Deadlock was prolonged until China agreed to withdraw to Finger 8, while India stayed on Finger 3 on the condition that neither side will patrol between Fingers 3 and 8 for now

China’s fortified deployments on Finger 5 proved to be the most contentious part of the negotiations to chart out a mutually acceptable troop withdrawal plan for Pangong Tso.

Beijing, ET has learnt, resisted hard on this issue and even proposed to retain a post of 30 personnel to mark its presence. India rejected this on the grounds that its claim line was at Finger 8 and that China was the one that had transgressed.

This further prolonged the deadlock until China agreed to withdraw fully to Finger 8, while India stayed on Finger 3 on the condition that neither side will patrol the area between Fingers 3 and 8 for now. India further insisted, to which China agreed, that the withdrawal would include dismantling all structures constructed by Chinese troops after April 2020.

China had amassed close to 200 personnel on Finger 5 during the current build-up, erecting elaborate structures including shelters for its soldiers. Through this, it sought to dominate the nearby Finger 4, thus strengthening its presence on its claim line. This was a blatant violation of agreed patrol protocols under which India could send patrols up to Finger 8, which was the Indian claim line.

That the deal actually gets China to withdraw to where the Indian claim line runs is important because most number of faceoffs in Pangong Tso occurred in the 6-8 km stretch between Finger 4 and Finger 8. In fact, insiders say, it was becoming increasingly difficult to patrol this area with the risk of a face-off getting ugly. The Indian side would increasingly access areas around Finger 8 through patrol boats or moving across adjoining hills.

Finger 5 is, in fact, a telling story of how China, through its improved ability to build better infrastructure has been able to gradually push the envelope this far. It took advantage of India’s preoccupation with Pakistan during the Kargil war to start road building activity between Fingers 8 and 4, a step at a time.

Through the last decade, it has constructed proper surfaced roads on its side and has been able to access the area with vehicles, while Indian soldiers reached it by foot. In 2016-17, the government purchased new patrol boats to ensure that access to Finger 8 from the lake could be improved.

The speedy and impressive fortification on Finger 5 was a final expression by China of this effort. In this backdrop, a fresh negotiation on new protocols for patrolling this area is a plus for India as it would factor in these changes.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on how China will execute its withdrawal, dismantling all that it has built. So far, the ground reports are positive in what is to be a four-phase withdrawal process.