NEW DELHI: Far away from the actual faceoff site at Doklam, where rival soldiers are close enough to literally smell each other in the rarefied air of the high-altitude region, the Indian security establishment is reasonably sure China will not risk a war or even "a small-scale military operation" despite all its belligerent rhetoric.
A "face-saving" workable option is for both India and China to simultaneously withdraw their troops from the Bhutanese territory of Doklam (called Dong Lang by China) near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, said sources in the security establishment.
But, added the sources, if it does come down to a skirmish or battle, the Indian Army is well-poised with "fully acclimatised troops" and "an enhanced border management posture" to prevent "any misadventure" by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
India has repeatedly stressed war is not a solution to the on-going over 50-day standoff, with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj last week telling Parliament that bilateral dialogue, patience and "bhasha saiyam" (language restraint) was the way forward to diffuse tensions.
"Both countries do not want a conflict. A tactical operation by the Chinese border guards and PLA to construct a motorable road at Doklam (physically blocked by Indian soldiers on June 18) went awry, with the consequent strategic fall-out. Mutual troop pull-back or re-adjustment is the face-saver," said a source.
But China is yet to sound conciliatory, at least in its public stance. The 7th edition of the annual "Hand-in-Hand" exercise between the Indian Army and PLA, which was to be held in China in October, is likely to be among the "casualties" of the faceoff. "Even the exercise's initial planning conference, leave alone the final one, has not been held despite reminders to China," said another source.
At the over 11,000-feet site in Doklam, the roughly 300-350 troops from the two sides continue to be ranged against each other as of now. Concertina wire coils around 150 metres long separate them there, with both having also built makeshift defences after earlier pitching tents and establishing logistical supply lines.
"The Chinese troops at the faceoff site are backed by around 1,500 PLA soldiers in three layers towards the rear. There are some verbal and loudspeaker exchanges but in a non-aggressive manner," said the source.
Accidental escalation, however, remains a big worry. Indian Army formations in the region, including the 17 (Gangtok), 20 (Binnaguri) and 27 (Kalimpong) Mountain Divisions (each with over 10,000 soldiers), continue to be in a high state of operational readiness.