NEW DELHI: India and China decided to disengage from their stand-off positions in Eastern Ladakh during the marathon Corps Commander-level talks on Monday, but it will take a long time before forces actually move back on the ground. “Modalities for disengagement from all friction areas were discussed and will be taken forward by both sides,” a highly placed source confirmed.
The decision was taken at the second meeting of Corps Commanders in Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which was held in a ‘cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere’. But their first meeting on June 6 had similar sounding protocols, yet there was a bloody face-off at Galwan Valley on June 15, where 20 Indian jawans died in action. So, the Indian side is understandably wary.
“We must wait till the retreat of the Chinese soldiers actually begins on the ground,” a source said. India has clearly reiterated its position that status quo ante must be restored in the areas of stand-off.
A senior officer aware of the situation said the entire process will take time as what was clinched was a broad agreement. “There will now be meetings between Division Commanders of both sides to work out the specifics.” Sector Commanders will then get involved to firm up the nuts and bolts of the actual pullback. The retreat of soldiers will be in phases, the officer added.
At the diplomatic level, India took a veiled dig at China with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar saying the world’s leading voices should act in an exemplary manner by respecting international law and recognising the interests of partners. And on the political front, India was more explicit, as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh refused to meet his Chinese counterpart, who sought to make himself available in Russia for a one-on-one.
At the military level, Army Chief General M M Naravane visited Ladakh’s capital Leh to take stock of the situation.Sinologist B R Deepak described the decision to disengage as a expression of intent. “It’s not clear as yet, I think it is a statement of intent the way they made it on June 6 followed by a series of meetings at both military and diplomatic levels,” said Deepak, who heads the Centre for Chinese and South Asian Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Chinese troops and heavy military vehicles, including tanks, infantry vehicles and artillery, are parked t at the stand-off point between Finger 4 and Finger 5 along the northern flank of Pangong Lake in Eastern Ladakh. China has around 15,000 troops at various locations, including along the LAC.Indian Army also moved in its troops in equal number with the formations of the 3 Division, entrusted with the responsibility of Eastern Ladakh.
A former diplomat said real de-escalation would happen only if status quo ante is reached. “If the Chinese resort to just status quo, it is part of their modus operandi and they have done so in the past as well with Aksai Chin. India should demand a status quo ante but still be wary of the Chinese’s maximalistic approach,” he said.
The unanimity to agreement reflected well when the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian repeated what the Indian side said on the timeline of the disengagement. Asked about details of disengagement, he said, “The specific measures are under discussion between the border troops of the two sides.”