Ladakh Standoff: All you want to know about disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops along LAC

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Updated: Feb 12, 2021 12:35 PM

After a nine month long standoff between the Indian and Chinese armies along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, there was a major breakthrough on Wednesday.

india china standoffAccording to sources, certain columns of tanks have started pulling back from the South Bank area by the forces of both sides. (Photos credit: Indian Army)

After a nine month long standoff between the Indian and Chinese armies along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, there was a major breakthrough on Wednesday.

The Defence Ministry of China on Wednesday announced that the troops both countries on the southern and northern shores of Pangong Tso had started the “synchronized and organized disengagement”. And that this first step in the process of disengagement was in line with the consensus that was reached during discussions last month on January 24 between the Corps Commanders of both sides.

On Thursday, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a detailed statement in Rajya Sabha on the “situation in eastern Ladakh.’

What is the disengagement plan?

The process of the disengagement is restricted to the north and south banks of Pangong Tso.

What does it mean?

According to sources, certain columns of tanks have started pulling back from the South Bank area by the forces of both sides. The Indian Army late Thursday released a video and photos showing the pulling out of T 99 tanks from the said area.

However, the troops of both sides have yet to pullback from the friction points and the heights they are positioned on.

The pullback of the troops has to be in a phased manner and to be verified. And towards this end the Commanders of both sides since earlier this week have started discussing the plans for the troop’s pullout.

india china standoff

What did Defence Minister Rajnath Singh say in Rajya Sabha about the plan?

As reported earlier, the minister informed the House that the two sides will remove the forward deployment in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner.’’

According to him, “While the Chinese side will pull its troops on the north bank towards the east of Finger 8, India also will position its forces at its permanent base at the Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3.”

Both sides will take similar actions on the south Bank area too.

Till both sides reach an agreement through diplomatic as well as military discussions, there will be no patrolling between Finger 3 and Finger 8.

Also, the two sides have agreed to remove the construction done on the north and south banks of the lake since April 2020. This means that this will restore the situation to before the standoff of last year.

Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defence had said in a written statement that the troops of both sides have started synchronized and organized disengagement at the southern and northern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake.

And, this according to the Chinese statement was in accordance with the accordance with the consensus reached by both sides at the 9th round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting.

So what does this mean?

As of now the process of disengagement will be restricted to the north and south banks of Pangong Tso.

It means now the Indian and Chinese troops will move back to their traditional bases on the north bank. This means India will move back to its traditional base at the Dhan Singh Thapa Post, which is west of Finger 3, and China has had its base east of Finger 8.

Importance of the north and south banks

This is the area where the clashes started in May 2020, along the shores of the lake. This is the area where the Chinese troops had come in around almost 8 km deep west of India’s perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).At that time the Chinese troops had positioned its troops on the ridgeline connecting Fingers 3 and 4. And India says the LAC passes through Finger 8.

What happened last August?

Late August 2020, Indian forces had managed to gain strategic advantage when it had occupied certain peaks on the south bank of the lake.

In a surprise move at that time, the Indian troops had positioned themselves on heights of Rezang La, Rechin La, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, and Gurung Hill. These were not occupied by either side at the time.

After being taken by surprise, the Chinese side has been very sensitive.

Why?

Because these positions allowed India to dominate Spanggur Gap, which is a two-km wide valley. And this can be used for launching an offensive, just as the Chinese had done in 1962. Another reason is that India gets a direct view of the Chinese Moldo Garrison.

After successfully positioning themselves at those heights, India also had re-positioned its troops on the north bank to occupy heights which were overlooking Chinese positions on the north bank as well.

And according to reports, at that time warning shots were fired more than once. And the troops from both sides on many of these heights were sitting a few meters apart.

While India has been demanding that the disengagement process should include entire region and go back to their April 2020 positions, China has been insisting that India first pull its troops back from the south bank of Pangong Tso, and the Chushul sub-sector.

The disengagement process which started Wednesday, February 10, 2020 is from the Pangong Tso area only.

And this does not mean that the standoff between the two armies is over.

As the defence minister Rajnath Singh had mentioned in his statement, there are still some outstanding issues related to the deployment and patrolling on LAC. And these he had said will be raised during further discussions.

Disengagement on the friction areas

In his statement the minister said, “India is of the view that the forward deployments of 2020 which are very close to each other should be pulled back and both the armies should return to their permanent and recognised posts”.

While the two sides have agreed to complete the process of disengagement based on the bilateral agreements and protocols, the minister stated, “After the talks so far, China is also aware of our resolve to protect the sovereignty of the country. It is our expectation that China will work with us seriously to resolve the remaining issues.”

Is Pangong Tso the only area of friction?

No. It is just one of the areas. There are other friction points north of the Pangong Tso, where the troops have been face to face since last year.

As reported by Financial Express Online earlier, the Chinese troops had crossed the LAC in four other parts last year which included Gogra Post at Patrolling Point 17A (PP17A) and Hot Springs area near PP15. These two are close to each other and then the third point was PP14 in Galwan Valley. This was the spot where after a major clash between the troops of both countries, lives of 20 Indian soldiers were lost. And an undeclared number of Chinese troops were killed.

And the fourth area which is considered to be most sensitive is the Depsang Plains. This particular sensitive area is close to India’s strategic Daulat Beg Oldie base, near the Karakoram Pass in the north.

What is the current situation in Depsang Plains?

The Chinese who have regularly patrolled till the bottleneck, has blocked Indian troops from moving east to their patrolling limits.

This means that the Indian troops are not able to reach their traditional patrolling limits at PP10, PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13.

The bottleneck is around 18 kms west of the LAC, and lies just 30 km southeast of Daulat Beg Oldie.

Why is there no permanent solution yet?

Because there is lack of trust and there is no clarity on the intent.

And for having a permanent resolution, the process is longer. This means, that the troops will have to be disengaged from the frontlines of all the friction points. This will have to be followed by sending troops from the depths to their traditional bases. Presently there are 50,000 troops from both sides supported by heavy artillery, air defence assets as well as heavy armoured vehicles.

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