NEW DELHI: China has started dismantling military structures that it had built up in the Finger area along the Pangong Tso since May last year. The disengagement process is proceeding as per the plan and could take two more weeks to be completed.

After the first step of withdrawal of tanks and armoured vehicles on February 10, the two sides have reduced troops deployed in close proximity on both sides of the lake in eastern Ladakh. Latest reports say that the PLA has started dismantling military structures like observation posts and temporary housing for troops, a task that seemed impossible last year when satellite images had revealed hundreds of Chinese fortifications.

Sources said targets set for the disengagement process were being met by both sides but a very cautious approach was being maintained, given the past incidents on the LAC, including the Galwan clash that took place when troops were disengaging in the narrow valley. India and China will move on to the other hotspots, Gogra and Depsang, during the 10th round of talks between the military commanders tentatively scheduled for the month-end, if the Pangong de-escalation moves as per the plan.

However, the troop build-up in depth areas — India had moved in additional divisions to Ladakh after it became clear that China redirected troops from training areas to locations close to the border — is likely to continue as both sides are still deliberating on the remaining friction points.

Both sides removed close to 10,000 troops each in November from the depth areas as winters set in — a move that took place after the PLA sent some formations back to their traditional training areas located 300-500 km away from the border.

However, over 30,000 additional troops from both sides still remain deployed in Ladakh and Tibet to support forward locations in Pangong, Galwan and Gogra. While forward positions around Pangong will now be vacated — including strategic heights occupied by Indian troops in Chushul — sources said this would in no way weaken India’s position for the next round of talks on Depsang and Gogra post.

Sources said at Gogra both sides were evenly matched. Unlike other friction points, Depsang has an older history, with the first confrontation seen here in 2013 when Chinese troops camped in to prevent Indian patrols.