In what may be the first signs of de-escalation of tensions along the Line of Actual Control, Indian and Chinese troops have gradually started moving back from standoff positions at different points in the Galwan and Hot Spring areas of Ladakh.
While there has been no official statement yet on whether a disengagement is underway, government sources Tuesday said: “We note the developments along the LAC, and will be monitoring them closely in the next few days.”
Officials cautioned that this should be seen as a “first step” towards a long, phased and gradual process of disengagement, and there should be no expectation of immediate or quick withdrawal of troops and weaponry.
Division-level commanders of the two armies are scheduled to meet Wednesday.
The disengagement process may take weeks. “Physical verification as well as satellite imagery will help us in complete disengagement,” sources said.
Deployments by both sides took place over the last one month, and it will take them time to step back.
Army sources confirmed that troops have moved back on either side after the June 6 meeting between XIV Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District Commander Major General Liu Lin at the Chushul-Moldo border point.
Apart from the build-up along the LAC, Army sources pointed to Chinese inductions in the depth areas – these included fighter bombers, rocket forces, air defence radars. India, sources said, also deployed “major assets” a few kilometres behind the frontline to mirror the Chinese deployment. Sources said these will remain there till the Chinese reduce their presence to peacetime strength and go back to locations as in April.
At the border meeting, the two commanders, sources said, had a one-on-one conversation for nearly three hours before delegations were brought in.
The two sides agreed that troops were involved in faceoffs at five locations: Patrol Points 14, 15 and 17, Finger area of Pangong Tso and Chushul.
While troops are stepping back in other areas, the standoff continues in the contested Fingers area on the north bank of Pangong Tso where Chinese troops are not allowing Indian patrols beyond Finger 4 – it is 8 km west of Finger 8 which India says denotes the LAC.
Within the next ten days, officers at division, brigade and battalion levels will hold discussions to settle local issues for further de-escalation. Resolution of the Pangong Tso standoff may require another meeting at the level of Corps or Division Commanders, sources said.
During the meeting, the Indians told the Chinese that construction on the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road will continue “as it is well within the Indian boundary”.
Government sources said the military-to-military conversation has “worked well”.
“The diplomatic conversation is supposed to aid the military channels in disengaging. The conversation between the Joint Secretaries last Friday was also about the guidance of the two leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping,” sources said, and the ambassadors carried the same message to their capitals.
Sources also said that the Army is “fully prepared for a long and permanent deployment if the PLA does not retreat”.
The first sign of some sort of disengagement on the ground suggests that talks have progressed. It will be a phased process and has to be verified by each side. Foreign ministries of both have pointed to guidance from the leaders of the two countries.
The three services, along with the offices of the Chief of Defence Staff, National Security Advisor, Defence Minister and the Ministry of External Affairs, have been working in coordination, sources said.
Ruling out any intelligence failure, sources said the Army is satisfied with the actions of the Northern Army Commander and the Corps Commander.
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