India and China are working on a set of proposals in a bid to defuse the ongoing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh, even as thousands of soldiers deployed at heights of over 15,000 feet are now facing the brunt of the brutal winter in the region. There were “some positive exchanges” during the eighth round of corps commander-level talks at Chushul on Friday, and another meeting could be scheduled “within the coming week” to take them forward, sources said on Sunday.
But a concrete breakthrough in the military stalemate will depend on whether the two sides are able to finalise the actual modalities for “mutual troop disengagement” at the “friction points” in the Pangong Tso-Chushul area, where temperatures have already dipped to minus 20Celsius, making it a test of endurance for the rival armies.
India will have to be extra cautious this time because the earlier troop disengagement plan had gone awry after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reneged on the agreement to dismantle an observation post on Indian territory in the Galwan Valley on June 15. It had led to violent clashes in which 20 Indian and an unspecified number of PLA soldiers were killed.
“Any disengagement plan will need to be implemented in a verifiable manner on the ground. Moreover, our troops should not be left in a tactically disadvantageous position,” a senior officer said. China has been aggressively pushing for Indian troops to vacate the multiple heights they pre-emptively occupied on the ridge line stretching from Thakung on the south bank of Pangong Tso to Gurung Hill, Spanggur Gap, Magar Hill, Mukhpari, Rezang La and Reqin La (Rechin mountain pass) on August 29-30.
Similarly, China has also proposed reciprocal withdrawal of tanks, howitzers and other heavy weapon systems from the forward areas. “The PLA has better access to roads on its side and can re-induct tanks and howitzers much faster. We had even moved tanks up the ridgeline near Rechin La, catching the PLA by surprise… it may not be possible again,” the officer said. A joint statement issued by the two countries on Sunday said there was a “candid, in-depth and constructive exchange of views on disengagement” along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
Both sides agreed to “earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries” as well as ensure their frontline troops “exercise restraint and avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation”, it said. Continuing to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, the two sides will “take forward the discussions at this meeting and push for the settlement of other outstanding issues” to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas, it added.
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