NEW DELHI: India’s military has increased operational readiness along the eastern border with China, sources said, as neither side shows any sign of backing off from a faceoff in a remote Himalayan region near their disputed frontier.
Indian and Chinese troops have been embroiled in the seven-week confrontation on the Doklam plateau, claimed by both China and India’s tiny ally, Bhutan.
The sources, who were briefed on the deployment, said they did not expect the tensions, involving about 300 soldiers on each side standing a few hundred feet apart, to escalate into a conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962.
But the military alert level had been raised as a matter of caution, two sources in New Delhi and in the eastern state of Sikkim said.
The crisis began in June when, according to Indian officials, a Chinese construction crew was found to be trying to extend a road in the Doklam region that both China and the mountainous nation of Bhutan claim as theirs.
India, which has special ties with Bhutan, sent its troops to stop the construction, igniting anger in Beijing, which said New Delhi had no business to intervene, and demanding a unilateral troop withdrawal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, though, has dug in its heels and said that the Chinese road activity in the region near the borders of India, Bhutan and China was a threat to the security of its own northeastern region.
Under an order issued to all troop formations in the eastern command a week ago, Indian soldiers are supposed take up positions that are earmarked for them in the event of a war, the source said.
Every year, Indian troop formations deployed on the border go on such an “operational alert” usually in September and October. But this year the activity has been advanced in the eastern sector, the source in Sikkim, above which lies the area of the current standoff, said.“It’s out of caution. It has been done because of the situation,” the source said. But the source stressed there was no additional force deployment and that the area was well defended.
The move comes as diplomatic efforts to break the stalemate failed to make headway, other sources with close ties to the Modi government said earlier in the week.
China has repeatedly warned of an escalation if India did not order its troops back. The state-controlled Global Times, which has kept a barrage of hostile commentary, said this week that if Modi continued the present course in the border, Beijing would have to take “counter-measures”.