By N. C. Bipindra and Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: India and China today achieved a break-through in their Ladakh conflict with the Chinese army soldiers pulling back by nearly two kilometres from their two-month eyeball-to-eyeball positions of confrontation at almost all locations along the de facto borders, except at Pongong Tso.
A frank and in-depth chat between India’s boundary dispute point person and China’s foreign minister yesterday is also expected to hasten the process of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army withdrawing from the 1,500-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and preventing their two-month-long military engagement to end in a bloody war.
The military conflict had claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers and around 40 soldiers on the Chinese side, though the numbers are yet to be disclosed by Beijing. That the Chinese side too had dead soldiers in the June 15 clash with the Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley has been admitted more than once by Beijing, without giving numbers.
The pull back by the Chinese soldiers has been witnessed and recorded at all of the pain points along the LAC, except at Pangong Tso region, where reports need to be verified, two senior Indian Army officers, who did not wish to be named citing rules, said.
Pangong Tso is a boomerang-shaped lake running East to West in eastern Ladakh, of which one-third are with India and the rest two-third are China-controlled. The Chinese soldiers have occupied the Finger 4 ridge, a point that Beijing claims to be its perceived LAC.
India’s LAC claim line runs North to South at Finger 8. The Fingers are numbered one to eight on the north banks of Pangong Tso from the Indian side extending towards the Chinese-held territory. Fingers are the hilly spurs that extend on the lake like fingers on a palm.
“The Chinese soldiers are yet to completely withdraw to status quo ante positions of May 1, but they have removed some of their tents and implements from the areas between Finger 4 and 8,” one of the two officers said.
The pull-back, according to the officials, took place also at the Galwan Valley area, which was one of the seriously difficult points of conflict, but it was due to the negotiations and not due to a spate in the Galwan River and water flooding their tents, as claimed by reports. The Chinese have moved back from all other positions too on the LAC, where the two sides’ soldiers were in a direct confrontation. The military mobilisation of up to three division-size of around 30,000 troopers continues on both sides of the LAC.
“Though the pull-back is quite visible now, the process had begun and was being implemented since the June 22 talks between the Corps Commanders of the two nations. On June 30, the two senior officers from India and China again reviewed each point of conflict and the withdrawal plans,” one of the two officers said.
“Those agreements in the two meetings of the Corps Commanders are being implemented with the commanders at the Division and Battalion levels talking with their counterparts and executing the plans. However, a thorough verification of the pull-back would have to be made and a strict vigil maintained so that a reversal to the confrontation levels does not happen in the future,” the officer said.
The Indian Army is already using drones, surveillance aircraft, photo reconnaissance, human observation and satellite images for change detection of the solder positions on the LAC and to verify pull-back by the Chinese soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, also the country’s Special Representative on India-China border row, spoke to Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi yesterday.
“The two special representatives agreed that it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity,” a statement from the ministry said today.
Yesterday, Doval stepped into the game, at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This newspaper had reported last week that a diplomatic level talks between a senior Indian official and his Chinese counterpart would take place.
“The two Special Representatives had a frank and in-depth exchange of views on the recent developments in the western sector of the India-China border areas,” said the MEA statement.
During their discussion, Doval and Yi agreed that both sides should take guidance from the consensus of the leaders that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas was essential for the further development of the bilateral relations and that two sides should not allow differences to become disputes.
In that line, the two sides agreed that it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity.
The two sides further agreed to complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously and decided to ensure a phased and step wise de-escalation in the India-China border areas. This has been reached during the several rounds of negotiations between the senior military commanders of the two sides over June.
Alongside, the two Special Representatives re-affirmed that both India and China should strictly respect the LAC and should not take any unilateral action to alter its status quo. As they agreed to resolve the current dispute, the two countries also noted they should work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
On their part, both Doval and Yi agreed to keep their dialogue open besides the other ongoing consultations between the diplomatic and military officials of the two sides, including under the framework of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC). This is necessary to let the two countries implement the understandings reached in a timely manner and achieve the peace outcomes, officials said.
On June 17, India’s Minister of External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar had cautioned Wang Yi over the June 15 violent flare up, saying China should take corrective steps to restore the sanctity of the LAC if the Asian giant wanted the bilateral relationship to grow.
“Chinese and Indian troops held a commander-level talk on June 30. The two sides continue to work to implement the consensus reached at the two previous rounds of talks,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at the ministry briefing today.
“There is progress made on front line troops taking effective measures to disengage and ease the tensions,” he said.
“We hope the Indian side will move towards China and through concrete actions implement the consensus and continue close communication through military and diplomatic channels to jointly push for the de-escalation on the border region,” Zhao said.