China and India are committed to “complete disengagement” of troops, and the process is “intricate” that requires “constant verification”, the Indian Army said on Thursday after the fourth round of marathon military talks on de-escalation of the situation in eastern Ladakh.
The Army said senior commanders of the Indian and Chinese military reviewed the progress on implementation of the first phase of disengagement and discussed further steps for “complete disengagement”.
The Corps commanders held 15-hour-long negotiations in Chushul on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) from 11 AM on Tuesday to 2 AM on Wednesday, covering various aspects of the complex disengagement process including withdrawal of thousands of troops from the rear bases within a specific time frame.
“The senior commanders reviewed the progress on implementation of the first phase of disengagement and discussed further steps to ensure complete disengagement,” Army Spokesperson Col Aman Anand said in a statement.
” The two sides remain committed to the objective of complete disengagement. This process is intricate and requires constant verification. They are taking it forward through regular meetings at diplomatic and military level,” he added.
The formal process of disengagement of troops began on July 6, a day after a nearly two-hour telephonic conversation between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on ways to bring down tension in the area. Doval and Wang are designated special representatives for boundary talks.
On the fourth round of Corps commander-level talks, Col Anand said the engagement was consistent with the consensus reached between the special representatives of India and China on July 5 to discuss complete disengagement.
The Indian delegation was led by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, the Commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, while the Chinese side was headed by Major General Liu Lin, Commander of the South Xinjiang military region.
“Rebuilding mutual trust after the June 15 incident will take time. Therefore, speedy disengagement may be difficult to achieve. More talks at military level would be needed to achieve complete disengagement,” a senior official familiar with the details of the negotiations .
The tension in eastern Ladakh escalated manifold after the violent clashes in Galwan Valley on June 15 in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed. The Chinese side also suffered casualties, but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.
Earlier, government sources said the Indian side conveyed a “very clear” message to the Chinese army during the marathon talks in Chushul that status quo ante must be restored in eastern Ladakh and it will have to follow all mutually agreed protocols for border management to bring back peace and tranquillity.
They said the two sides agreed on certain modalities for rolling out the next phase of disengagement and are expected to get in touch with each other soon.
A fifth round of Lt General-level talks may take place in the next few days on the next phase of the disengagement process, the sources said. The phase two of the disengagement will focus largely on further withdrawal of troops from Pangong Tso, they added.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already completed pulling back troops from Galwan Valley, Gogra and Hot Springs and significantly thinned down its presence in the ridgeline of Finger Four in the Pangong Tso area in the last one week as demanded by India.
Government sources said India is keeping a hawk eye vigil on all areas along the LAC in Ladakh and will maintain a high-level of alertness to deal with any eventualities.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will visit Ladakh on Friday to take stock of India’s military preparedness and review the overall situation.
Singh will be accompanied by Chief of Army Staff Gen MM Naravane and it will be his first visit to Ladakh after the standoff between the armies of India and China on the LAC began on May 5.
His trip comes days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Ladakh on July 3 during which he also addressed troops and signalled the country’s firmness in dealing with the India-China border row.
The sources said Singh will carry out a comprehensive review of the security situation in the region with Gen Naravane, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen Yogesh Kumar Joshi, Commander of the 14 Corps Lt Gen Harinder Singh and other senior Army officials.
On Wednesday, NSA Doval, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Gen Naravane and several other senior officials reviewed the situation in eastern Ladakh.
The first round of the Lt General talks was held on June 6 during which both sides finalised an agreement to disengage gradually from all the standoff points beginning with Galwan Valley.
However, the situation deteriorated following the Galwan Valley clashes on June 15 as the two sides significantly bolstered their deployments in most areas along the LAC. The second round of talks took place on June 22 and the third round on June 30.
In a related development, the Defence ministry on Wednesday granted special powers to the three services for individual capital procurement programme worth Rs 300 crore to meet emergent operational requirements, a move that came against the backdrop of the tense border row in eastern Ladakh.
Officials said there will be no cap on the number of procurement programmes and that each acquisition under the emergency requirement category should not cost more than Rs 300 crore.27