India waited for China to clear the North and South banks of Pangong Tso (lake) first before reciprocating the first phase of disengagement agreement reached between the two countries in Eastern Ladakh, a senior government official said.
The official told The Hindu that a decision was taken to “wait and watch” and the process — removal of armaments and infantry by India — was accelerated only after the ground commanders were convinced and verified that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was sincere in honouring the agreement.
The disengagement at Pangong where Indian and Chinese troops were in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation in North and South banks since June and August last year, respectively was announced by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Parliament on February 11. The process completed on February 19.
The 10th round of Corps Commander talks were held on Saturday and both sides continued negotiations towards complete disengagement from all friction areas. The talks began at 10 a.m. and went on till 2 a.m., a government source said, adding that both sides will continue the talks. No formal statement has been issued so far on the outcome of the talks. The focus of the talks was to work out a phased disengagement plan for the other friction areas in Eastern Ladakh — Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok.
The official added that though disengagement has taken place, de-escalation is yet to be implemented.
“The hundreds of troops on the north and south banks have been pulled back from the friction points and moved to the depth areas. The area continues to see presence of a large number of troops,” said the official.
The official said that to avoid a repeat of the June 15 Galwan incident when 20 soldiers were killed while implementing a disengagement plan, it was decided to move slow.
“Earlier also China agreed to withdraw in meetings but the words were not matched by action. This time we decided to slow down the withdrawal and wrapped up the process only the last day. The Chinese showed alacrity though and withdrew at an enhanced pace than the daily target,” said the official.
Another official added that India could afford to take it slow as the ingress by China was deep in north bank — upto Finger 4 where they had constructed semi-permanent structures and in south bank where Indian troops were in an advantageous position, the tanks were positioned at the foothills.
“China has also informally conveyed that it was not happy with the Indian media’s projection that the disengagement is a victory only for India. They conveyed that even Indian troops have gone back. In meetings, they often raise hyper-reporting and asked to control the media here. They were told that India has culture of free-press and army cannot dictate them on what to show and print,” said the official.
India and China have been engaged in a face-off in various pockets in Eastern Ladakh since April last year after China stopped Indian patrols in Finger area of Pangong Tso.
The north and south banks of Pangong have witnessed firing in the air on multiple occasions since August 30 last year, a first of its kind escalation since 1975. On June 15, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in violent physical clashes with the Chinese.
The official said that the clause “temporary moratorium on patrolling” has been inked in the final agreement and it has been emphasised that Indian troops could resume traditional patrolling in Finger area after a final decision has been taken at political and diplomatic level.
(with inputs from Dinakar Peri)