Back From The Brink

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ON Monday, China finally began pulling back troops from its friction points with India along the Line of Actual Control. The disengagement began after Special Representatives of India and China on the Boundary Question – National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi – had an “in-depth” telephone conversation on Sunday during which they agreed that both sides should complete the ongoing disengagement process along the LAC expeditiously.  According to government sources,  the Chinese military was seen dismantling tents and structures at a site in the Galwan valley where the  clash took place on June 15 in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed. Troops had fought with rods and clubs with some falling to their deaths in the freezing waters of the Galwan river.

This was the first time in more than five decades that India suffered so many deaths in a clash with China along LAC.  For a while, the two countries seemed to be on the brink of war with both sides mobilizing troops on their side of the border. The deteriorating situation even forced the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Ladakh where addressing the troops he said the era of expansionism was over. This was an oblique dig at China and also an indication of the escalation of the situation. But three days later the two countries have decided to de-escalate. This involves withdrawal of at least two kilometres from  their current positions.  The disengagement process between armies of India and China at  Hot Springs and Gogra   is expected to be completed at both locations in the next few days.

However, this time New Delhi is approaching the situation very cautiously and waiting if China’s words are backed by action on the ground. There was a similar understanding between the two countries on June 6 which later unravelled on June 15 when the violent clash between the troops of the two countries took place. But this time the situation appears qualitatively different. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman  Zhao Lijian has asked India to “meet China halfway and take concrete steps to carry out what both sides agreed to”.

But New Delhi has no illusions this time. It knows  the complete de-escalation will be a long haul. The current stand-off with China has been the bitterest since the 1962 war. This time China has aggressively asserted its claim to its side of the LAC and also captured strategic areas in Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso, Hot Springs and Gogra besides trying to push in along the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. So, resolving these issues will take time. But the current dis-engagement is a positive development and allows for dialogue to take place. A lot will depend on China’s behaviour in the near future. We can only hope that the communist country sticks to the path of dialogue and gives precedence to sorting out the issues peacefully than unilaterally changing the facts on ground.

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