India, China pull back troops from Gogra, army says all structures removed - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 6 August 2021

India, China pull back troops from Gogra, army says all structures removed

Thorny issue of negotiating a disengagement at Depsang remains; New Delhi is optimistic of full PLA withdrawal


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 7th Aug 21


Five days after the 12th round of talks between Indian and Chinese senior military commanders in Eastern Ladakh, the Indian government announced on Friday that troops from both sides have pulled back in the Gogra area from the “face-off situation” that they have been in since May last year.


“Both sides have ceased forward deployments in this area (Gogra) in a phased, coordinated and verified manner. The disengagement process was carried out over two days i.e. 04 and 05 August 2021. The troops of both sides are now in their respective permanent bases,” said the official statement from New Delhi.


After the recent senior military commanders’ talks on July 31, a joint statement was issued, terming the talks “constructive”, and stating that they “enhanced mutual understanding.” However, there is no statement from Beijing relating to the troop disengagement.


“All temporary structures and other allied infrastructure created in the area by both sides have been dismantled and mutually verified,” said the Indian statement. “This agreement ensures that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in this area will be strictly observed and respected by both sides, and that there is no unilateral change in status quo.”


In May 2020, troops of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had crossed the LAC in Ladakh and occupied Indian territory in five sectors: Depsang, Galwan River valley, Gogra-Hot Spring and Pangong Lake north bank.


PLA and Indian troops clashed in the Galwan valley on June 15, leading to the deaths of 20 Indian and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers. On June 30, senior military commanders from the two sides negotiated a disengagement plan, that involved creating a three-kilometre “buffer zone” on either side of the agreed border.


Business Standard reported at the time (July 9, 2020, Withdrawal from Galwan Valley puts Indian troops further from LAC) that the mutual pull-back agreement effectively shifted the LAC in Galwan by one kilometre in favour of the Chinese.


A second “synchronized and organized disengagement” was negotiated by senior military commanders in their 9th round of talks in February. This involved pulling back troops from the Pangong Lake north and south banks and creating a demilitarised zone to separate a large build-up that had taken place in that sector, including tanks from both sides.


The senior commanders agreed in February that the Pangong disengagement would be followed up within 48 hours by negotiations for troop pullbacks in the remaining sectors as well. However, that never took place.


Now, after the Gogra disengagement, there remains the thorny issue of negotiating a troop disengagement at Depsang, where the Chinese are 15 kilometres inside Indian territory and have shown no inclination to discuss withdrawal.


Furthermore, disengagement has taken place only of the troops in contact on the front lines in Ladakh. An agreement has still to be reached about the withdrawal of an assessed 100,000 troops from both sides that remain deployed in the rear areas in case fighting breaks out. These are unlikely to be withdrawn before the troops in contact, or in close proximity to the LAC, are pulled back.


New Delhi, however, is optimistic about negotiating a full PLA withdrawal. “With this one more sensitive area of face-off has been resolved. Both sides have expressed commitment to take the talks forward and resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in the Western Sector,” it stated.


Putting a brave face on the tensions that still simmer, New Delhi stated on Friday: “The Indian Army along with the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) is totally committed to ensure the sovereignty of the nation and maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the Western Sector.


Since the PLA intrusions into Ladakh were detected in May 2020, there have been no formal government briefings about the situation on the LAC. The quantum of Chinese forces, the extent of the intrusions and the details of the operations carried out have never been put in the public domain. The media has not been given access to the operational areas. 


The 15 months of confrontation with the PLA and the Galwan clash on June 15 have catalysed major organisational and operational changes within the Indian military. In what experts have termed “a pivot to the North”, the Indian Army is changing its operational posture to cater for the realisation that China, not Pakistan, constitutes the main threat to India. An entire Indian strike corps, along with at least two infantry divisions, have been redeployed to the LAC as a deterrent to China.

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