Negotiations between India and China over the situation in eastern Ladakh have not yielded results so far on troops returning to their April locations — the status quo ante, before the start of the standoff in May — but the Indian establishment is hopeful of “partial disengagement” at certain friction points in the region.
Sources said this is largely supposed to translate into thinning of troops massed by the two sides on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso. Friction points also remain in Gogra and Hot Spring areas after some initial disengagement.
While seven rounds of talks at the level of the Corps Commander have taken place since June, movement of troops and artillery by either side has only increased in the region.
This move to effect some thinning of troops by either side comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are likely to meet each other thrice this month — over video-conference — at the BRICS, SCO and G-20 summits.
“At the moment, China does not appear to have any intention to concede to India’s demand for restoration of status quo ante. They seem to be confident of sustaining the redrawing of the LAC that they have done unilaterally. However, there have been feelers from the other side that it is willing to thin down troops at certain friction points. The next Corps Commander level talks have not been scheduled yet. As and when it happens, this matter will be discussed,” said a source privy to negotiations between the sides.
India, the source said, will continue to push for restoration of status quo ante and will not agree to any “mutual equidistant withdrawal”. A “partial disengagement”, the source said, would be in the interest of both countries for now.
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Following the June 15 Galwan Valley clash, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed and the Chinese an unspecified number, Corps Commander level talks secured disengagement at the spot of the clash with forces of the two countries moving 2 km behind.
But ever since, no substantial disengagement has been achieved. As a countermeasure, Indian forces have occupied dominating heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso and the Chushul sub-sector.
In early September, China increased troop presence on Finger 4 of the north bank with India mirroring the strength.
“The result is that there are 1500-2000 soldiers on each side at the top of the ridge between Finger 4 and Finger 3. The situation is no different on the south bank where China has tried to mirror the Indian strength. This is a recipe for a clash. Moreover, in the harsh winter, with temperatures diving several notches below freezing point, sustaining these positions is a difficult task for either side,” the source said.
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