India and China are in talks to fix dates for talks between senior military commanders of the two countries. The commanders will discuss the second, and more complex, phase of de-escalation and disengagement of their troops in eastern Ladakh. The talks could happen as early as the first part of this week, a person familiar with the development said Sunday.
This will be the fourth round of talks at the level of senior commanders since 5 May when tensions first mounted between the two sides after a physical fight between patrols of India and China along the banks of the Pangong Lake in Ladakh. The previous rounds of talks took place on 6 June, 22 June and 30 June. The military talks this week come after senior diplomats of the two countries met via video link on Friday and vowed to “ensure complete disengagement" along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Tensions along the border and a violent clash on 15 June have shredded India-China ties, regarded as uneasy but stable, on account of both adhering to a slew of pacts aimed at keeping frictions in check.
Last week, troops of both countries pulled back from three friction points—PP (Patrolling Point) 14,15 and 17A—with soldiers creating a buffer space of 3-4 kilometres. This was done to ensure that troops, separated at some points along their LAC in Ladakh by 600 metres or less, do not engage each other. On 15 June, a violent clash in Galwan Valley at PP 14 left 20 soldiers dead on the Indian side and an unspecified number of casualties on the Chinese side.
Disengagement at PP 14, 15 and 17A have been regarded as easy according to analysts. The challenging part is the withdrawal of Chinese troops from the banks of the Pangong Lake. India has been in control of one-third of the lake and the Chinese of the remaining two-thirds for years.
Indian troops have been in control of some key mountain folds jutting into the lake, known as “fingers", while the Chinese control others. India’s demand during the talks so far with the Chinese has been that they withdraw to positions they held in April—that is, that the Chinese move back to Finger 8 from their current position, which is Finger 4.
India has been in control of areas up to Finger 4 and used to patrol up to Finger 8. The two are some eight kilometres apart. The Chinese have intruded as far as Finger 4 and occupied heights, though they have cleared soldiers and vehicles, besides other structures they had built around the base of Finger 4, and moved back to Finger 5.
Chinese troops occupying the heights of Finger 4 means obstructing Indian patrols up to that point and beyond to Finger 8 which used to be India’s claim line while China’s used to be up to Finger 4.
Another focus of the military talks will be to get the Chinese troops to move back in the Depsang area towards the west of the lake. Indian troops on this part of the border are on high alert. A previous Chinese intrusion in 2013 had blocked India’s patrol access considerably.