Disengagement Is on but De-escalation Is Still a Long Way

As the process of disengagement of troops is continuing by India and China along the LAC, and four Corps Commanders-level meetings have been held, and more such meetings are expected, the de-escalation by untrustworthy China is a long way to achieve.

The 15-hour-long fourth round of meeting held between India’s 14 Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Harinder Singh and Chinese South Xinjian Military Region Commander Maj. Gen. Liu Lind at Chushul in the Ladakh sector on July 14 sequel to previous similar meetings on June 6, 22, and 30, suggests that there is some progress in disengagement of troops of India and China in some pockets along the India-China border, but to achieve de-escalation by China appears to be a long way to go. The China Study Group (CSG), which is the apex policy adviser to the Government of India on China, also discussed on July 15 the outcome of the fourth Corps Commanders meeting. National Security Adviser Ajit Dova, who heads the CSG, Army Chief Gen. M.M. Naravane, Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Y.K. Joshi and Lt. Gen. Harinder Singh participated in the discussion. The Cabinet Secretary, the Secretaries of Home, Defense, Finance departments and the representatives of the intelligence agencies are part of the CSG. To review the situation, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, accompanied by Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, is also scheduled to visit Ladakh on July 17 and 18.

It appears eventually that there will have to be more Corps Commanders-level meetings in a phased manner to achieve complete disengagement of troops. As the disengagement process is in progress, it is likely the talks in future meetings would become tougher before a complete de-escalation takes place with China, which is known as a habitual flouter of its own commitments.

Though there has been no official word, the July 14 meeting indicates that India and China had completed their first phase of disengagement by mutually pulling back their troops from Galwan Valley, Hot Springs, Gogra Post and Finger 4 of Pangong Tso. Though Chinese troops have moved from Finger 4, they are still present beyond — from Finger 5 up to Finger 8 — as India claims the territory between Finger 4 and Finger 8 belongs to it. India has been firm on China to restore status quo as it existed earlier before the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intruded into eastern Ladakh at several locations. As part of its troop movement in May, China occupied those areas, particularly the area between Finger 4 and Finger 8 and prevented Indian troops from patrolling the territory. At the meeting, taking a tough stand, the Indian side continued its pressure on China to withdraw completely its troops from Finger 5 in the Pangong Tso extending up to Finger 8 in the Pangong Tso, and the Depsang plain. India also insisted on China to withdraw its build-up of troops, tanks, artillery and other military hardware along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

On its own, India has pulled back its troops westwards towards its Dhan Singh Thapa post between Finger 2 and Finger 3 in accordance with the plan to disengage troops of India and China from the face-off site at Finger 4. As agreed earlier by both the sides, India reminded China to strictly create and maintain a buffer zone of at least two kilometers on either side along the LAC to prevent any stand-off between patrolling personnel there, and the area should be monitored by drones and satellites. Thankfully, the threatened tense war-like situation that had existed following the June 15 face-off between the troops of India and China resulting in casualties on both sides, has been considerably eased now, and the process of disengagement of troops on the India-China border that has begun after the third round of meeting between the Corps Commanders of India and China on June 30.

The morale of the Indian jawans, which was already high, has been further boosted by the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Ladakh on July 3, when he addressed them hailing their bravery and paying tributes to those Indian soldiers, who sacrificed their lives. The Prime Minister’s address also sent a clear message to Chinese President Xi Jinping. In his address, Narendra Modi said: “The age of expansionism is over; this is the age of development. History is a proof that expansionists have either lost or have been forced to turn back.” By saying so, he has warned China that the India of 2020 is not the India of 1962.

In the absence of a clear marking of border between the two countries, China has been violating the LAC and its forces have been inching towards India in an effort to capture its territory. China had already captured neighboring Tibet, occupied several square kilometers of India in the 1962 war, and it has been trying to claim the areas like Arunachal Pradesh and other northern border areas including Ladakh. With Pakistan already on its side, China is luring Nepal and encouraging its Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli to take a confrontational stand against India. Forgetting Nepal’s age-old historical, social, cultural and spiritual bonds with India, he has recently re-drawn the map of Nepal by including Indian territory. This new map has been approved by the Nepalese Parliament.

Wary of the continuing threat of border violation by China and the cross-border terrorism unleashed across the western border by Pakistan, India’s Narendra Modi government has, as part of its defense preparedness, has begun to strengthen its land, air and naval defense forces by increasing budget allocation, and it has also started acquiring military equipment and hardware, including import of fighter jets, heavy-duty transport helicopters, assault rifles, missiles and surveillance drones. France has already quickened the delivery of six of the 36 Rafale fighter aircraft contracted by India. The Indian Defense Ministry has recently approved the purchase of 33 Russian fighter jets including 12 Su-30MKIs and 21 MiG-29s, and upgrade of another 59 planes, which will together cost Rs.181.48 billion. The Indian Army, after inducting 72,000 SiG Sauer riffles, now plans to order for another 72,000 such riffles from the US arms manufacturers because of the continuing delay in the project to manufacture Russian Kalashnikov rifles at Korwa ordinance factory in Amethi district. The Indian Defense Ministry is planning to buy from Israel, the Heron surveillance drones and the fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missiles to boost India’s surveillance and firepower. In a latest move, the Defense Ministry of India has granted special powers to the three services for individual capital procurement program worth Rs. 300 crore to meet any emergent operational requirements.

Modi government had also ordered banning of 59 Chinese Apps calling them to be prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity and security of India. In its assertion against China, India enjoys the solidarity of countries like the US, the UK, France, Russia, Israel, Australia, Germany Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan.

– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.

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