They will hold talks on mechanism to solve issues arising out of military patrols

Even as the media focus on last month's alleged confrontation between Chinese and Indian naval ships, dismissed by diplomats here as a non-event, both governments are quietly working on removing the occasional wrinkles that affect the largely tranquil Line of Actual Control (LAC), which serves as the boundary.

China and India have an agreement ensuring that heavy military equipment stay away from the border. Also in place in a pact prohibiting military exercises very close to the LAC to avoid misinterpretation of the actual intentions in case a large body of troops suddenly descends there for war games.

India and China will soon open talks on a mechanism that would solve issues arising out of military patrols coming face to face on the LAC. The negotiating brief will be taken up by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) before the two sides get down to hammering out an agreement on a “Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on Border Affairs.” This will be one of the few occasions when the draft of the negotiating text is first sent to the CCS for approval, say official sources.

Increased patrols

Explaining the need for such an agreement, officials pointed out that when patrols came face to face on a piece of territory claimed by both sides, the issue would be resolved by border commanders. But there was no solution to resolve “trends” that appeared in certain pockets of the LAC. Giving the example of a lake in Ladakh, the sources said increased patrols by either side increased the possibility of their coming face to face. Such a trend stepped up the possibility of confrontation as also of the situation taking an ugly turn.

The proposed mechanism will examine these trends after the other side has lodged a strong protest and suggest toning down patrol frequency by one of the militaries. The option of complaining to the embassies has been tried in the past but has not been found workable in the absence of a specialised mechanism, which the proposed agreement seeks to put in place.

Explaining the mechanism, the officials said: “If India sees a pattern behind the patrols, it will strongly protest. Both sides need a specialised mechanism, where the other side's protest can be handled and examined. One example is Pangong Tso in Ladakh, where this issue occurs frequently. In such a case, the working mechanism can be activated and India can tell them, without prejudice to the perception of the LAC, [about] the need to reduce their patrols. The danger is without such a mechanism, patrols coming face to face too frequently could lead to an escalation.''

India and China have already activated a hotline between the Prime Ministers. However, it has not been used much because there has hardly been any issue that has necessitated their holding immediate consultations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has used the hotline only once when he spoke to his counterpart Wen Jiabao just before the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, Indian, China and South Africa) summit at the Chinese sea resort of Sanya in April this year. “After that, there has been no occasion for them to speak on an urgent basis,'' maintained the officials.

Once the CCS clears the negotiating brief, it is expected, an agreement could be signed at the next summit meeting between leaders of both countries.

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