Phase-I Disengagement

According to TOI’s Rajat Pandit, India is keeping an eagle-eye on the mutual disengagement underway between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Pangong Tso area of eastern Ladakh, tallying it with the phased pullback specified in the written agreement inked between the two countries last week. “The disengagement on both sides of Pangong Tso is progressing well so far… it is slightly ahead of schedule in some positions. The effort is to complete this Phase-I of disengagement by February 20,” a senior official said on February 14.

Constant Vigilance

India insisted on a written pact for the Pangong Tso disengagement, which was approved by the country’s high powered China Study Group just before the actual pullback kicked off on February 10, due to the continuing trust deficit with China. “The formal agreement details the exact steps each side will take for complete Phase-I disengagement. Each step is being verified both physically on the ground as well as through electronic surveillance through drones, including quadcopters, and satellites,” the official said.

Next Round’s Focus

Within 48 hours of completing the Pangong Tso disengagement, India and China will hold the tenth round of corps commander-level talks to focus on the strategically-located Depsang Plains as well as the continuing ‘friction points’ like Gogra and Hot Springs. “Patrolling Points 15 and 17 at Hot Springs and Gogra are unlikely to pose a major problem. They are relatively less soldiers in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation there. But Depsang, where the two sides have amassed infantry brigades and tank regiments, will be quite tricky,” another officer said.

What Remains To Be Done

On the north bank of the Pangong lake, which is frozen now, Indian soldiers are now pulling back westwards in phases to their Dhan Singh Thapa post between Finger 2 and Finger 3 (mountainous spurs). PLA troops, in turn, are withdrawing to their old positions east of Finger 8 at Sirijap. The 10-km stretch in between Finger 3 and Finger 8 will be designated a temporary ‘no patrol area’ till both sides reach an agreement in the diplomatic and military talks to be held subsequently. “As per the pact, the PLA also has to demolish the multiple fortifications, bunkers and pill-boxes it built after occupying the 8-km stretch between Finger 4 and Finger 8 in early-May. This will take a little time,” said an officer.