In first remarks from the political leadership on the disengagement of troops that began last week along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said Saturday it has “just commenced, and very much a work in progress”.
Speaking at the India Global Week virtual conference, Jaishankar said, “We have agreed on the need to disengage because troops on both sides are deployed very close to each other. So, there is a disengagement and de-escalation process which has been agreed upon. It has just commenced, and very much a work in progress. So, at this point, I wouldn’t like to say more than that.”
The minister’s remarks came on the day Indian Army sources said Chinese troops have vacated the base at Finger 4 in Pangong Tso, and have thinned their strength somewhat on the ridgeline. But Chinese troops, sources said, are still present in large numbers on the ridgeline above Finger 4.
The standoff at Pangong Tso is likely to be the main talking point when Corps Commanders meet again next week. The pullback of Chinese troops from the Depsang Plains too may figure in the talks between XIV Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military Region Commander Major General Liu Lin.
On Pangong Tso, a senior Army officer said thinning of Chinese troops from their positions on the heights at Finger 4 has been observed in the last few days, but “they are maintaining their presence there, and have not vacated it”.
On Friday, China’s ambassador Sun Weidong said: “Currently, our front line troops are disengaging on the ground in accordance with the consensus reached by the Military Corp Commander talks.”
The north bank of Pangong Tso is an area of concern for the Army because Chinese troops have come in 8 km west of Finger 8 which India says marks the LAC.
Sources said while Chinese troops have moved back towards Finger 5, Indian troops have also taken a step back towards Finger 3 as part of the “mutual disengagement” – troops on either side have stepped back at the other friction points of PP 14 (Galwan Valley), PP 15 (Hot Springs sector) and PP 17A (Gogra post).
A second Army officer said both sides have mutually agreed not to patrol the disengagement points for the time being, and troops are being slowly returned to bases. “Trust on both sides continues to be an issue,” he said.
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