As it works with Beijing to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, New Delhi has decided on a four-pronged disengagement approach: lower the public rhetoric, temporarily suspend patrolling of buffer zones by either side, mount sustained surveillance and reconnaissance of friction points, and keep adequate troops in depth areas until the process is completed.
This four-pillar approach, which had been in the works since the June 24 meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs and the June 30 meeting of Corps Commanders on the two sides, was firmed up at a briefing by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the Special Representative-level talks with Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on July 5.
Besides the Prime Minister and the NSA, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah were instrumental in finalising this approach. It was done between the evening of July 5 and the afternoon of July 6.
The Indian Express has been told about these approaches to the disengagement exercise:
- Lower the public rhetoric, give some diplomatic and conciliatory space to both sides for an honourable exit from the impasse. This was reflected in the Indian statement on the SR-level talks. It did not raise the issue of Galwan Valley nor did it talk about the atmosphere being vitiated – unlike the previous statements.
- Suspend patrolling temporarily, disengage and step back 1.5 km on each side. The buffer zone created reduces the possibility of a clash during disengagement and does away with the eyeball-to-eyeball situation. This has been communicated to ground-level troops, and is being called a temporary measure to build confidence. It does not mean that either side is forfeiting the right to patrol up to their patrolling limits.
A template for this exists – the disengagement after the Chumar standoff in September 2014. That situation was resolved only after Prime Minister Modi raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping who was then visiting India. Both sides agreed not to patrol for a few weeks, and then there was snowfall which ruled out patrols till the next summer.
- Aggressive surveillance and reconnaissance of friction points and the entire standoff frontier. This has been necessitated by the trust deficit between the two sides. The government maintains there is adequate capability, and help from international partners, to get real-time intelligence on any Chinese attempt to change the status quo by stealth.
“Don’t trust, verify.” That’s the mantra in New Delhi after the bitter experience of the June 15 incident in Galwan Valley where 20 Indian Army personnel were killed in clashes with Chinese troops. India has enough assets in play: images via satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and aerial surveillance, and the backing of “like-minded countries”. It is confident that it can act swiftly if it senses that Beijing is not keeping its word.
- Keep troops deployed in the rear areas until the disengagement has happened to the fullest extent. Since this is about the entire frontier in eastern Ladakh, there cannot be any lowering of guard.
Officials said the Chinese have to keep their word on the disengagement. In fact, the two sides decided to issue their statements almost 20 hours after the meeting between the Special Representatives on July 5. This allowed the leadership in New Delhi and Beijing to approve the understanding reached.
“So, there was time of about 12 to 15 hours to approve all the understandings between the two SRs, and also see some of the process unfolding at the LAC,” a source said on the time-lag between the July 5 meeting at 5 pm and the statements issued around 3 pm the next day.
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