Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane has said de-escalation with China was yet to take place, though both countries have not violated the disengagement process in eastern Ladakh’s Pangong Tso, the scene of a prolonged stand-off last year.
Till de-escalation happens, the Army Chief said, India will continue to maintain an enhanced troop presence along the China border.
“The situation along the Line of Actual Control post-disengagement of February has been very cordial. Both sides are observing that disengagement in letter and spirit. There has been no transgression of any kind,” Gen Naravane said in an interview with CNN News18. He said India has around 50,000-60,000 troops in the eastern Ladakh region.
Last year’s stand-off beginning May 5 was triggered after 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of PLA troops were killed in a clash at Galwan valley in which the Chinese side used sticks and spears. The skirmish led to a huge backlash in India and forced the country to deploy heavy weaponry, including tanks and howitzers and also frontline fighter aircraft along the LAC in months ahead.
Thousands of additional troops were deployed all along the disputed border. Late August last year, Indian troops occupied some hill features on the Kailash range on the Indian side of the LAC, which gave tactical advantage to India. This resulted in a massive deployment of troops in close proximity of each other at some locations. Several incidents of firing of warning shots also occurred, the first firing since 1975.
Since then both sides have had at least 10 rounds of military-level talks. India and China on February 11 announced an agreement for disengagement on the north and south bank of Pangong Tso to cease their forward deployments in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner”, which according to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will “substantially” restore the situation to that existing prior to commencement of the stand-off last year.
Since the disengagement, which was restricted to the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, in February, “with no transgressions happening with no violations of this disengagement, I think the trust has built up”, said Gen Naravane.
“Because of that build-up in the trust maybe we will be able to make forward movement in the other areas where issues are still to be resolved. This is a continuous process, which will take time but will happen,” he said, adding the troop levels continue to be what they were at the height of stand-off.
He said while there has been disengagement, there has been no de-escalation. “The whole of the northern front from eastern Ladakh down till Arunachal Pradesh will see this enhanced presence till such time that we keep talking and the de-escalation happens”. Gen Naravane also dismissed reports of more clashes in Galwan in early May.
On India and China developing their infrastructure in the depth area, Naravane said: “When you’re deployed you don’t want to be deployed in harsh conditions or substandard facilities for months to come. China too is also improving his facilities and his infra his storage and so are we.”