By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: Diplomats from India and China will hold a virtual meet tomorrow to review the military disengagement currently in progress along the borders in Ladakh, even as their armies are contemplating fourth round of corps commanders talks next week.
Indian government sources said the 16th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) between the two nuclear-armed nations will take place through video conferencing.
Their meeting had last taken place on June 24 when the two sides had reiterated the June 22 corps commander-level agreement on disengagement between the two armies that were on eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the 1,500-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh since early May.
The troopers on both sides were in a foul mood till the June 22 talks between Indian Army‘s 14 ‘Fire and Fury‘ Corps Commander Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and China’s South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, following the death of 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese personnel in the June 15 clashes at the Galwan Valley.
The LAC witnessed four pain points, including the Galwan Valley and Pongong Tso, a boomerang-shaped lake in eastern Ladakh — the two places that were considered the toughest to negotiate between the two sides during the current crisis. The Chinese have been claiming the entire Galwan Valley as their territory in the last two months, though India had held on to the region till Patrol Point 14.
Two senior Indian Army officials, who did not wish to be named citing rules, said the disengagement between the two sides has been visible since July 6 following the third round of talks between the two corps commanders on June 30.
“It will be 10 days since that last military meeting at the corps commanders’ level. The WMCC will review the disengagement schedule and what has been achieved on the ground at tomorrow’s meeting,” one of the two officers cited above said.
“If that meeting decides that the corps commanders should meet again to discuss the progress further, then the meeting would be scheduled sometime next week after a phone call between the two officers,” he said.
Since July 6, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has withdrawn from three key locations at Patrol Points 14, 15 and 17 and have gone back by two kilometres to their side of the territory.
However, the pullback has been a trickle at the Finger 4 ridge on the north banks of Pangong Tso, where the Chinese soldiers have perched themselves to observe Indian positions down below.
“The Chinese soldiers have removed some of their equipment from Finger 4 but are clearly still holding that position and troopers are still there,” the second officer, with direct knowledge of the situation along the LAC, said.
At the June 30 commanders meeting, the two sides had agreed to have a “comfort zone” of around three to four kilometres between their positions and to place a moratorium on patrolling in the temporary “buffer zone” till the three-stage “disengagement, de-escalation and de-induction” of troopers of both sides happen in that order.
The comfort zone would temporarily be a no-man’s land till the situation normalises and regular patrolling can restart once both sides agree to it. The comfort zone is to ensure physical distancing between the Indian and Chinese soldiers to prevent any opportunity for friction.
However, there will be two sets of observation posts where a small number of soldiers can observe and verify the de-escalation process without getting nearer to each other.
In the absence of physical patrol, the two sides have agreed to carry out aerial surveillance using reconnaissance aircraft and drones, apart from satellite imagery, to verify the de-escalation is being progressed as per agreed schedule.
“The end state that we desire and agree upon is the complete de-induction or demobilisation of troopers on both sides to their normal positions as of April this year. That was when only a defensive division-sized army formation was deployed along the LAC.”
At present, till the de-induction is achieved, the two armies are keeping an eye on full de-escalation by the end of July or mid-August so that they can agree on restarting their physical patrolling by soldiers till their respective LAC points.