India, China ‘complete disengagement’ of troops from border

Published February 22, 2021
In this file photo, Indian army soldiers walk past their parked trucks at a makeshift transit camp before heading to Ladakh. — Reuters/File
In this file photo, Indian army soldiers walk past their parked trucks at a makeshift transit camp before heading to Ladakh. — Reuters/File

NEW DELHI: India said on Sunday that its troops, along with their Chinese counterparts, had completed a pullback from a disputed part of their Himalayan border after months of heightened tensions.

Thousands of soldiers have been facing off since April on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the de facto border, including at the glacial Pangong Tso lake.

The nuclear-armed neighbours fought a border war in 1962 and have long accused each other of seeking to cross their frontier — which has never been properly agreed — in India’s Ladakh region, just opposite Tibet.

The latest flare-up turned deadly in mid-June last year when 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a border battle in the strategically important Galwan river valley in Ladakh. Beijing on Friday said four of its soldiers had died in the clash, its first confirmation of Chinese fatalities.

After nine rounds of high-level military talks which have been held since the June clash, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said last week that both sides agreed to disengage from the Pangong Lake area.

India’s defence ministry said in a joint statement with Beijing that during the 10th round of talks on Saturday, “the two sides positively appraised the smooth completion of disengagement of frontline troops in the Pangong Lake area”.

The statement said it was a “significant step forward” that provided a good starting point for the resolution of other disputes in the western sector of the contested border.

“The two sides agreed to... continue their communication and dialogue, stabilise and control the situation on the ground (and) push for a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues,” the statement added.

India and China share a 3,500-kilometre (2,200-mile) border, with disputes at other points in Ladakh, including at Aksai Chin, a strategic corridor linking Tibet to western China next to the Galwan valley, and at Naku La pass further east, which connects Sikkim state with Tibet.Earlier this month, military commanders agreed to begin pulling out troops, tanks and artillery in a first step towards full withdrawal. On Saturday, the two commanders met to review the pullout.

“The two sides positively appraised the smooth completion of disengagement of frontline troops in the Pangong Lake area noting that it was a significant step forward that provided a good basis for resolution of other remaining issues along the LAC in Western Sector,” a joint press release said.

The deployment in the remote area that falls in India’s Ladakh region and adjoins the Chinese-administered Aksai Chin plateau had raised fears of a broader conflict between the two countries.

A clash erupted in the Galwan Valley in June, when 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the first combat losses on the disputed border in more than four decades. China said this week it lost four soldiers in the fighting.

Troops remain in close proximity on other parts of the undefined border including at Hot Springs, Gogra Post and the Depsang plains, officials said. The commanders had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on the situation on the border, the two countries said in the press release.

“The two sides agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, continue their communication and dialogue, stabilise and control the situation on the ground, push for a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues in a steady and orderly manner, so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” they said.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2021

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