India has little room to make any concessions in upcoming talks as China has been the aggressor

by Manu Pubby

NEW DELHI: More than a month after a stand off began between Indian and Chinese troops along the Ladakh border, a partial disengagement has begun with soldiers being thinned down at incursion points and opposing forces being distanced as a series of military-level talks are scheduled over the next two weeks.

The disengagement—an unspecified number of troops have been thinned down by both sides at the Chinese incursion points of Galwan and Gogra—comes after Lt Gen-level talks undertaken last Saturday, which both sides described as positive.

However, a lot remains to be done to achieve status quo ante, given the hard line drawn by India on two points— that its construction activity to make a bridge over the Galwan river should not be hindered and that the occupation of Finger 4 by Chinese troops needs to be reversed to give troops access to patrol the disputed area along Pangong Tso lake.

India has little room to make any concessions in upcoming talks as China has been the aggressor that upped the ante by moving in troops into eastern Ladakh and started the illegal construction of border defences inside Indian territory.

As part of the disengagement, the distance between troops who had been in an intense face off since May 5 has been widened, to decrease the possibility of the situation getting escalated, particularly at the Galwan river area.

Sources said that a series of meetings are planned over the next two weeks, starting with a Major General-level engagement on Wednesday where each point of contention will be discussed individually.

In particular, talks will focus on Chinese incursions at the Galwan river area’s Patrol Point 14, 16, 17 , the north bank of Pangong Tso lake and troop build up at Chushul. Sources said that partial disengagement has taken place at the three patrol points but the Finger Area still remains a cause for concern as PLA troops have constructed permanent defences both at the base and top of Finger 4 that restrict India’s ability to patrol to its perception of the LAC.

Prior to the Lt Gen-level talks on Saturday, troops from both sides had been pulled back in the Galwan river area where the Chinese had marched in early May to prevent the construction of a bridge and feeder road to the border.

While disengagement and withdrawal of Chinese troops from the incursion points is priority, India is also clear that the build up of military formations by Beijing close to the Line of Actual Control—at least two enhanced brigades have been moved in on the other side that include artillery and armoured units— also has to be pulled back.

India has also beefed up force levels in eastern Ladakh to mirror the Chinese deployments that were carried out in early May when troops were suddenly diverted to the border by the PLA from a regular exercise it was conducting nearby. Unless the Chinese forces are moved back, Indian formations will remain in place.

Talks over the next two weeks will be carried out at the Colonel, Brigadier and Major General level and will be the first step towards defusing a border situation that is bigger than the Doklam crisis of 2017 when troops remained deadlocked for 72 days.