Short of an India-China fighting war or another Galwan-type conflagration, a ‘worst-case scenario’ is taking steady root in eastern Ladakh. Beyond just the winter that has arrived at the high-altitude standoff zones, there is a growing view, even within senior sections of the Indian Army, that the current situation is solidifying into a new normal. In other words, the wet cement of China’s move to alter the status quo at the Line of Actual Control is setting into the concrete. This was most manifest in the 13-hour talks held Monday between Indian and Chinese delegations in Chushul-Moldo. In a meeting that was literally a non-stop litany of divergences on specific demands from both sides, the two delegations emerged without any point of agreement except that they would meet again ‘in the near future’. India Today TV learns this is unlikely to be before next week.The divergences are plentiful. From preposterous Chinese requests for the Indian Army and ITBP to move its bases westward from Finger 4 at Pangong Tso to refusing to even discuss the Depsang standoff, to no acknowledgement of failure to adhere to promises made in earlier rounds of talks, the Chinese have all but made it clear that the five-point consensus arrived at by the two foreign ministers earlier this month meant little by way of forward movement on the ground. On the Depsang issue, which China has simply refused to engage on, India Today TV recently reported on China’s duplicitous mobilisation in this sector just weeks after the first-ever Major General-level talks were held between both sides in that sector.While India hadn’t pinned any hopes on a ‘breakthrough’ in the talks, there is little or no comfort in the oft-repeated belief that the very fact that talks are still happening is a good thing, and perhaps the only thing preventing the outbreak of a shooting war. On the other hand, while prevention of conflict is no small feat, it is also plainly clear that the multiple rounds of talks have merely allowed Chinese positions to ‘create facts on the ground’.It’s simple, really. The longer a position exists on the ground, the harder it becomes to dislodge or persuade to move. China has also openly demonstrated it has no intention to move positions back in any substantial measure. It has instead used the time spent in talks to bolster logistics and infrastructure in aid of these positions, from road heads to supply lines to optic fibre cables.As anyone in the military will tell you, there is nothing more permanent than an investment in infrastructure. If the worst-case endgame was a change in the status quo, then that is precisely what the Chinese are now attempting to utilise the meandering passage of time to achieve.A growing view is that the rhythmic equilibrium of a ‘tense calm’ has merely favoured China in achieving its designs in creating more facts on the ground.The dynamics of the standoff have undoubtedly changed since the Indian Army’s actions starting August 29, though Monday’s talks have provided no clear view that China is willing to engage in a ‘quid pro quo’ discussion that will send each side’s troops back their peacetime barracks.Instead, there is a perception that this is precisely what China had wanted all along in a time-tested strategy. To mount hostile actions, and then tie down the adversary with talks and the belief that military-to-military negotiations hold the key to a disengagement.This may have been an early miscalculation by the Indian side and explains why the Indian Army finally took matters into its own hands only late in August and began preempting Chinese movements instead of merely reacting to them. China’s open fury at the time confirms this, and India has taken close note.It’s also one of the reasons why the Indian Army expanded the campaign to access heights, codenamed Operation Snow Leopard, and impose reactions from the Chinese side. The multiple rounds of firing between August 29 and September 8 were a result of China’s disbelief that the Indian military had left its historic defensive posture behind and adopted a far more aggressive bent. There is reason to believe that this preemptive posture will continue in scale and regularity going forward.The sense that the situation is a pressure cooker that needs a release has also found mention in internal assessments of the situation.With no breakthrough in talks, and none expected from the agree-upon future rounds next week, there remain three broad scenarios ahead: One, a meandering status quo that continues to harden with each passing day, with the permanence of the change in lines getting darker by the day until they pass into fact.Two, a high-level intervention between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping, invoking whatever substance there was to their personal summits, to draw the two countries back from the disturbing equilibrium that has settled between two sides on the brink of war.