PUBLISHED ON FEB 11, 2021 11:28 AM IST
Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday told Parliament that India and China reached a consensus on disengagement of their frontline soldiers on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, areas that have been at the centre of the current border tensions in eastern Ladakh.
Singh said as part of the agreement on disengagement, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will move its forces to the east of Finger 8 on the north bank, and the Indian Army will move to its base near Finger 3. The minister said India and China also agreed to temporarily suspend their regular patrolling activities on the north bank.
“The Chinese side will keep its troop presence in the north bank area to east of Finger 8. Reciprocally, the Indian troops will be based at their permanent base at Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3. A similar action would be taken in the south bank area by both sides,” he said. The minister said these are mutual and reciprocal steps and structures that built by both sides after April 2020 in both north and south bank areas will be removed.
He told Rajya Sabha that both armies agreed to pullback forces in a “phased, coordinated and verifiable manner.” He said within 48 hours of “full disengagement” in these areas, senior Indian and Chinese commanders will meet again to discuss further disengagement at other friction points.
This is the first significant movement in negotiations to ease tensions in more than eight months—disengagement in Galwan valley took place in early July 2020 but it did not progress in other areas.
The minister’s statement comes on the back of limited withdrawal of front-line troops by the Indian and Chinese armies from the Pangong Tso area on the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC). The development has turned the spotlight on how the broader disengagement plan will unfold in other flashpoints where rival soldiers are deployed eyeball to eyeball and where previous attempts to reduce military tensions have failed.
“It has also been agreed to have a temporary moratorium on military activities by both sides in the north bank, including patrolling to the traditional areas. Patrolling will be resumed only when both sides reach an agreement in diplomatic and military talks that would be held subsequently. The implementation of this agreement has started yesterday in the north and south bank of the Pangong Lake. It will substantially restore the situation to that existing prior to commencement of the standoff last year,” he said.
The Finger Area was until now the toughest part of the disengagement process.
“I want to assure this House that in these talks we have not conceded anything. The House should also know that there are still some outstanding issues with regard to deployment and patrolling at some other points along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. These will be the focus of further discussions with the Chinese side. We have agreed that both sides should achieve complete disengagement at the earliest and abide fully by the bilateral agreements and protocols. By now, the Chinese side is also fully aware of our resolve,” Singh said.
The mutual pulling back of tanks and infantry combat vehicles from heights on the southern bank of Pangong Tso began on Wednesday a fortnight after military commanders of the two armies agreed on January 24 to push for an early disengagement of their frontline troops.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) aggressive forward deployments in the eastern Ladakh theatre have hindered the Indian Army’s patrolling patterns in several areas including Depsang, Finger Area on the northern bank of Pangong Tso, Gogra and Kongka La.
Regaining access to several areas that are now difficult to reach due to actions by the Chinese army along LAC is critical, experts said.