's visit to Ladakh, as and when it happens, would be the first time a political leader would land there. The significance will not be lost on any one. Is his visit being rescheduled for the weekend or for Monday? Let's wait and watch.