India, China plan buffer zone at PP-17A near Gogra post

(This story originally appeared in on Aug 04, 2021)

In an incremental step forward in the overall stalled troop disengagement in eastern Ladakh, India and China now plan to establish a no-patrolling or buffer zone between the rival soldiers at one of the `friction’ points in the Gogra-Hot Springs-Kongka La sector.

The phased disengagement with physical verification at Patrolling Point-17A is likely to kick off over the next few days, once the “in-principle agreement” reached during the 12th round of corps commander-level talks last Saturday is “ratified” by the two governments. “China’s final confirmation is awaited,” said a source on Tuesday.

The other friction point in the sector, PP-15, as well as the much more intractable issue of the blocking of Indian troop patrols in the strategically-located Depsang Bulge area and the tents pitched inside Indian territory in the Demchok sector will need to be further discussed with China, added the sources.

“After PP-17A, which is near our Gogra post, it will have to be a step-by-step process. China, as of now, is unwilling to take forward the discussions on PP-15, Depsang and Demchok. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is maintaining its overall aggressive military posture all along the frontier in eastern Ladakh. Our mirror deployments also continue,” said a source.

The proposed buffer zone at PP-17A will be akin to the one established in Galwan Valley, which is to its north, after violent skirmishes left 20 Indian soldiers and an unverified number of Chinese troops dead there on June 15.

China has until now officially acknowledged only four casualties in the Galwan clashes, though Indian sources maintain the PLA lost more soldiers. Incidentally, Chinese online handles on Monday released another short video of the Galwan clashes, which show PLA troops hurling stones at Indian soldiers from a height.

The disengagement zone at Galwan extends to 1.4-km on each side, adding up to around 3-km. Around 30 soldiers each are positioned at the edge of this zone in tents, with another 50 each in the second layer some distance away.

At PP-17A and PP-15, there are only around 30 soldiers each (platoon strength) in close proximity of around 500-metres after partial disengagement was carried out at the two locations last year.

Both armies, however, continue to maintain thousands of troops in the “immediate rear areas” of the region, backed by heavy weaponry like howitzers and air defence batteries, like elsewhere along the line of actual control in eastern Ladakh.

“The completion of the stalled disengagement at PP-17A, as also PP-15, can take place quickly once the modalities are approved by both the sides,” said a source.

If it happens, it will represent the first small step forward in the military stalemate since the successful troop disengagement on both sides of the Pangong Tso in February this year.

India maintains that troop disengagement from the remaining friction points, followed by de-induction and the consequent de-escalation, is critical for improvement in bilateral ties. But China wants the border row to be kept at an “appropriate place”, without it impinging on the overall ties.

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