India and China are working out modalities to finalise a plan for phased disengagement and de-escalation along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, beginning with the North Bank of Pangong Tso, according to multiple sources.
The proposal from the Chinese side put forward at the eighth round of Corps Commander talks on November 6 includes pulling back their troops and equipment from Finger 4 to Finger 8 on the North Bank, two sources confirmed on Wednesday.
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“This is still a proposal under discussion and will be taken up at the next round of Corps Commander talks soon. Once agreed upon, it will be done in multiple phases, with on-ground verification after each step,” one official source said.
There is no change in the ground situation as of now.
Verification on the ground at each step, in addition to aerial monitoring using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, will be key to ensuring the Chinese fully honour the understanding on the ground, another source said.
Since the standoff began in early May, China has moved a large number of troops and equipment close to the LAC in addition to the ingress by Chinese troops inside Indian territory at various places in Eastern Ladakh. On the North Bank, Chinese troops made ingress from Finger 8 up to Finger 4 blocking Indian patrols. India holds till Finger 4 but claims till Finger 8 as per alignment of the LAC.
In addition to aerial monitoring using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), verification on the ground at each step will be the key to ensure that the Chinese fully honour the understanding on the ground, another source said. While discussions were on to schedule the next round of talks for this week, there is still no clarity on the date.
After the North Bank, disengagement on the South Bank of Pangong Tso is expected to be taken up, where the two sides have deployed tanks and armoured vehicles in close proximity after tensions went up in August-end. Both were expected to be moved back some distance, the first source said.
The two sides have held several rounds of military and diplomatic talks which hit a stalemate after some initial disengagement.
As part of the first phase of disengagement, both sides had pulled back troops by an equal distance from Patrolling Points 14 in Galwan valley and 15 in Gogra-Hot Springs. It was during the disengagement in Galwan that violent clashes had occurred, resulting in the death of 20 Indian personnel and an unknown number of Chinese casualties.
Another major area of concern for India is the strategic Depsang Plains where Chinese troops have been blocking patrols from going up to the PPs 10 to 13 beyond the Y junction. The Chinese build up in this area threatens Indian positions at the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) by bringing their troops closer to the 255-km crucial Darbuk-Skyok-DBO road. Depsang is also close to the Karakoram pass overlooking the very strategic Saltoro ridge and Siachen glacier.