A day after it was announced that Indian and Chinese troops have begun disengaging at Patrolling Point 15 in the Gogra-Hot Springs region of eastern Ladakh, the government said Friday that the disengagement process in this area started at 8.30 am Thursday (September 8) and will be completed by Monday (September 12).
The 5-day process will have five components: stopping of “forward deployments”; return of troops of both sides to their respective areas; dismantling of “all temporary structures and other allied infrastructure”; restoring “landforms in the area” to pre-standoff positions by both sides; stopping of forward deployment in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner”, and ensuring structures are “dismantled and mutually verified”.
Top government sources told The Indian Express that strict instructions have been given to local Army commanders and officers to “verify” each movement.
It is learnt that instructions have also been issued to commanders to complete the entire process in a calm manner, and not escalate tension in the area.
“The idea is to not have any untoward incident,” the sources said, hinting at the Galwan clashes which took place over disengagement at PP 14 in June 2020.
But the wider de-escalation, sources said, is still to be negotiated.
The PP 15 disengagement decision was taken before Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar left for Tokyo for the India-Japan 2+2 ministerial meeting.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is overseeing the process in New Delhi along with the top brass of the armed forces.
Sources said that if the disengagement processes are completed smoothly and successfully, the stage will be set for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s travel to Samarkand for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit on September 15 and 16, which will be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
A meeting between Modi and Xi has not yet been confirmed, but is not being ruled out either. A Modi-Putin meeting is almost confirmed, sources said.
The details of the disengagement were shared Friday by Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, who said, “The sixteenth round of talks between the Corps Commanders of India and China was held at Chushul Moldo Meeting Point on 17 July 2022. Since then, the two sides had maintained regular contact to build on the progress achieved during the talks to resolve the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western Sector of India-China border areas.”
“As a result, both sides have now agreed on disengagement in the area of Gogra-Hot Springs (PP 15),” he said.
“As per the agreement, the disengagement process in this area started on 08 September 2022 at 0830 hrs and will be completed by 12 September 2022. The two sides have agreed to cease forward deployments in this area in a phased, coordinated and verified manner, resulting in the return of the troops of both sides to their respective areas,” the MEA spokesperson said.
“It has been agreed that all temporary structures and other allied infrastructure created in the area by both sides will be dismantled and mutually verified. The landforms in the area will be restored to the pre-standoff period by both sides,” Bagchi said.
“The agreement ensures that the LAC in this area will be strictly observed and respected by both sides, and that there will be no unilateral change in status quo,” he said.
“With the resolution of standoff at PP 15, both sides mutually agreed to take the talks forward and resolve the remaining issues along LAC and restore peace and tranquility in India-China border areas,” he said, indicating that there could be more talks between diplomats and military officers of the two sides to complete the wider de-escalation process.
With the disengagement at PP 15, forces of the two countries, locked in a faceoff ever since May 2020, have disengaged at all friction points in the region which included the north and south banks of the Pangong Tso, PP 14, PP 15 and PP 17A.
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However, other contentious issues related to the boundary still remain between the two countries and Chinese forces continue to block Indian access to traditional patrolling areas along the LAC in the Depsang Plains and Charding Nala region.
The last disengagement between the forces of the two countries had been achieved at PP 17A in August 2021 following the 12th Corp Commander-level meeting. In the three rounds of talks that followed, there was no breakthrough. An agreement was reached in the 16th round.