Defence Minister Rajnath Singh informed the Rajya Sabha that the disengagement agreed to in the North and South Bank of the Pangong lake includes the following:
- Both sides to cease their forward deployments in a phased, coordinated and verified manner.
- Chinese troop presence in the North Bank to continue east of Finger 8, Indian troops to be at Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3; similar action to be taken in the South Bank by both sides.
- Structures built by both sides since April 2020 on both banks to be removed and landforms restored.
- Temporary moratorium on military activities by both sides in the North Bank including patrolling; patrolling to be resumed only when both sides reach a subsequent agreement.
- Implementation of the agreement will substantially restore the situation to that existing prior to commencement of the standoff last year.
The Defence Minister also made it clear that there are outstanding problems to be addressed, including at Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang, which would be taken up within 48 hrs of the completion of the Pangong Tso disengagement.
The many implications of disengagement
Defence Ministry issued a statement conveying that some misinformed and misleading comments were being amplified in the media and on social media about the disengagement at Pangong Tso. Any allusion that Indian territory is up to Finger 4 is categorically false. India’s territory is as depicted by the map of India and includes more than 43,000 sq. km currently under illegal occupation of China since 1962. Even the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as per the Indian perception, is at Finger 8, not at Finger 4.
That is why India has persistently maintained the right to patrol up to Finger 8, including in the current understanding with China. Permanent posts of both sides at the north bank of Pangong Tso are longstanding and well-established. On the Indian side, it is Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3 and on the Chinese side, East of Finger 8. The current agreement provides for the cessation of forward deployment by both sides and continued deployment at these permanent posts. The statement ended by asserting that India has not conceded any territory as a result of this agreement. Contrarily, it has scrupulously respected the LAC and prevented any unilateral change in the status quo.
In an article titled Blurring ‘The All-Important Line: The Faux Pas of Ladakh Disengagement,’ in News18 opinion, dated February 13, 2021, Lt Gen Prakash Katoch stated that it is quite evident that China has effectively shifted the LAC westwards and any so-called buffer zones will also be in Indian territory to the advantage of the PLA. He further stated that if disengagement was to be discussed in a phased manner, we should have ensured that Depsang got the top priority given its strategic importance and the fact that the PLA is lodged 20 km deep at the Y-Junction where it had also intruded in 2013 and the issue was discussed then in Parliament.
“Agreeing to vacate Kailash Range, hilltops covering the Spanggur Gap and heights around Chushul that are dominating PLA’s Moldo Garrison is a strategic blunder for which India may pay dearly in future. We don’t seem to have learned any lessons from the return of the Haji Pir Pass to Pakistan (1966). For China, it is a masterstroke, especially without any discussion on disengagement in Depsang and other friction points. These were what gave India an edge, as mentioned by Rajnath Singh. So why give up this edge before discussing overall disengagement?
The proposed moratorium to recommence patrolling may take a few months as it will only be discussed after complete disengagement has been effected. Till then, our troops will not be able to patrol east of Finger 3 in the North Bank of Pangong lake. With the PLA at the Y-Junction in Depsang, the ITBP stopped patrolling to Patrol Point (PP) 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13 – all of which are short of the LAC. Other friction points include PP14 in Galwan Valley, PP15 in Hot Springs and PP17A in Gogra Post area,” averred Katoch.
While the alacrity and completeness of this phase of disengagement by the Chinese is indeed a surprise, it remains to be seen what will ensue after the next commanders’ meeting and there should be no doubt that the Chinese will have to be watched sharply 24×7.
Even after the disengagement began, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane reportedly stated that China’s rising footprint in India’s neighbourhood and its attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo along disputed borders led to confrontation and mutual distrust. He also expressed his apprehensions about the recent shift by the US, which allows China to “leverage” against India and that China is also expected to involve Pakistan further against India.
On February 19, 2021, it was reported that disengagement North and South banks of the Pangong Lake had been completed. From the South bank, the Chinese withdrew 130-140 tanks, 30 artillery guns and about 2,000 troops. From the North Bank, where there were no tanks, they withdrew 4000-5000 troops and 30 artillery guns. While the alacrity and completeness of this phase of disengagement by the Chinese is indeed a surprise, it remains to be seen what will ensue after the next commanders’ meeting and there should be no doubt that the Chinese will have to be watched sharply 24×7.