Gogra-Hotsprings pullback, Why India, China are still far from peace on Ladakh border

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Military experts say troop disengagement needs to be completed at all flashpoints in eastern Ladakh and must be followed by the two armies returning to their pre-April 2020 positions.

Indian and Chinese troops have begun their disengagement from the Gogra-Hotsprings area (Patrolling Point-15) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh. Indian Army chief General Manoj Pande travelled to Ladakh on September 10 to witness the Parvat Prahar exercise, but his presence there was also to ensure a smooth disengagement at Gogra-Hotsprings, which comes in the run-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Uzbekistan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. The summit will be the first time Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping will be under the same roof since the summer of 2020, when the Ladakh stand-off erupted and soldiers of the two countries were engaged in a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley.

While the disengagement at Gogra-Hotsprings has been achieved after multiple rounds of military and diplomatic talks, the stand-off at the Charding Nullah junction in Demchok and Depsang bulge (Patrolling Points 9 to 13) are yet to be resolved. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has troopers in Depsang, blocking Indian patrolling points 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13.

Moreover, the disengagement has only established ‘no-patrolling zones’, or 1-5 km buffer zones, with troops only pulling back from eyeball to eyeball positions to avoid any potential Galwan-type of clash. Both sides have agreed that all temporary structures and allied infrastructure created in the area will be dismantled and mutually verified.

However, military observers believe there is still a long way to go before India and China achieve de-escalation, and eventually de-induction, from the LAC, their disputed and poorly demarcated border. The next few rounds of talks are expected to focus on de-escalation, which means the withdrawal of troops and weaponry from the flashpoints. The subsequent de-induction would require troops on both sides to return to their pre-April 2020 positions or back to their respective garrisons. Both India and China currently have 50,000-60,000 soldiers, along with artillery, tanks and other heavy weaponry, in eastern Ladakh.

“Until both sides agree to de-induction of forces amassed close to the border, we cannot go back to pre-April 2020 situation,” said a top Indian defence official. The trust deficit between the two armies also mandates caution. “The temporary patrolling moratoriums being created are not a long-term solution. Both sides have to work towards building trust by going back to confidence-building measures,” the official added.

The Chinese side has given India no concessions. Instead, China is repeatedly blaming India for incursions. China last week again blamed India for the military tensions in eastern Ladakh, alleging that the border incursions in 2020 were made by the Indian side.

In the rounds of military commanders’ meetings held last year, the Chinese side had accused India of making “unreasonable and unrealistic demands” and hoped that India “will not misjudge the situation” in the border areas. In retaliation, India had stated that the “unilateral attempts of the Chinese side to alter the status quo and in violation of the bilateral agreements” had created a problem in the border areas and that the Chinese side did not propose any “forward-looking proposals” to resolve the problem.

Source: India Today

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