Making significant headway in attempts to resolve the nine-month military standoff along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, Chinese and Indian troops have completed the first phase of disengagement on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, and their senior commanders will meet Saturday morning to discuss the pullback of troops from the other friction points in the region.
Official sources said the disengagement of artillery, tanks and troops from heights was completed Wednesday, but the two sides had to verify it on the ground and this was done Thursday.
“Everything that was agreed upon at the ninth round of talks (on January 24) has been achieved. At Pangong Tso, we have achieved status quo ante. On the north bank, China has pulled its troops east of Finger 8 (which India says marks the LAC) and India is holding its position behind Finger 3 at the Dhan Singh Thapa post. All temporary structures, erected by China in the (temporary no-patrolling) stretch between, have been levelled,” a government official said.
“We too have vacated the heights at Rechin La and Rezang La on the south bank as per the agreement. In fact, China has shown unexpected alacrity in vacating the positions it held. This has raised hopes of results in the forthcoming meetings on outstanding issues,” the official said.
The Corps Commander-level talks are scheduled to start 10 am Saturday at the Moldo border point facing Chushul. This is in line with what Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had said in Parliament on February 11 while announcing the start of the Pangong Tso disengagement — “It has also been agreed to convene the next meeting of the Senior Commanders within 48 hours after the complete disengagement in the Pangong Lake area so as to address and resolve all other remaining issues.”
Sources said meetings have been on since midnight Thursday to decide the next course of action and issues on the table for the talks Saturday.
“The key issues, of course, are the disengagement process that remained partial at Hot Springs and Gogra, apart from the long-standing issue of patrolling rights on the Depsang Plains. We are also going to take up the issue of the CNN (Charding-Ninglung Nallah) area, which includes Demchok, where grazing rights of our people have faced opposition from the Chinese in the last three years. We are basically on to the next phase of a series of meetings that will deal with these outstanding issues,” another official said.
The scheduling of the tenth round of talks means that troops from the two sides have vacated the heights near Finger 4 on the Pangong Tso north bank, and Indian troops have also vacated the heights of Magar Hill, Gurung Hill, Mukhpari, Rechin La and Rezang La in the Chushul sub-sector. They had occupied these heights towards the end of August last year, allowing them to dominate the strategic Spanggur Gap and China’s Moldo garrison.
It was this Indian action that made China agree to withdraw its troops east of Finger 8 – they had come up to Finger 4, 8 km west of the point that India says marks the LAC.
In an email interview to The Indian Express on Wednesday, Northern Army Commander Lt General YK Joshi said that for the first time the agreement had been “put in writing, ratified by higher headquarters and then put into action” and every move was being verified daily. The process, he said, had “no space for doubts or non-adherence” and that the PLA had demonstrated “sincerity of purpose” so far.
“We were able to place tanks at Rechin La and Rezang La which was unthinkable before. This turned the tables on the PLA and brought them to the negotiating table,” Lt General Joshi said, underlining that vacating these positions would not put India at a disadvantage.
“We occupied (the heights) with a purpose to push the negotiations to disengagement. It was meant to give us an advantage, but it cannot be an advantage in perpetuity. We achieved what we wished to achieve, namely the disengagement in the north bank,” he said.
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