India seeks answers from China on Ladakh peace plan. It is a make-or-break question

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Nov 30, 2020 02:57 PM IST

Ladakh standoff: The window of opportunity for India and China to disengage and de-escalate for the winter closes in December due to the extreme weather when troop movement would become near impossible.

As India and China prepare for the 9th round of military dialogue to restore status quo ante in East Ladakh sector, New Delhi is waiting for “certain clarifications” on the disengagement and de-escalation roadmap from Beijing, people familiar with the matter said.

India wants disengagement of the two armies to be such that time taken to return to the withdrawal point is the same for both sides(AP File Photo)
India wants disengagement of the two armies to be such that time taken to return to the withdrawal point is the same for both sides(AP File Photo)

According to military and diplomatic officials based in Delhi and Beijing, the window of opportunity for disengagement and de-escalation from the friction points along the 597 km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) would close in December when very heavy snows, polar temperatures and high-velocity winds sweeping the Tibetan plateau and Ladakh heights would make any significant movement of troops, artillery and armour will be near impossible. As of now both sides have deployed more than three divisions of troops on each side with missile, artillery and armor support.

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“There is a roadmap on the table but India has asked for specific clarifications from China on the stepwise disengagement by both the Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army. The clarifications could be a deal-breaker but the answers are awaited from Beijing. Step by step disengagement and de-escalation moves will be detailed in a written agreement if the clarifications are to satisfaction of both the countries,” said an official in the know of the matter.

“The clarifications (sought by India) could be a deal-breaker but the answers are awaited from Beijing,” an Indian official said.

The Border Roads Organization (BRO) already is fighting an uphill battle to keep the Zoji La axis open till 31 December 2020, since the weather in east Ladakh has taken a turn for worse with multiple snowfalls and the temperature already way below the minus 20 degree-mark. The terrain on the Indian side of the LAC is mountainous and glaciated, while it is a flat plateau on the Tibet side of China.

Also Read: Indian Army takes a leaf out of Chinese warfare, deploys tunnel defences in Ladakh

Since PLA aggression on the north bank of the Pangong Tso in May 2020, followed by transgressions in Galwan, Gogra-Hot Springs, the armies of two countries have been locked in a stand-off at multiple points in East Ladakh for more than six months. The Indian counter to PLA aggression was to occupy heights south of Pangong Tso, the saltwater glacial lake spread across 700 sq km - half the size of the national capital Delhi - and dominating the Chushul-Moldo area with Kailash Ranges ridgeline under its control.

The PLA wants India to first disengage from south of Pangong Tso but New Delhi has made it clear that the Chinese military will first have to vacate the forward areas before the Indian Army retreats from the commanding heights south of the lake.

Also Read: Chinese construction activities along Indian border ‘provocative’: US lawmaker

Given that the PLA has built roads right up to its outposts on LAC, New Delhi believes that the disengagement of the two armies should be such that time taken to return to the withdrawal point is the same for both sides.

India has taken a cautious approach to disengagement and de-escalation, a senior official said, pointing that New Delhi will have to set aside its deep distrust of the PLA that has grown over the last six-seven months. India has, on several occasions, underlined that China had violated 30 years of written agreements for maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC by escalating the standoff and later reiterating its 1959 claim on Ladakh, which had been rejected by India the first time it was proposed by Mao Zedong’s regime, to justify its actions.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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