Two senior military commanders who have held three rounds of disengagement talks will meet once again on Tuesday in an attempt to execute a pullout by Indian and Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh, marking the start of the second and more complex phase of de-escalation.
Lt Gen. Harinder Singh, commander of the Leh-based 14th Corps, and Maj. Gen. Liu Lin of the Chinese Liberation Army (PLA) who is in charge of the South Xinjiang Military District will meet after senior diplomats from the two countries on Friday signalled their intention to “ensure complete disengagement" along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The discussions will take place in Chushul on the Indian side of the border in Ladakh. The two men have previously met on 6 June, 22 June and 30 June.
The planned manoeuvres to defuse tension are the most complex yet for the two armies that stand eyeball-to-eyeball in parts of Ladakh, a person familiar with the developments said on Monday.
The Chinese are effectively sitting on Indian land in the Pangong Tso area and in Depsang plains in eastern Ladakh, the person said.
Last week, troops of both countries pulled back from three friction points—PP (patrolling point) 14,15 and 17A, the move creating a buffer zone of 3-4km depth. This was done to ensure that troops who are separated at some points along the LAC by only 600 metres or less do not engage with each other.
Last week’s disengagement at PP 14, 15 and 17A was relatively easy, said analysts. They said the challenging part is the withdrawal of Chinese troops from the banks of Pangong Tso and the Depsang plains—situated west of PP 14, 15 and 17A.
“My sense is the two commanders will take stock of the situation, what has happened since their last round of talks (on 30 June) and then talk about the more issues like Pangong Tso and Depsang," said Lt Gen. (retired) Deepender Singh Hooda, who as former chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, was responsible for Ladakh and other sensitive areas.
“Here my sense is that you can’t have the same set of rules that have guided de-escalation and disengagement at PP 14,15 and 17A," Hooda said.
At these points—Pangong Tso and Depsang Plains—the Indian perception is that the Chinese have entered Indian territory. “I think that at these two points, India will ask for the restoration of status quo ante," he said, referring to New Delhi’s demand that the Chinese step back to positions that they held in April, before the tensions broke out.
India has been in control of one-third of Pangong Tso, and the Chinese of the remaining two-thirds for years. In the past China held its position at Finger 8—one of a series of mountain folds jutting into the lake—but used to patrol up to Finger 4. India held positions up to Finger 4 and used to patrol up to Finger 8.
The situation began deteriorating rapidly in May, when the Chinese intruded as far as Finger 4. Though there has been some amount of pullback, Chinese troops are now in what is seen as Indian territory. Similar is the case in Depsang towards the west of the lake, where a previous Chinese intrusion in 2013 had blocked India’s patrol access considerably.
Tensions between India and China who share a 3,488-km LAC border have been running high since 5 May. On 15 June, violent clashes broke out at PP 14 in Galwan Valley, killing 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese troops.