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India’s Move to Occupy Kailash Range Became Turning Point in Disengagement Talks: Lt Gen YK Joshi

Ladakh: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of Pangong lake area in Eastern Ladakh where they had been deployed opposite each other for almost ten months now. (PTI Photo)

Ladakh: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of Pangong lake area in Eastern Ladakh where they had been deployed opposite each other for almost ten months now. (PTI Photo)

After five Corps Commander Flag meetings failed, the Indian Army on August 29 and 30 launched an operation to occupy the entire dominating heights of Rezang La and Rechin La on the South Bank. The move was aimed at gaining leverage over the unrelenting Chinese side.

As the bitter standoff between Indian and Chinese militaries along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh since April-May last year comes to a close, Lt Gen YK Joshi, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Army’s Northern Command said India's move to occupy the Kailash Range became the turning point in the disengagement talks.

After five Corps Commander Flag meetings between the two sides failed in reaching a solution, the Indian Army on August 29 and 30 launched an operation to occupy the entire dominating heights of Rezang La and Rechin La on the South Bank, he said. The move was aimed at gaining leverage over the unrelenting Chinese side.

On concerns being raised over giving up tactical advantage by climbing down from the Kailash Range, Lt Gen Joshi said, "The Kailash Range was occupied with a purpose. The Chinese surprised us initially by occupying parts of our areas -- till Finger 4 of the North Bank -- and the negotiations were going nowhere. We had five flag meetings at the Corps Commander level and we were not succeeding in any manner. Then, I got instructions from my chief that we need to gain some leverage."

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"On August 29-30, we launched this operation and occupied the entire dominating heights of Rezang La, Rechin La on the South Bank, on the North Bank as well, where we were dominating the entire PLA deployment. This was done to gain some success on the negotiating table."

Lt Gen Joshi further credited the beginning of the disengagement process to Indian Army's action in the Kailash Range. "This disengagement is happening because we had taken the dominating position on the Kailash Range. So, now the purpose has been achieved, we are going back to status quo ante April 2020. Plus, it has also been assured in the 9th Corps Commander Flag meeting, the areas that are now being vacated, will not be occupied," he said.

"It was the biggest turning point in this entire situation that was prevailing in east of Ladakh post May 5," he said.

Explaining how the move became a game-changer, Lt Gen Joshi said, "Post August 29, 30, we've had these three flag meetings -- 7th, 8th and 9th. In these meetings, China was looking for a face-saver. Negotiations take time. In these three flag meetings, China realised that we will not be relenting. Our message to them was absolutely clear that we will accept nothing below status quo ante April 2020, which they understood and then relented."

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On the question of fears of the standoff blowing up in an armed conflict, he said, "There were situations where it could have blown up into an armed conflict. This happened after we did our quid pro quo options and we had occupied Rezang La and Rechin La. We had the armour and the mechanised forces sitting on the top of the Kailash Ranges. That was the night of August 29 and 30. On 31, when the PLA wanted to come up right up to the Kailash Ranges, that was the time the situation was extremely tense..."

"...There was a time when war was actually averted. We were on the edge, we were absolutely on the brink. And those were very tense and very challenging moments for us," he said.

The Indian and Chinese armies have reached an agreement on disengagement, which began on February 10.