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Disengagement at Doklam: Troops stepped back 150 metres each side, remain on plateau

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed a successful visit to China for the BRICS summit, new details have emerged about the disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops in the Doklam area last week. 

Written by Sushant Singh | New Delhi | Updated: September 7, 2017 7:59 am
Doklam standoff, army on doklam, indian army, pm Modi in China, Modi meets Xi, Doklam disengagement, BRICS meet, Sikkim impasse, India China soldiers in Doklam, India news, Indian Express In its first statement, issued at noon, the MEA had said that “expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the faceoff site at Doklam has been agreed to and is ongoing”. (Source: File Photo)

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed a successful visit to China for the BRICS summit, which included a frank bilateral discussion Tuesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, new details have emerged about the disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops in the Doklam area last week. But the first stage of disengagement, which reduced tensions and paved the way for Modi’s China visit, has still left Indian and Chinese soldiers on the Dolam plateau, even though they are separated by nearly 300 metres since August 28.

Multiple sources have told The Indian Express that this disengagement — wherein both sets of soldiers, along with their tents and road construction equipment, moved away from the faceoff site on Dolam plateau but only by a distance of around 150 metres each — is fully in accordance with the two statements issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on August 28.

In its first statement, issued at noon, the MEA had said that “expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the faceoff site at Doklam has been agreed to and is ongoing”. The second MEA statement, issued later in the evening, stated that “the process (of expeditious disengagement) has since been almost completed under verification”.

According to official sources, the terms for disengagement were decided in diplomatic negotiations at Beijing, which were led by the Indian ambassador to China, Vijay Gokhale, and handled at the highest levels of the government in Delhi. The Army headquarters was closely involved in the consultations, but the final proposal was conveyed to the Brigadier at Nathu La on Saturday, August 26. He, along with his Chinese counterpart, got around to working out the process of disengagement which would be verified by both sides.

Under the agreed terms, it was to be a mutual but sequential withdrawal from the faceoff site, where the two groups of soldiers had been in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation for 71 days. The Indian soldiers — along with their tents and bulldozers which were up to around 400 metres inside Bhutanese territory — would move out first to their side of the border, before noon. This was to be followed by a Chinese withdrawal to Yatung (Yadong) or further north, way beyond the Chumbi Valley. As per sources, a few hours were set upon and decided for each of the withdrawals to take place. The withdrawal could then be verified by the other side after that time.

Read | Opinion: What not to learn from Doklam

While the Indian communication lines were quick from Beijing down to Dolam, the Chinese communications through the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were perhaps not that efficient and timely, sources said. This led to some confusion and made the Indians cautious in their withdrawal from the standoff site in the morning, as per sources. Many frantic calls between Doklam and New Delhi followed. Though tentative about the Chinese response to their withdrawal, the Indian side decided to go ahead with its move.

Eventually, by noon, the Indians had moved away by around 150 metres — partly back on to the Indian side, with a spillover into Bhutanese territory — by first moving out the soldiers, followed by tents and then the bulldozers. As agreed upon, the Indian side issued a statement in Delhi about the ongoing “expeditious disengagement”. Because of delay in passage of orders, bad weather in Dolam plateau and additional time taken in removing their tents, the Chinese side asked for extra time from what was agreed upon. The Chinese movement by 150 metres from the faceoff site was completed in early afternoon, and verified by the Indians. The second MEA statement was issued after that verification.

Sources also told The Indian Express that the current state of redeployment, where the two groups of soldiers are at a distance of 300 metres, is only an intermediary stage. They are hopeful that the two sides will further withdraw from their current locations, eventually resulting in a status quo as on June 16, when the Chinese road construction party had moved in. Sources refused to put a firm date on completion of full withdrawal but were hopeful that it could be in a matter of weeks, if not days, as it is dependent on the internal Chinese political calendar, which includes the Communist Party Congress next month.

Top government sources told The Indian Express that the Army’s proposal for better operational readiness of troops on the China border in Eastern Command has been implemented. This involves keeping one-third troops in every brigade in a high-altitude area at all time, where they remain acclimatised to operate at high altitudes and can be deployed at short notice.

Simultaneous plans to move forward certain artillery guns and ammunition from their peace-time locations has also been implemented, while Army engineers have been told to focus on construction of habitat, tracks and helipads in view of these deployments. A plan to improve surveillance capabilities on the China border, by deploying UAVs, is also being put in place, sources said. Although these actions have been initiated after the Doklam standoff, they are based on assessment of future Chinese moves in border areas, sources said.

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  1. Raghupal Singh Tomar
    Sep 7, 2017 at 4:09 pm
    Every move of indian government on the Doklam issue is very confusing. General public is unable to understand whether both countries agreed on equal terms or some concessions were given to Chinese side. If one reads the statement of spokesperson of Chinese foreign ministry it seems that they have agreed for stoping constructiion of the road for just a moment and will do same according to wheather. Where as language of indian MEA press statement is not clear. It is like 'JALEBI' an indian sweet (One can not find the ends of this sweet).
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    1. Annu Chopra
      Sep 7, 2017 at 1:36 pm
      China is a wily rogue nation. In Doklam it avoided initiating war for 2 reasons 1.USA who was present in the region to deal with NK, could intervene easily 2. Pak was politically unstable. Else it would have forced pak to start war and then sent its forces to pak to fight against india. Scenario 2 is just waiting to happen within a year's time as a more stable Govt. takes shape in Pak. So don’t be deceived by war monger Xi Jinping. He is a demon intoxicated by the power of PLA. It needs OBOR and CPEC to work. India is a potential irritant. With >60 billion dollar investment and 10 bribes ( 6 billion dollars) to pakistani politicians, it can make pakistan do whatever it likes. Prepare for the war within a year. China’s goal is to capture and control SC Sea and Pakistan WHO SAYS DOKLAM IS OVER? IT IS’NT YET.
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      1. Gurdeep Jolly
        Sep 7, 2017 at 12:47 pm
        Cina is a snake with two mouths. India should b very careful.
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          Nathani
          Sep 7, 2017 at 12:26 pm
          Dear Sir, Our India Political parties and ruling party PM NA RA MODI are making fool to our country citizens that only now how to twist the words and keep their seats safe,Nation interest no one have,only big talks and skillful lies with fabricated stories you will hear from them. So please be careful from today's political parties and the SOCALL leaders.
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            abir das
            Sep 7, 2017 at 11:53 am
            This problem is biggest problem in our country, nobody care about it.
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