Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday announced that an agreement has been reached with China on disengagement of frontline troops deployed at the North and South Bank of Pangong Lake in Ladakh after a nearly 10-month long standoff.
The disengagement at Pangong Lake, one of the key friction points on the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, will be the first step in the long process of de-escalation.
Giving broad contours of the disengagement process, Singh told the Rajya Sabha that China will place its troops in the North Bank towards the east of Finger 8, while India will keep its army units at its permanent base, Dhan Singh Thapa post, near Finger 3. Similar action will be taken by both the parties in the South Bank area. “Both sides will remove the forward deployment in a phased, coordinated and verified manner,” Singh said.
Although the minister emphasised that India has not lost anything during the talks, the government has made a significant concession to end the deadlock by agreeing to not patrol areas that were being patrolled earlier on by the Indian troops at the North Bank.
“It has been decided that both sides will temporarily halt troop activities on the North Bank, including patrolling of locations traditionally held by the two sides. The patrolling will be initiated only after further negotiation at the military and diplomatic level leads to an agreement,” Singh told the House.
The Indian Army had earlier refused to accept the PLA’s proposal for a moratorium on patrolling on the northern bank of Pangong Tso – like the one the two sides put in place while agreeing on withdrawal of troops from the face-off point in Galwan Valley after the violent clash on June 15.
The mutual pulling back of troops and tanks from the heights of Pangong Tso come a fortnight after military commanders of the two armies agreed on January 24 to push for early disengagement.
The Indian claim line in this sector extends to Finger 8, while the Chinese claim is up to Finger 4. The two are about 8km apart. But China’s aggressive deployment in the eastern Ladakh theatre had blocked the Indian Army’s traditional patrolling patterns in several areas, including the Fingers.
The Chinese PLA had built a bunker near Finger 4 on the northern bank of the lake on Finger 4, and the deadlock had continued as the Indian side had insisted on restoration of previous patrolling rights.
Under the agreement reached, whatever construction has been done by both parties on North and South Bank from April 2020 will also be removed and status quo will be restored, Singh informed the House.
The defence minister told the Upper House that the dialogue to reach this final agreement for North and South Bank started on Wednesday, February 10, and it is expected that this will restore the situation to status quo ante, before the deadlock of last year. “It has also been agreed that within 48 hours of complete disengagement from Pangong Lake, senior commander level talks should be held and the remaining issues should be resolved,” he added.
However, what was missing from Singh's statement was any update on the status of the standoff at the Depsang plains in the DBO sector, the one area the Indian side has been reluctant to talk about. There has been no discussion on the strategically vital area in this deal and it will be taken up separately. where Chinese troops have been blocking Indian Army patrols from going up to the Patrolling Points (PP) 10 to 13 beyond the Y-junction in this strategically important area.