A day after XIV Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military Region Commander Major General Liu Lin held extensive talks at the Chushul border point on ways to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, Army sources indicated that more meetings and talks will be needed, both at the military and diplomatic levels, to break the impasse.
Sources said both sides, at the meeting that went on for 11 hours, “emphasised the need for an expeditious, phased and step-wise de-escalation as a priority”. This was the third meeting of the Corps Commanders – the meetings on June 6 and June 22 were held at Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC, opposite Chushul.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters: “The two sides continue working towards implementing the consensus reached at the two earlier rounds of commander-level talks and made progress in effective measures by frontline troops to disengage and de-escalate the situation. China welcomes that.”
“We hope the Indian side will work with the Chinese side towards the same goal, keep up close communication through military and diplomatic channels, and ease the situation and reduce the temperature along the border,” Zhao said.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will be visiting Ladakh Friday for a review of the situation. Accompanied by Army chief General MM Naravane and Northern Army Commander Lt General YK Joshi, Singh will interact with troops and will be briefed by military commanders. This will be his first visit to Ladakh after tensions mounted on the LAC in May.
Army sources said the Tuesday meeting at Chushul “was long and held in a business-like manner keeping in view the Covid-19 protocols”. The discussions, sources said, “reflected the commitment of both sides to reduce tensions along the LAC”.
“More meetings are expected both at the military and at the diplomatic level, in future, to arrive at mutually agreeable solution and to ensure peace and tranquility along the LAC as per bilateral agreements and protocols,” sources said.
The sources did not refer to any ‘consensus’ or ‘agreement’ reached on disengagement or de-escalation. “The process of disengagement along the LAC is complex,” sources said.
Disengagement refers to the process in which troops of two sides pull back from standoff positions or situations of close proximity, thereby ending such 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.
A security official told The Indian Express that during the meeting the Chinese side stonewalled all discussions on the Pangong Tso area where they have moved eight kilometres west on to the Indian side of the LAC, and are in a faceoff with Indian soldiers between Finger 4 and Finger 3.
There was also no substantive discussion on the Depsang area, where Indian patrols are no longer being allowed to reach PP10, PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13 – on the arc formed by Raki and Jivan nalas – by Chinese troops at a place called Bottleneck.
Both Pangong Tso and Depsang are two ‘areas of friction’ where both sides do not agree on the location of the LAC and have had differences in the past.
The two sides had agreed on a phased and stepwise disengagement at other areas of friction, in Galwan and Hot Springs, which was reiterated during the meeting, the official said.
According to the official, the emphasis is on at least “maintaining the equilibrium” so that no incident, like the one witnessed on June 15 in Galwan Valley, where 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers died, takes places between the two sides.
Another government official said that the “talks at the military level are a means to keep the new status quo stable” even though the Indian position is unequivocal on seeking the restoration of status quo ante as of April on the LAC. The same has been conveyed to the Chinese side repeatedly, the official said.
According to the official, the progress in these talks has to be seen from the prism of the “ground situation,” which has witnessed no change in the recent past. On Tuesday, both sides reiterated the consensus arrived on June 6, but progress has been difficult because of the high degree of mistrust and Chinese intransigence.
The official said they expect this to be a “long haul” and there is fear it could eventually lead to a “hardened all-season LAC”. The official cited the example of the Kargil-Dras sector on the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan which had no round-the-clock deployment of security forces before the 1999 Kargil War. Now, there is a mountain division which is deployed in that area through the year.
In all three meetings of the Corps Commanders, India has demanded status quo ante on the LAC – of troops returning to locations before the standoff — and for “freedom of its troops to patrol till its LAC claims”. Expressing concern over the Chinese build-up in the depth areas, India has also mirrored the deployment by moving additional troops to the region.
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