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Disengagement in rest of eastern Ladakh will ‘take time’, but India ‘satisfied’ with China talks

Following the latest Corps Commander meet, India says 'situation is perfectly fine' but notes that complete disengagement will be a tedious, long process.

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New Delhi: Disengagement in the remaining areas in eastern Ladakh will take time as both India and China are working out “granular details”, The Print has learnt. But, sources said, India is “satisfied” that it has “achieved” what it wanted in dealing with the “more urgent cases requiring disengagement”, which is at the Pangong Lake area, while talks on residual areas are on.

This comes after the 11th round of Corps Commander meet ended late Friday, and the proposals arrived at there detailing how the disengagement in the remaining areas will occur will now be studied at the highest level of both governments.

“Situation is perfectly fine … We have achieved what we wanted to in dealing with the more urgent cases requiring disengagement. Talks are on to deal with other areas that are older and less urgent. This will take time,” a top-level official involved in the talks told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

During the Corps Commander meeting that began Friday and went on for 13 hours at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting points, both Indian and Chinese militaries discussed disengagement from the remaining flashpoints of Gogra Heights, Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.

Sources said all “proposals that were based on a prepared agenda” that was taken up at the meeting will now be studied thoroughly by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs and the China Study Group in India while on the Chinese side it will be evaluated by the Central Military Commission and other top-level bodies.

This April marked a year since the border stand-off between India and China broke out. For several months now, talks have been on at full-swing at both diplomatic as well as military levels on disengagement of troops from other areas. In February, a “synchronised and organised” disengagement of troops was carried out from the Pangong Lake area.

Also read: LAC disengagement done. India, China can now return to old love-hate routine

‘Disengagement will take time’

Both sides are now working out the “more granular and smaller details” while a thorough analysis is being done to ensure the process is not done in a haste leading to “disadvantage”, said another source.

“Disengagement is done to the satisfaction of both parties … It will take time. It is not possible to achieve a breakthrough every time both sides meet … these things take time,” the source said.

According to a statement issued by India Saturday, both sides agreed on the “need to resolve the outstanding issues in an expeditious manner in accordance with the existing agreements and protocols”.

For its part, China said after the senior commanders’ meeting, both sides discussed “issues of mutual concerns” and have agreed to “maintain communications” at the military and diplomatic levels.

“We hope the Indian side could cherish the current positive trend of de-escalation and cooling in the border area, adhere to the relevant agreements between the two armies and the consensus of the previous talks and move towards the same direction as the Chinese side to jointly maintain peace and tranquility in the border area,” a spokesperson for the Western Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement late Saturday.

Lt Gen. Rakesh Sharma (retd), a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) in New Delhi and a former Corps Commander of the Indian Army’s 14 Corps in Ladakh, told ThePrint, “These things take time as the proposals discussed and scenarios arrived at in corps commander level border personnel meeting will be taken up with the Principals. Once the Principals make a decision, only then a roadmap will be decided and shared again at Chushul-Moldo.”

Also read: 5 maps that tell you all you want to know about India vs China in Ladakh

Tackling a ‘challenging’ de-escalation

After disengagement, the process of de-escalation is going to be a more “challenging process”, sources said, noting it is essentially the next step which will require greater engagement and discussions.

De-escalation refers to bringing troops down to the plains or depth areas from their original bases located at a height.

“In my opinion, disengagement in Gogra-Hot Springs areas is negotiable. However, we will be having substantial troops deployed there face-to-face in a tense environment. In these areas, moratorium on patrolling will not be simple due to terrain considerations,” said Sharma.

He explained that that disengagement on the remaining areas will also mean that the Marsimik La will have to be opened after it is mutually accepted. De-escalation from Ladakh, which entails moving units and formations to respective peace locations, is “quite some distance away and much more ground will have to be covered”, he said.

Marsimik La is about 20 km from Pangong Lake, where India has built a road where a minor face-off has been going on.

Last week, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs, said, “We would like to see disengagement in the remaining areas, which will lead to de-escalation in Eastern Ladakh and that would hopefully lead to restoration of peace and tranquillity and provide conditions for progress of our overall bilateral relationship.”

In the year-long standoff, both sides issued a joint statement at the political level just once, in September, which basis of talks for disengagement. The statement, which laid down five action points, was issued after a meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow.

Both ministers last spoke in February when they went over the actionable points, reviewing the status of disengagement as the process in the northern and southern banks of Pangong Lake got successfully concluded.

The last round of Corps Commander meeting took place on 20 February followed by a meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) on 12 March. The agreement to finally disengage from the Pangong Tso area was reached in the ninth round of the senior commander talks on 24 January, and it was completed by 19 February.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: How India stood its ground and forced China to end Pangong Tso aggression


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