The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) “completely moved out” of the Indian side of the Galwan Valley area Monday as India and China began disengagement in Ladakh after a 61-day intense stand-off, ThePrint has learnt. However, sources said the Indian Army remained cautious about sounding too optimistic.
While the Chinese have initiated disengagement steps at Gogra and in the Hot Spring Area, they continue to hold fort at Finger 4 at Pangong Lake. However, sources said the “movement of a few men and vehicles backwards was noticed” at Pangong Lake, where Chinese soldiers had come up to 8 km inside Indian territory. Government sources described the movement as “non-tangible”.
The disengagement exercise launched Monday came a day after the special representatives of India and China, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, respectively, held a detailed phone conversation where they agreed on the “earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquility”.
This is the second attempt at disengagement — the first followed a meeting between corps commander-level officers on 6 June but culminated in the 15 June Galwan Valley clash, which killed 20 Indian soldiers, after the Chinese refused to fulfil their part of the agreement.
The whole process, sources said, will be long-drawn-out.
Sources underlined that it will be “premature” to say the stand-off is over as “any unfavourable” incident like that of 15 June can take place until “tempers on both sides cool down completely”. The leadership on both sides, the sources said, will continue to remain in contact 24×7.
Both India and China will begin a 72-hour verification process to make sure each side has fulfilled the commitment before the next round of disengagement is initiated.
Ladakh constitutes the western sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Several spots along the border — Galwan Valley, Depsang Plains and Hot Spring — have been sites of stand-offs since April-May in light of Chinese incursions.
As part of the fresh disengagement, China has moved back by about 1.5-2 km in various locations, while the pullback by India is a “little less” since Indians were anyway in their own territory, sources said.
Both sides have agreed to what is being described as a “buffer zone”, which would be an area where neither side carries out any construction or patrolling activity and would differ from location to location, the sources said.
This means the Chinese troops will be closer to the LAC than Indian soldiers, and it will be some time before India can resume its normal patrols up to Patrol Point 14 in Galwan Valley, and patrol points 15, 17 and 17A in the Hot Spring area.
No specific time has been agreed upon regarding how long the buffer zone will exist, the sources added, saying it is a confidence-building measure for restoration of status quo as of early April.
The disengagement comes at a time when the flow in the Galwan river has increased due to snowmelt, according to inputs, making it difficult for both India and China to sustain troop build-up in the area.
At the Galwan Valley, government sources told ThePrint, the PLA has moved out completely from the Indian side of the LAC into their own territory.
The pullback region included the area called Y-Junction, which is located 1.5 km from the LAC. The Chinese had intruded into this area and built observation posts and numerous tents, the sources said.
The eventual gameplan of Chinese incursions in the Galwan Valley seemed to be to prevent India from carrying out any new construction beyond the confluence of the Shyok-Galwan river.
The Chinese also sought to restrict Indian patrols to the same point, located 4.5 km from the LAC, rather than until Patrol Point 14, which is 500 metres from the border (according to the 1960 claim line of China) and marks the status quo before the PLA incursions began in May.
In Hot Spring area and at Gogra post, the sources added, the Chinese had started dismantling tents and moving back men and vehicles from inside the Indian side of the LAC.
“The process will most likely be completed by tomorrow. Here, as per the schedule, they are supposed to move back about two km. Once they do this, they will be on their side of the LAC,” a source said.
Giving details about the Pangong Lake area, where the Chinese have occupied areas up to Finger 4, about 8 km inside Indian territory that starts from Finger 8, sources said there has “not been any tangible movement”.
“There has been some movement in terms of few vehicles and men going back from Finger 4. However, they continue to hold the position,” another source said.
‘Doval and Wang hold cordial talks’
Diplomatic- and military-level talks aimed at resolving border tensions had been underway between India and China since May. On Sunday, a telephone conversation was held between Doval and Wang, the special representatives appointed by India and China to discuss boundary-related matters.
Over an hour-long “cordial” phone call, the two are said to have held “a frank and in-depth exchange of views” on the border standoff.
According to sources, both the representatives discussed the Galwan Valley clash separately and assessed the reasons that led to it.
Their talks were “based on the commitment” reached by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the two informal summits of Wuhan (2018) and Mamallapuram (2019) when they vowed that differences should not be allowed to become disputes.
“They agreed that it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement Monday. “In this regard they further agreed that both sides should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously.”
The two also agreed to the fact that it is critical to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas and that it is “essential for the further development of our bilateral relations”.
According to the MEA statement, both Wang and Doval agreed to stay in touch to ensure “full and enduring” restoration of peace and tranquility. Bilateral agreements dating back to 1993 that lay down specific protocols on the LAC issue were discussed as well.
These pacts are: The Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, 1993; the 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC; the 2005 Protocol on Modalities for the Implementation of the Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC; the 2012 Agreement on the Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs; and 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement.
The two representatives also decided that “both sides should strictly respect and observe the Line of Actual Control and should not take any unilateral action to alter the status quo and work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquillity in border areas”.
The special representative talks had been under consideration ever since External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Wang held a phone call on 17 June, sources told ThePrint.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on the Doval-Wang dialogue that both sides “should pay great attention to the current complex situation facing China-India bilateral relations, and work together to overcome and turn it around as soon as possible”.
“Not long ago, what happened in the western part of the border between China and India in the Galwan Valley is very clear. China will continue to effectively defend its territorial sovereignty and the border area and peace,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday.
“Both sides should adhere to the strategic assessment that instead of posing threats, the two countries provide each other with development opportunities,” it added.