Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday informed the Rajya Sabha that there had been a breakthrough in talks to resolve the nine-month military standoff with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
A day earlier, China’s defence ministry said that Chinese and Indian troops on the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso have begun “synchronised and organised disengagement”, in line with the consensus reached between corps commanders on January 24. Here is what the plan entails:
The disengagement plan
Troops from both sides have started disengaging from the Pangong Tso area, but as of now the process seems restricted to the north and south shores of the lake.
Both sides are pulling back certain columns of tanks from the south bank. At the moment, there is no pullback of troops from the friction points and vantage points. That will happen in a phased and verified manner.
How the process will unfold
Singh said: “Both sides will remove the forward deployment in a phased, coordinated and verified manner.”
“China will pull its troops on the north bank towards the east of Finger 8. Similarly, India will also position its forces at its permanent base at the Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3. Similar action will be taken by both the parties in the south bank area as well,” he told the Rajya Sabha.
Mountain spurs jutting into the lake are called ‘Fingers’ in military parlance. The area between Finger 3 and Finger 8 will become a no-patrolling zone temporarily, till both sides reach an agreement through military and diplomatic discussions to restore patrolling.
Further, all construction by both sides on the north and south banks since April 2020 will be removed.
Based on this agreement, action started from Wednesday on the north and south bank. “It is expected that this will restore the situation to before the standoff of last year,” Singh said.
Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, said on Wednesday: “The Chinese and Indian frontline troops at the southern and northern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake start synchronised and organised disengagement from February 10.”
“This move is in accordance with the consensus reached by both sides at the 9th round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting.”
Why is this area important?
Clashes on the north and south banks marked the beginning of the standoff; it is one of the areas where the Chinese troops had come around 8 kilometres west of India’s perception of the LAC.
China had positioned its troops on the ridgeline connecting Fingers 3 and 4, while according to India the LAC passes through Finger 8.
Why has this taken so long?
Since September, China has insisted that India first pull its troops back from the south bank of Pangong Tso, and the Chushul sub-sector. However, India wants any disengagement process to include the entire region, and troops to go back to their April 2020 positions.
Singh said: “We have told China that we want a solution to the issue on the basis of three principles: (a) LAC should be accepted and respected by both the parties. (b) Neither party should attempt to change the status quo unilaterally. © All agreements should be fully adhered to by both parties.
“India is of the view that the forward deployments of 2020 which are very close to each other should be pulled back and both the armies should return to their permanent and recognised posts.”
Is the standoff resolved?
Singh said: there are still some outstanding issues regarding deployment and patrolling on LAC. “Our attention will be on these in further discussions,” he said.
“Both sides agree that complete disengagement under bilateral agreements and protocols should be done as soon as possible. After the talks so far, China is also aware of our resolve to protect the sovereignty of the country. It is our expectation that China will work with us seriously to resolve the remaining issues.”
The minister also said that both sides have agreed that “within 48 hours of complete disengagement from Pangong Lake, senior commanders level talks should be held and the remaining issues should be resolved”.
Pangong Tso is just one of the friction areas. Chinese troops crossed the LAC in four other parts last year, including the Depsang Plains, which is close to India’s strategic Adult Beg Oldie base, near the Karakoram Pass in the north.