India-China Border Tensions: Disengagement in eastern Ladakh is the first step to be followed by de-induction, say experts

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February 12, 2021 4:13 PM

A fresh statement issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in response to reports in some sections of the media has stated “India has not conceded any territory as a result of the agreement with China. On the contrary, it has enforced observance and respect for LAC and prevented any unilateral change in the status quo.”

Once the process in Pangong Tso pullback is completed in about four weeks, the next phase will start. This will be focused on the resumption of patrolling limits in certain LAC areas claimed by both sides.

Finally, after several rounds of talks between India and China, the two armies have agreed to pull back their militaries in a phased manner from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which will take around four weeks for this round to be completed.

A fresh statement issued by Ministry of Defence

A fresh statement issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in response to reports in some sections of the media has stated “India has not conceded any territory as a result of the agreement with China. On the contrary, it has enforced observance and respect for LAC and prevented any unilateral change in the status quo.”

In an effort to set the record straight and to counter certain instances of wrongly understood information, the MoD has said that the assertion that Indian Territory is up to Finger 4 is categorically false. “The territory of India is as depicted by the map of India and includes more than 43,000 sq. km currently under illegal occupation of China since 1962.”

It has also clarified that the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as per the Indian perception, is at Finger 8, not at Finger 4, which is why India has been maintaining the right to patrol up to Finger 8, including in the current understanding with China.

According to the Ministry, the permanent posts of both sides at the north bank of Pangong Tso are longstanding and well-established. And, on the Indian side, it is Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3, while on the Chinese side, east of Finger 8. And, as per the current agreement between the sides, it provides for cessation of forward deployment by both sides and continued deployment at these permanent posts.

Finally, as mentioned in the defence minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in Rajya Sabha on Thursday, there are outstanding problems which need to be addressed. These include Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang and they will be taken up within 48 hours of the completion of the Pangong Tso disengagement.

What is the position today?

In eastern Ladakh, along the 823-km LAC the troops of India and China are almost eyeball to eyeball in some areas. And as announced by defence minister Rajnath Singh, the process of disengagement is restricted to both banks of the Pangong Tso, which is a 135-km glacial lake.

Once the process in Pangong Tso pullback is completed in about four weeks, the next phase will start. This will be focused on the resumption of patrolling limits in certain LAC areas claimed by both sides.

And this will be followed by resolving the issue of the 900-sq km Depsang plains which is to the north of the Shyok River.

The Indian Army occupies a large portion of the Depsang plains located at an altitude of 16,000 feet, and the China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of is on the eastern edge where there was a huge build-up by both sides in 2020 and this needs to be scaled down.

India and China are expected to discuss these issues after the first level of disengagement is completed.

When will that be?

Only after full verification of the first phase in the Pangong Tso Area.

What is the importance of the Depsang area?

Depsang is very important for India as the Chinese troops could threaten the Indian strategic airfield at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), which is located at 16,700 feet. And, the DBO is just 20 km south of 18,176-foot-high Karakoram pass. This pass divides Ladakh and Xinjiang in China.

Also, the 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-DBO (DSDBO) road close to the LAC is vulnerable to threat, and any attempt to cut off DBO could restrict access to the Karakoram pass.

Experts Views

Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd), Former DGMO and Director CENJOWS says, “On 29/30 August, the Indian Army occupied operationally important heights along South Bank Pangong Tso albeit on own side of LAC, thus negating the advantages of PLA forward deployment in Eastern Ladakh. Since then India negotiated on equal terms, as both sides prepared for the long haul along the high Himalayas. The dialogue process gained momentum thereafter at the political, military and diplomatic levels.”

“The disengagement process on either side of Pangong Tso finally commenced on 10 Feb. On account of lack of trust post Galwan, the process will have inbuilt check and verification protocols as the disengagement will be equitable, synchronized and simultaneous. Initially the heavy weaponry like tanks etc., will be pulled back to pre-designated locations. Disengagement from friction points nullifies the chances of a spiral as it happened in Galwan,” the former DGMO explains.

In conclusion Gen Bhatia says, “Disengagement should be followed by de-escalation and thereafter de-induction. We are still some distance away from ‘ Status Quo Ante’, however, as the process has started we can look ahead to peace and tranquility along the LAC. India should continue to build capabilities and enhance capacities giving adequate funds and focus to infrastructure development along the LAC as China respects strength, and we need to build requisite strength to deter China’s aggressive behavior.”

According to Srikanth Kondapalli, Professor in Chinese Studies at JNU, “The proposed “synchronised disengagement” of troops at “friction points” has come after a year’s preparations. First there were 9 rounds of discussions between corps commanders and WMCC meetings, in addition to Moscow meetings and others.”

“During the 8th meeting some proposals were made on moving away of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and others. So one can say the current announcement on “synchronised disengagement” is a result of this institutionalized process. Secondly, both militaries are mobilized to the brink and the Indian defence minister, foreign minister, chiefs of Army and Air Forces made public statements of conventional deterrence. The option for both sides is to wage a (costly) war or negotiate,” Prof Kondapalli opines.

“A war would have upset their respective national strategic policies, besides having no permanent solution as both are more or less equally matched in the border areas. Despite conventional superiority, India had local advantages. Thirdly, China’s policy today wants to target the US under Biden (refer to Xi Jinping’s speech at Davos and Yang Jiechi’s speech) and hence would like to wean away South Korea, Japan, Europe, India and others by placating them with minor concessions or adjustments,” he concludes.

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