NEW DELHI, Aug 23: Indian and Chinese armies will resume their bilateral Hand-in-Hand (HiH) counter-terrorism exercise in November after a five-year hiatus, in a bid to cast aside the recent troop incursions and face-offs along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The third HiH exercise will be held in China’s Chengdu Military Area Command, which controls Tibet and almost the entire disputed LAC, from November 4 to 14. “It will be a company-level counter-terror exercise, with the Sikh Light Infantry participating from our side,” said an official.

The HiH exercises, the first two editions of which were held at Kunming (China) in 2007 and Belgaum in 2008, were put on hold after diplomatic spats over visa and other issues in 2009-2010.

Though largely symbolic with just around 100 to 150 soldiers from each side undertaking the counter-terror drills, the exercise is seen as a major confidence-building measure between the world’s largest and second-largest armies ranged against each other along the 4,057km LAC.

The decision to hold the third round of the HiH exercise was firmed up during the visit of Defence Minister A.K. Antony, accompanied by a high-level delegation, to China in early July. India is keen to progressively enhance military ties with China, keep “communication channels open” and “eliminate potential” for Depsang-like incidents to reoccur.

The 21-day standoff between the two armies in April saw the rival soldiers pitching tents and indulging in “banner drills” in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector of eastern Ladakh, in Depsang valley.

India and China are now close to inking the new border defence cooperation agreement (BDCA) that outlines several confidence-building measures to defuse face-offs and tensions between rival troops along the LAC.

This includes additional BPM (border personnel meeting) set-ups to add to the existing ones at Chushul, Nathu La and Bum La as well as a DGMO-level hotline between the two armies like the one India has with Pakistan.

Kibuthu, which is near the Chaglagam sector in Arunachal, is one such proposed BPM point that can kick in whenever there is a face-off between rival troops.

By arrangement with Times of India

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