Rajat Sharma

Ladakh: Will India, China agree to end the border standoff?

AKBThere are clear indications that the two-year-old standoff between Indian and Chinese armies on the Ladakh border may end soon. Both sides have almost reached a solution and an official announcement may be made shortly. According to India TV Defence Editor Manish Prasad, his sources have confirmed that peace will return to Ladakh border soon and tension between both armies may come to an end. If this happens, it will surely be a big diplomatic success for India.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Thursday night, we gave details about what happened during the last two years, at what levels talks took place, from which friction points on Line of Actual Control has the disengagement process started and what is the current situation. The world will sit up and take notice when details will emerge on how officials of both countries sat together, had several rounds of talks, quietly and secretly, and brought peace to the border.

The 60-year-old India-China border dispute has a long history of ups and downs. Prime Ministers from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh could not solve it, and the world wants to know how Narendra Modi has tried to iron out the differences.

Twenty of our brave jawans were martyred in Galwan Valley two years ago and both the armies had come close to a confrontation sending armoured regiments and fighter planes as part of mirror deployment. There are more than 60,000 troops deployed on both sides. Prime Minister Modi had said during the standoff that India will not yield an inch of territory and China, too, had taken a tough stance. Not a single bullet was fired, nor was there a war of words, but both the armies and diplomats sat at tables to iron out the differences on maps.

Our Defence Editor says that a formal announcement may be made during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s proposed India visit. This visit can take place anytime during this month. The government is yet to confirm the dates of his visit.

What is the present situation in Ladakh? There were several friction points where troops from both sides stood several hundred metres apart. Already 15 rounds of talks have taken place. The last round of talks took place on March 11. During the last round, there were clear indications of change in the stance of Chinese officials. It appears as if both sides have decided to put an end to the standoff. Former Indian army officers, who have been keeping a close watch on the situation, now aver that the standoff may end soon.

Among the friction points in Depsang, Chumar valley, Hot Springs, Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Gogra, tension remains at three major points. At Patrolling Point 15 in Hot Springs, both sides had agreed on disengagement in July, 2020, but later the Chinese side halted the disengagement process. Now, there is a possibility of a disengagement taking place here.

The other major point of friction was in Demchok, where tension had been prevailing since 1990. There were many rounds of talks, but now, it appears that the disengagement process may also take place here. The biggest point of friction was in Depsang, where Chinese side had stopped our troops from patrolling, and, in return, our troops stopped Chinese soldiers from moving at some other patrolling points.

Strategically, Depsang plain is an important location, because the strategic road linking Daulat Beg Oldie post with Darbuk-Shyok passes through here. It is called the DS-DBO road. The road links Daulat Beg Oldie post with India’s highest airstrip. The Chinese army fears that from Daulat Beg Oldie, India can cut off the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and the highway that links Xinjiang to Tibet. If China acquires domination in this area, India’s access to Siachen glacier could be cut off. Along with Depsang, India needs to remove friction in Chumar Valley too, as it is also a strategic area.

India’s aggressive stand on the Ladakh border standoff, coupled with strong political will and deployment of full military strength, may now be yielding dividends. It has been India’s consistent stand that the solution to this standoff must be fair and equitable. After the bloody confrontation in Galwan valley, both sides disengaged at that friction point soon after. In February, 2021, both armies had disengaged from north and south banks of Pangong Lake. The last disengagement from both sides in Gogra had taken place on August 4 and 5 last year.

What is the ground situation in Ladakh now? Our Defence Editor says, both the Indian and Chinese troops have withdrawn by 1.5 kilometre at Patrolling Point 14. There is now a three kilometre wide gap between the two armies there. At Patrolling Point 15 in Hot Springs, both armies have deployed small battalions, and if reports are to be believed, both sides have agreed to a disengagement process here. At Patrolling Point 17A, both armies have already disengaged. The point where there is tension currently, is in Depsang, where our troops are unable to patrol and in retaliation, our troops have prevented Chinese from patrolling too.

Since the talks on complete disengagement is now in final stage and there has been no official announcement, the issue is now sensitive. Defence experts say, leaders and opinion makers must avoid giving political statements and refrain from indulging in speculations, because it can stall negotiations. But there are leaders like AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who are giving speculative statements.

Owaisi tweeted: “China is claiming that everything is already resolved with India in Hot Springs in Ladakh. Will the government please confirm whether this is true? If that is so, what were the last two rounds of border talks about?”

At a time when many experts had lost hopes about a reconciliation on Ladakh border standoff, and some experts had gone to the extent of predicting that China may try to create fresh tension with India taking advantage of the world’s preoccupation with Russia-Ukraine war, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong political will, independent foreign policy and well-crafted strategy is now yielding dividends.

One main reason behind China’s soured relations with India, was its perception that India was aligning with the American camp by buying arms from the US, and joining the new world order by becoming a member of Quad, a grouping of USA, Japan, Australia and India. The Chinese leadership feared that these four countries, including India, were ganging up against their country. But when Russian forces invaded and bombed Ukraine, India took an independent stand, and like China, abstained from voting against Russia in the UN Security Council.

China noted that India did not bow to American pressure. Chinese President Xi Jinping also noted that India did not cancel its S-400 missile deal with Russia under US pressure. The Chinese leadership also noted that despite US sanctions, India opted to buy 35 lakh tonnes of crude oil from Russia. Prime Minister Modi’s decisions on these vital issues gave clear signals to the Chinese leadership that India will pursue an independent policy, that it will neither bow to American pressure nor blindly follow Russia. China then decided to soften its stance on the Ladakh border standoff issue. Let us wait for the good news to come.

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