The Indian and Chinese military commanders are nearing a breakthrough in talks to mutually disengage from the tense border in the Eastern Ladakh region. However, Chinese state media has denied any such report.
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Locked in a military stand-off since April this year, the two countries are finally proposing to pull-back troops, tanks, howitzers and armored vehicles in the Pangong Tso area.
The PLA troops had intruded 8 km into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LoC), the de facto border between the two countries, and according to the Indian government sources, China has proposed moving its troops back to Finger 8, which was the original position of its troops before April 2020.
India too is reportedly ready to restrict its troop positions to Finger 2 and Finger 3, and the stretch between Finger 4 and Finger 8 is likely to be declared a ‘no-patrol’ zone for both the armies.
According to the proposal, which is yet to be agreed upon by both sides and will be taken up in the next ninth round of military talks, the troop withdrawal, if mutually considered, will happen in a phased manner.
The proposal envisages the disengagement process to proceed in a time-bound, three-step process, during which removal of armored personnel carriers will happen within one day of the inking of the agreement, followed by withdrawal of troops from specific areas on the north and south banks of the Pangong Lake, and the plan will conclude with the verification of the disengagement process by both the sides.
The high-level eighth round of military talks that took place on November 6 between the armies of two countries finalized the restoration of the status quo ante as it existed in April 2020. The sources said the two armies will likely seal the agreed proposals in the ninth round of negotiations, which will take place in the next few days.
The Indian side has deployed more than 50,000 troops on its side of the border, with an almost equal number deployed by the Chinese on the other side in a high state of combat readiness.
India had also raised concerns with their Chinese counterparts about the military build-up in the strategic Depsang Plains, where the PLA has been obstructing the Indian patrols for the last six months now. However, this issue is likely to be taken up at a later stage, as confirmed by sources.
However, Chinese state media The Global Times claims that the “disengagement plan” mentioned by the Indian media is “not accurate.”
Indian media's reports that detailed arrangements for a proposed disengagement plan are being discussed and finalized by Chinese & Indian militaries are inaccurate and not helpful for the two sides to reach their established goals, GT learned from sources. https://t.co/quGXIhcW5J
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) November 12, 2020
Some Indian media outlets are good at projecting India’s tough stance through partially true and partially false information, with the aim of stirring up domestic nationalism, sources told the Global Times.
The GT learned that whether the disengagement of troops starts from southern or northern of Pangong Tso Lake, how to withdraw and how many troops were key topics during the previous rounds of talks.
The sources added that India has always had “unrealistic” ideas about the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and disregarded history, unilaterally believing that Fingers 4 to 8 are its patrolling areas, and has sought to gain bargaining chips in talks by fishing for interests in the disputed border area.
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The development in the eighth round of talks is being welcomed by political and military analysts in India, saying the move is a positive step towards the ultimate easing of tensions.
The former GOC of the Indian army’s Northern Command Lt. Gen. DS Hooda told EurAsian Times the talks were a positive step towards disengagement.
“All along, our demand has been the status quo ante, which is the situation as it existed in May, and if they agree to go back behind Finger 8, then at least in one area it is going back to pre-May positions,” he said.
Responding to a question about whether the agreement indicated that the LoC will now lie on the Indian soil, Hooda said, “Between Finger 4 and 8, neither side had any permanent structure. The Indian troops were patrolling up to Finger 8 and the Chinese were patrolling up to Finger 4, so both the forces have been patrolling a common area, which has led to clashes in the past.”
On the same issue, strategic affairs analyst Ajai Shukla said that Delhi was gratefully accepting the Chinese “two steps forward, one step back” offer. “After China “pulls back” to Finger 8 (original LAC), the entire demilitarised zone (F4 to F8) will be on Indian soil. Meanwhile, silence on Depsang, China’s real objective,” Shukla tweeted in response to the proposed disengagement talks.
There are also concerns that the Chinese may not comply with the agreements later as the trust deficit with the PLA is very low. The bloody Galwan clash had taken place after the Chinese soldiers reportedly breached the earlier agreement resulting in the killing of many soldiers.
The Indian commanders are being cautious this time around and making sure its troops are not left in tactically disadvantageous situations during pull-back. Many believe that the situation may not be out of the woods yet until the disengagement actually takes place.