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Senior Indian and Chinese military commanders are set to meet at Chushul in eastern Ladakh on Tuesday to negotiate the next stage of disengagement between the two armies along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with the talks expected to focus on reducing tensions in the Finger Area and Depsang plains as well as pulling back weapons from friction points, people familiar with the developments said on Monday.
This will be the fourth round of talks between the corps commander-ranked officers of the two armies who made previous attempts to reduce tensions along the disputed border on June 6, June 22 and June 30.
Negotiations are expected to be far harder this time as the continued presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Finger Area and the Depsang sector could be the sticking point in the talks, said one of the officials cited above. The meeting is expected to begin at 11.30am.
In Tuesday’s talks, the two commanders are expected to discuss the step-wise withdrawal of weapons and equipment to mutually agreed distances from friction areas along the LAC and thinning the overall military buildup in the region, said a second official.
This military dialogue will be followed by another meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs. The military commanders set the time-frame and method of disengagement while WMCC monitors the process.
The July 14 dialogue will be crucial as it will take up the Finger Area near Pangong Tso and the Depsang plains where there is Chinese intrusion across India’s perception of the LAC, said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
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“In both these locations, the Indian side should insist on restoration of status quo ante as anything less than this could leave us with a territorial disadvantage,” Hooda added.
The military talks follow a series of steps taken by the two armies at friction points in Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Gogra to implement a complex disengagement plan hammered out at the June 30 meeting between delegations led by Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang military region.
The current disengagement process began after the June 30 military dialogue and a subsequent conversation on July 5 between national security adviser Ajit Doval and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.
Even as uncertainty persists in the Finger Area and Depsang plains, the army is monitoring the withdrawal of the PLA from Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Gogra, where 4-km buffer zones have come up.
At the June 30 meeting, the Indian side reiterated its demand for the pullback of Chinese troops from friction points along the LAC and sought the restoration of status quo ante (the situation as it existed in early April) in the Finger Area, Galwan Valley, Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang plains, apart from emphasising the need for thinning the military buildup in the region.
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The disengagement effort involves rival troops pulling back a specified distance from face-off sites, with further retreat taking place in phases as the plan progresses on a verifiable basis on the ground every 72 hours by both sides.
The creation of buffer zones has temporarily restricted the patrolling activities of both armies in the region. While some experts saw this as a necessary step, others cautioned that the temporary curtailing of patrolling rights should not become a long-term feature undermining Indian presence and control.
The military build-up in Indian and Chinese depth areas hasn’t thinned, with both sides keeping their guard up. The deployment of thousands of soldiers, fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, artillery guns, missile systems and air defence weapons continues in the region.
The PLA pulled back 2 km from Patrolling Point 14 (Galwan Valley), PP-15 (Hot Springs) and PP-17 (Gogra) last week, with the Indian Army withdrawing proportionately in these areas.
The army observed some thinning of PLA troops, vehicles and removal of structures from a key spur in the Finger Area over the last week but it can’t be seen as disengagement, said a third official.
The Finger Area, which refers to a set of eight cliffs jutting out of the Sirijap range overlooking the Pangong lake, remains the biggest test and hardest part of the disengagement process, as reported by HT last week.
Before the PLA grabbed positions on Finger 4 overlooking Indian deployments, the army would patrol right up to Finger 8 that New Delhi considers within Indian territory. The new positions held by the PLA have curtailed the scope of Indian patrols. Fingers 4 and 8 are 8km apart.
The Indian claim line in this sector extends to Finger 8, while the Chinese claim is up to Finger 4 where the PLA has set up permanent bunkers, pillboxes, observation posts and tented camps over the last two months.
The army is keeping a strict vigil along the contested border in the Depsang sector where the PLA’s forward presence is a matter of serious concern and where a 2013 Chinese intrusion blocked the access of Indian soldiers to several patrolling routes, including the ones leading to PPs-10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13.
Source: Hindustan Times