Villagers in the Himalayas are working hard to support Indian troops against a potential Chinese invasion, carrying supplies to the soldiers and sharing a lifetime of experience with the incredibly harsh high-altitude environment, the U.K. Guardian reported on Sunday.
The villagers said they saw little sign of “disengagement” along the contested border, formally known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The villagers were reportedly willing to endure considerable hardships to ensure Indian forces are well supplied:
With unwieldy and overstuffed duffel bags, rice sacks, heavy fuel cans and bamboo canes strapped to their backs, they trudge upwards to a Himalayan mountain peak known as Black Top, where hundreds of Indian army tents are stationed on the horizon.
The 100-odd men, women and young boys are not making this arduous journey out of kindness. In the coming winter months, temperatures here will drop to –40C. The villagers fear that if they do not help the Indian army secure their positions along the mountain ridges bordering China – and help prepare the troops for the harsh winter ahead – their village might soon be under Chinese control.
“We want to help the Indian army to secure their positions immediately,” said Tsering, a 28-year-old volunteer from Chushul. “We are carrying supplies to them, doing multiple rounds in a day, to ensure that the army doesn’t face too many problems.”
According to the villagers, Indian troops are still massing along the border and building roads to make resupply easier. The Chinese are taking similar steps on their side of the LAC, leading analysts to conclude that despite much talk of “disengagement,” both sides are planning to dig in and hold their positions through the winter — a season described by longtime residents as incredibly dangerous.
“The new places where China has engaged the Indian army don’t have proper living conditions. The army is being put up in tents. I don’t know how they are going to build infrastructure good enough to live, when there is no road,” one villager worried.
Moving troops through the region is very expensive since it lacks good communication networks and some of the villages do not have electric power yet. China’s vastly larger military budget makes the confrontation in the Himalayas more proportionally difficult for India to sustain.
“China is far superior. They have got the fiber optic internet right to the edge of the battle space,” former Indian army officer Pravin Sawhney told the Guardian, referring to China’s efforts to wire its side of the border with fiber optic cables for military communications.
Indian and Chinese commanders met along the LAC on Monday for their first high-level talks since August 2. Meetings between the foreign ministries of both countries have produced mutual political agreements to disengage from the border, but military commanders have not yet translated those commitments into practical plans to move any troops.
Indian officials said they will insist Chinese forces return to the positions they held in April, before encroachments into Indian territory led to a series of violent confrontations along the LAC. Most of those confrontations have been hand-to-hand battles, but last week saw the first shots fired near the border in decades.
The South China Morning Post reported that Indian officials believe their experience with high-altitude mountain terrain will offset China’s advantages in spending and military technology, and the Indian military “expects Beijing to stand down first” before the harsh winter sets in.
On the other side, China’s state-run Global Times trumpeted alleged coronavirus infections in the Indian military as a sign their rivals cannot afford to sustain a confrontation along the Himalayan border, while it said coronavirus infections in the United States would keep the U.S. military from assisting its Indian allies.
“India, at this stage, has no choice but to struggle and perhaps even intensify its provocations on the border. However, if the number of infected Indian troops increases or the situation becomes more unfavorable to New Delhi, it may resort to negotiations to resolve disputes,” the Global Times predicted.
“In truth, India’s military might is not as strong as they have always claimed. Sadly, they do not have a clear picture of that. In other words, if they are not backed by the U.S., India itself will have no military power to compete with China. However, the virus continues to rage out of control in the U.S. To divert the domestic attention away and cover up the fact that U.S. military can hardly take care of itself, Washington keeps bluffing and provoking conflicts against China,” the Chinese communist paper wrote contemptuously.