Thaw on LAC?

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AFTER more than ten months, there’s some good news on Ladakh front with  India and China agreeing to restore status quo ante at Pangong Tso lake.  China has agreed to move its forces back to Finger 8, while Indian troops will go back to their permanent Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3 on the north bank of Pangong Tso. The two sides have also agreed to take a similar action on the south bank of the lake. Other things that have been agreed is that both sides will not patrol the area between Finger 3 and Finger 8 and remove any construction done by them in the areas occupied by them over the last year.

Speaking in Rajya Sabha on Thursday morning, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that according to the agreement between India and China  in Pangong lake area  “both sides will remove the forward deployment in a phased, coordinated and verified manner”. Singh also said that the  “continuing talks have resulted in disengagement agreement with China”.

However the agreement is still on paper and all eyes are on how it will be implemented on the ground. Earlier last year, the two sides had reached an understanding on restoring the status quo ante but that wasn’t acted upon. Instead actions by the Chinese side often pushed the situation to the brink. On June 15 last year, twenty Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed in a skirmish in Galwan Valley. 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 verge of a war with both sides mobilizing troops on their side of the border.

This has now become a high stakes war of nerves between the two countries. However, this time New Delhi is approaching the situation very cautiously and waiting if China’s words are translated into action. There is also the realisation that  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,  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 ongoing dis-engagement in Pangong Tso 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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