New Delhi: In an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation for over two years now, India and China today announced that they have begun troops disengagement at one of the key friction points in Gogra-Hot Springs in eastern Ladakh, following discussions between military commanders on Jul. 17.
The troopers of the two key nuclear-armed rivals in Asia initiated the current round of disenagement from the Patrol Point 15 (PP-15), a pain spot since May 2020.
The development marks a major progress in the currently progressing military conflict between the two armies along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the eastern Ladakh region, where two other friction points remain unresolved including at Demchok and Depsang Plains, a strategically important location for both India and China.
A joint statement released by the two Asian giants said a consensus was reached in the 16th round of India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting held on Jul. 17.
The statement further said the Indian and Chinese troops at PP-15 have begun to “disengage in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to the peace and tranquillity in the border areas.”
In the last military talks between the two sides, much of the issues related to PP-15 were resolved. Only minor differences were pending, which were subsequently taken up for discussion in a Major General level meeting between the two sides held on Sep. 1, according to an officer at the Indian Army‘s headquarters here.
The officer said the modalities of the disengagement such as the limit of patrolling and the distance to which the troops would pull back were also decided between the two sides during the meeting, based on which the disengagement process began.
The development is significant as the announcement comes just days before the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Uzbekistan to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
There is expectation that the two leaders could hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the SCO summit, but no official confirmation in this regard has come yet.
Last year, both sides had officially agreed to disengage from PP-15 during the 12th round of Corps Commander talks, but the disengagement was not fully carried out by either side. About a platoon-strength troops from both sides continued facing each other. Since then, a number of military talks have taken place but a breakthrough over the disengagement became possible only now, the officer mentioned above said.
The last disengagement at the LAC took place in Feb. and Aug. 2021 when both sides moved their troopers from both North and South banks of Pangong Tso, a boomerang-shaped lake; Galwan River, where a bloody clash between troopers of the two nations led 20 soldiers dead on the Indian side and an estimated 40 soldiers on the Chinese side in Jun. 2020; and from PP-17A, another patrol point in the Gogra-Hot Springs area.
While the 2021 and the latest disengagement areas are friction points created since the May 2020 conflict began, Demochok and Depsang Plains are traditional conflict areas that pre-date the present round of confrontations between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army.
At present, about 50,000 soldiers — three Divisions — are currently deployed in eastern Ladakh with their equipment and weapons. No de-escalation has been carried out by either side since the conflict began over two years ago.