Updated: July 7, 2020 7:17:25 am
In the first signs of reduction of tensions on the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, Chinese and Indian troops have moved back 1.8 km from the site of the June 15 clashes at Patrolling Point 14 in the Galwan Valley.
This rearward movement away from the LAC is part of an initial step of the disengagement process decided during the meeting at the level of the Corps Commander.
According to a senior Army officer, the Chinese military camp at PP14 in Galwan Valley, reconstructed at the site of the June 15 clashes in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed, has been completely dismantled and all tents have been uprooted. Troops and material have been taken back in vehicles.
A senior official of the security establishment said that in Galwan Valley, the two sides have moved 1.8 km behind the PP 14 area. At this new spot, the two sides have decided to have 30 soldiers each in makeshift tents.
At the second perimeter, another kilometre away, the two sides have agreed that there will be 50 soldiers each in tents. A further few kilometres away, both sides, the official said, are being allowed to have troops in greater strength, for now.
“The verification has been done. A second team went to the PP 14 area today and reverification was done. All structures, from bunkers to tents, have been removed by both sides. There is not a single soldier from either side in the almost two kilometre vicinity of PP 14. There will be no patrolling by either side until both agree,” the official said.
The focus will now shift to PP15 and PP17A (Gogra) in the Hot Springs area. At PP17A, 1500 soldiers from each side are in a faceoff. “This place is about 40-50 km away from PP 14. There has been some disengagement in the past few days in this area, also known as the Gogra area, but it is hardly worth talking about. We are looking to quicken the pace as agreed upon during the meetings,” the official said.
There are expectations of similar rearward movement of Chinese troops by Tuesday. There are, however, no signs of any disengagement in the Pangong Tso area where Chinese soldiers have come in 8 km, west of the point which India says marks the LAC.
Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs said another round of Corps Commander level talks is under consideration.
“There have been three rounds since June 6. Now the next one is likely to be scheduled after July 10 or 11, depending on the progress we make on what we have agreed about Gogra and Hot Springs region. The Fingers area (in Pangong Tso) is more complicated, so that will take time,” MHA sources said.
According to the senior Army officer, some Chinese tents were dismantled Monday at PP15 and PP17A (Gogra) in the Hot Springs area, and a limited number of troops and vehicles had gone back towards the Chinese side. But the Chinese presence was still there which could witness further rearward movement on Tuesday, the officer said.
“We still need to verify this step before the second step is taken. The verification can be done either visually or through the hotline. That is all part of the process,” the officer said.
After the first step is fully executed, a de facto ‘buffer zone’ will be created which both sides will not enter to rule out clashes. The size of this ‘buffer zone’ will vary at each place and, according to the officer, “would be temporary”. He declined to share the time period or the exact size of these buffer zones, which have been decided during the three meetings at the level of the Corps Commander.
At Galwan, the ‘buffer zone’ is expected to lie on the Indian side of the LAC, which will keep the Indian soldiers to the west of Shyok river while the Chinese soldiers will be to the east of the LAC. Similar zones will be created at other standoff locations as part of the disengagement process.
The completion of this first step, as per the officer, is expected to take two to three weeks. This will be followed by a subsequent round of talks between the military commanders before the second step is taken. The second step will pertain more to de-escalation where troops, heavy weaponry and specialist equipment massed along the border will go back to their bases.
Disengagement refers to the process in which troops of two sides pull back from standoff positions or situations of close proximity, thereby ending face-to-face situations. De-escalation, in contrast, refers to both sides bringing down enhanced troop levels to more ‘normal’ levels as earlier, thereby reducing the risk of conflict.
At Pangong Tso, according to the Army officer, there has been no disengagement at all. “While there seems to be a Chinese intention to step back a bit, removing a couple of tents or a few vehicles going back means nothing,” he said.
The location of the LAC at Pangong Tso has been disputed by both sides while it has been considered as ‘settled’ in Galwan, Gogra and Hot Springs with both sides agreeing on its alignment. This is based on historical patrol records, where both sides have adhered to the LAC as their limit of patrolling in these three areas, unlike at Pangong Tso.
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