China’s late acknowledgement of casualties at the June 15 Galwan Valley brawl along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, which left 20 Indian soldiers dead, appeared intriguing. It came a day before the next round of military-level talks on disengagement elsewhere, including at Galwan, after a full pullback of armoured vehicles and the infantry of China and India from both the north and south banks of the Pangong lake.
That total orderly withdrawal was achieved in less than 10 days was as mystifying as the first pullback announcement itself, since India has learnt to sift between China’s statements and its actual intent. There is no clarity yet on why China decided to de-escalate now despite agreeing to do so as far back as in September last. A lot of back-channel diplomacy ought to have happened to get the LAC disengagement back on track.
The biggest takeaway so far is the creation of buffer zones in both north and south Pangong areas with no patrolling in the demilitarised areas till some kind of solution is found. Creating a safe distance between the two armies and a no-patrol zone at each of the other friction points like Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang ought to be the template that is replicated without conceding territory, as was done at Pangong. Such pacts are the product of hard-nosed negotiations and require time, patience and a cool head.
China perhaps sought to put the Indian negotiating team off-balance by accepting four deaths at Galwan, honouring them, putting out a spliced video of the day’s violence to spin its narrative of Indian soldiers being the aggressors and dissing our noisy media as also the political and military leaderships. But if the nation believes the world will lump it, it’s surely living in a fool’s paradise.
No amount of whitewashing can take the taint out of the barbaric PLA attack at Galwan with medieval arms. That it flouted a 45-year-old norm of not opening fire on the LAC can also not be erased from history. Instead of mindless theatrics, it ought to proactively untangle the mess. As for India, what could it offer if China were to fully disengage? That would depend on how well de-escalation is achieved on the ground.