Total disengagement on LAC a complex process: Army
India on Thursday said the complex disengagement process with China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is specifically aimed at preventing “face-off situations”, and any unilateral attempts to change the status quo on the disputed border will not be accepted.
Two days after corps commanders from both sides met at Chushul to discuss the road map for easing tensions on the LAC, the Indian Army, too, said complete disengagement is an “intricate process” requiring “constant verification”.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity the statements from the external affairs ministry and the army pointed to difficulties and suspicions involved in the disengagement process, and the need to draw a distinction between disengagement and New Delhi’s stated aim of restoring status quo ante on the LAC.
Officials and experts indicated the army is preparing for the long haul as de-escalation isn’t likely in the short term. Rebuilding trust after the brutal skirmish at Galwan Valley on June 15, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, will not be easy and will take time, said an official who declined to be named. More engagements at military and diplomatic levels will be needed to make headway, said a second official.
During a weekly news briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava described the disengagement process in Ladakh sector as complex and said it was “specifically aimed at addressing face-off situations and close-up deployments of troops along the LAC”.
Based on an understanding between the corps commanders, both sides “have agreed at specific points to redeploy towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC”, Srivastava said.
“These are mutually agreed reciprocal actions to be taken by both sides,” he said, adding the “mutual redeployment should not be misrepresented”.
“There is absolutely no change with respect to India’s position on the LAC. We are fully committed to observing and respecting the LAC. Any unilateral attempts to change the status quo along the LAC are not acceptable,” he added.
Indian Army spokesperson Col Aman Anand said the corps commanders reviewed progress in the first phase of disengagement and “discussed further steps to ensure complete disengagement”.
Anand added: “The two sides remain committed to the objective of complete disengagement. This process is intricate and requires constant verification. They are taking it forward through regular meetings at diplomatic and military level.”
India’s high-powered China Study Group (CSG) on Wednesday reviewed the latest developments in eastern Ladakh, with the focus on the next stage of disengagement following the 14-hour meeting between the corps commanders during July 14-15.
The disengagement involves rival troops pulling back a specified distance from face-off sites, with further retreat taking place in phases as the plan progresses on a verifiable basis on the ground every 72 hours.
Following the July 5 phone conversation between the Special Representatives on the boundary issue – India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and China’s state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi – both sides held further meetings at the military and diplomatic level.
The Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on the border met virtually on July 10 while the senior military commanders held their fourth meeting at Chushul during July 14-15, and the two sides agreed on complete disengagement of troops and de-escalation in border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity in line with bilateral agreements and protocols.
The focus of the current military talks is to hammer out a consensus on easing tensions between the two armies in Finger Area and Depsang plains, as well as pulling back weapons and equipment from friction points in other sectors.
A fifth meeting between delegations led by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, commander of Leh-based 14 Corps, and Maj Gen Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang military region, is expected to be held in two weeks to take things forward, said one of the officials cited above.
As disengagement is discussed at the highest echelons of the government, defence minister Rajnath Singh will visit Ladakh on July 17 for a security review. Singh will fly to Srinagar on Friday afternoon and is expected to travel to forward areas in Jammu and Kashmir on July 18.
Indian Army chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane will accompany Singh. In Leh and Srinagar, Singh will be briefed on security matters by commanders of 14 and 15 Corps, respectively.
He will visit Ladakh two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled trip to the sector on July 3. Modi had then declared that the “era of expansionism” is over, sending a strong signal to China.
Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said: “Nobody is claiming that India is sitting on the Chinese side. The Indian side is the one with a grievance and the Chinese are sitting on our side of the LAC, as perceived by us.We should recognise this process is going to take longer and India needs to acquire some leverage. But at the same time, pressure on China from players such as the US and the UK is growing and the outcomes of the India-EU Summit were significant. These developments are cause for optimism and India should derive some comfort from them.”