After months of tensions and negotiations, the build-up of Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed borderline in Ladakh has finally begun thinning.
The disengagement by Indian and Chinese frontline troops from the flashpoints at Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh began yesterday, with officials claiming that the process is taking place in a step-by-step manner.
Soldiers of both the countries were battling minus 30-degree Celsius temperature in some parts of the disputed India-China border. The two countries had deployed thousands of troopers along the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
The disengagement plan on the northern and southern banks of Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh is based on a consensus reached during the ninth round of Corps Commander level meeting held between the two sides on January 24.
After the ninth round of military talks, follow-up meetings between the ground-level commanders happened, leading to the initiation of the disengagement process with thinning of troops from February 10 onwards.
Sources said that after the thinning of troops, tanks and weapons removal from the southern part of the lake will happen.
China issued a statement saying that frontline troops at the southern and northern banks of Pangong Lake have started synchronised disengagement. India has not issued any statement in this regard so far.
The proposals for disengagement include China moving back to Finger 8 and Indian troops pulling back to the Dhan Singh Thapa post between Finger 2 and 3. This will make Finger 4 a ‘no go’ zone for some time for both the sides.
The north bank of the lake is divided into 8 Fingers. The mountain spur jutting into the lake are referred to as Finger in military parlance.
India claims Line of Actual Control at Finger 8 and had been holding on to the area till Finger 4, but in a clear alteration of status quo, the Chinese have been camping at Finger 4, setting up fortifications between Finger 5 and 8.
There have been regular face-offs between the two armies between Finger 4 and Finger 8, a distance of 8 km, on the northern bank of the lake. Turning the Finger area into a no patrolling zone is part of the three-step disengagement roadmap that is under consideration.
The first step of disengagement is thinning of troops and withdrawal of tanks from the forward locations along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
In the second step, Indian troops will come back to the Dhan Singh Thapa post located on Finger 3, one of the spurs along the Pangong Lake, and the Chinese troops to Finger 8.
In the third step, the Indian Army will withdraw from all the 13 critical heights and territories, including Rezang La, along the southern bank of Pangong Lake which gave India an edge over China.
On August 30 last year, India had occupied critical mountain heights on the southern bank of the Pangong Lake like Rechin La, Rezang La, Mukpari and Tabletop that were unmanned till now. India has also made some deployments near Blacktop. The movement was carried out after the Chinese tried to make a provocative military move.
The dominance at peaks allows India to dominate the Spanggur Gap under Chinese control and also the Moldo garrison on the Chinese side
If things work out, India would leave the heights occupied on the south of the lake in August-end, as per the disengagement proposal.
Thereafter, withdrawal of troops from several friction points is also proposed and these include the Depsang plains and heights around Gogra, among some other locations.
In the Depsang, China has strengthened its positions in the last five to six years.
China yesterday said that frontline troops of India and China at the southern and northern banks of the Pangong Lake at the Line of Actual Control have started the disengagement process.
Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defence, said in a written statement, “The Chinese and Indian frontline troops at the southern and northern banks of Pangong Tso Lake start synchronised and organised disengagement from February 10.”
The spokesperson further stated that the move is in accordance with the consensus reached by both the sides at the ninth round of China-India Corps Commander level meeting.
On January 24, after a 16-hour-long ninth round of dialogue at Moldo, both the countries issued a joint statement wherein it was stated that they have agreed to push for an early disengagement of the frontline troops at the disputed border areas along the LAC.
“The two sides agreed that this round of meeting was positive, practical and constructive, which further enhanced mutual trust and understanding. The two sides agreed to push for an early disengagement of the frontline troops,” the joint statement stated.
It also said that both the countries have also agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, maintain the good momentum of dialogue and negotiation, and hold the 10th round of the Corps Commander Level Meeting at an early date to jointly advance de-escalation.
“The two sides agreed to continue their effective efforts in ensuring the restraint of the frontline troops, stabilise and control the situation along the LAC in the Western Sector of the China-India border, and jointly maintain peace and tranquillity,” said the statement.