A day after they moved back from Patrolling Point 14 (PP14) in Galwan Valley, Chinese and Indian troops have started stepping back at PP15 and PP17A (Gogra) in the Hot Springs sector of Ladakh as part of efforts to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control.
Senior sources in the Army said China is dismantling its structures and moving back troops at these two locations.
Indian troops, the sources said, are also stepping back to create space between the forces. This reduces chances of a clash, as happened in Galwan Valley on June 15, during the disengagement process.
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Both sides, sources said, have moved back troops by more than 1 km at each of these locations and neither side will patrol the de facto buffer zones as long as the current tensions continue. These limits on patrolling, sources said, will not be permanent.
The pullback of troops is in line with the understanding reached between the Corps Commanders during their talks at the Chushul border point on June 30.
“The present restrictions have been mutually agreed by both sides to avoid friction and violent incidents because tempers are high on both sides,” a top source in the Army said. “Joint verification of re-location of camps is going on to see that landform is restored and trust built,” the source said.
“Patrolling will commence after all phases of disengagement and de-escalation are completed,” the source said.
Another senior Army officer underlined that “this is not going to be a permanent arrangement and India has not forgone its rights to patrol the LAC”.
Sources said Chinese troops are expected to move back completely from PP 15, along with their structures and tents, by Wednesday, and it may take another two-three days for them to vacate PP17A.
All of India’s Patrolling Points lie just before the LAC. While Indian troops have also stepped back, China would have moved behind the Indian claim of LAC from these friction points.
In Pangong Tso, however, there has been “marginal” thinning of Chinese troops on the north bank of Pangong Tso, and the situation there continues to be tense since China still occupies territory up to Finger 4. The Chinese have come in 8 km, west of Finger 8 which India says marks the LAC.
Sources said the next steps will be decided when the Corps Commanders meet again. “First steps discussed in the previous meeting have to be implemented on ground,” a source said, adding that “all steps have not been decided” regarding de-escalation from depth areas and the presence of Chinese troops in the Depsang Plains, not far from Daulat Beg Oldie, India’s strategic outpost near the Karakoram Pass.
On Tuesday, The Indian Express reported that verification teams had confirmed that both sides had removed all structures from PP14 in Galwan Valley, and that there were about 1500 soldiers on each side at PP17A.
The rearward movement from Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Gogra Post is the first step towards disengagement. Both sides continue to be cautious because of the lack of trust between the forces, aggravated by the June 15 clashes at PP14 which led to casualties on both sides, with India losing 20 troops.
Meanwhile, Delhi has made it clear that it will continue to build its infrastructure in the border areas.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh chaired a high-level meeting to “review the progress of various infrastructure projects under construction in border areas,” the government said.
The meeting was attended by Director General of Border Roads Organisation Lt General Harpal Singh, along with senior officials of the Ministry of Defence.
Sources said the BRO has been asked to enhance work on strategically important roads connecting forward positions.
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“The state of forward connectivity to border areas was reviewed and the consistent need of boosting the ongoing projects and to expedite the construction of strategic roads, bridges and tunnels in the border areas was discussed,” the government said.
Sources said work on the 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road will continue, and a 46-km stretch will be completed before October. China has objected to the DSDBO road which links Indian posts in north and eastern Ladakh.
The BRO will also complete construction of bridges to improve road connectivity in eastern Ladakh by October, making accessible 99 per cent of forward positions in the region.