SRINAGAR: Senior Indian and Chinese military commanders were holding fresh talks on Monday aimed at ending a months long standoff along their disputed border in the remote Ladakh region.

The talks were being held on the Indian side of the frontier in the Chushul area. No details were immediately available.

The negotiations come as tens of thousands of rival soldiers on both sides backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets brace for a harsh winter in the cold-desert region where temperatures can fall to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit).

India and China have held several rounds of talks by military, diplomatic and political officials, including negotiations between their foreign ministers and defence ministers in Moscow last month. Although the standoff has persisted, the talks seem to have calmed the situation along the border as no new military aggression has been reported for a month.

Indian soldiers also are engaged in nearly daily fighting along the de facto frontier with Pakistan in disputed Kashmir, the Hima­la­yan region dived between the two arch rivals and claimed by both in its entirety.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Monday that China and Pakistan were creating conditions that suggest a border dispute is being created under a mission.

Singh made the remarks while virtually inaugurating 44 bridges in areas bordering with China and Pakistan that officials say will facilitate easier movement of the Indian troops.

You are well aware of the situation created along our northern and eastern bord­ers,” Singh said. First Pakis­­tan, and now also by China, as if a border dispute is being created under a mission.

The standoff began in May and escalated in June to the deadliest violence between the sides in decades a clash between soldiers using clubs, stones and their fists. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed and dozens of others injured. China is believed to have also suffered casualties but has not given any details.

After that clash, the two countries partially disenga­ged from the site in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and at least two other places, but the crisis has continued in at least three other areas, including glacial Pangong Lake.

Last month, the worlds two most populous nations accused each other of sending soldiers into each others territory in the Pangong area and firing warning shots for the first time in 45 years, raising the specter of a full-scale military conflict.

The fiercely contested de facto border, known as Line of Actual Control, separates Chinese-held and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. It is broken in parts where the Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan border China.

According to India, the control line is 3,488 kilometres long, while China says it is considerably shorter. The line divides the areas of physical control rather than territorial claims.

Relations between the two countries have often been strained, partly due to their undemarcated border. They fought a border war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh and ended in an uneasy truce. Since then, troops have gu­­a­rded the undefined border and occasionally braw­led. They have agreed not to attack each other with firearms.

India unilaterally decla­red Ladakh a federal territory and separated it from Kashmir in August 2019, ending its semi-autonomous status. It also vowed to take back the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin plateau, which New Delhi says is part of Ladakh.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2020

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