India insists on returning to old patrol pattern on Pangong Tso north bank, even as it discusses three-stage troop pull-back plan

The Indian Army is insisting on restoring its traditional patrolling pattern on the northern bank of Pangong Tso, even as it is discussing with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a proposal for a mutual withdrawal of the frontline troops from the face-off points near the lake in three stages.

The proposal for mutual disengagement from the face-off points on the northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso was discussed in the last two rounds of talks between the senior commanders of the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA. The two sides, however, could not yet reach an agreement, primarily because the Indian Army is asking for the restoration of its traditional patrolling pattern, which remained suspended since the Chinese PLA built a bunker near Finger 4 on the northern bank of the lake in early May.

A source aware of New Delhi’s talks with Beijing to resolve the six-month-long military stand-off told the DH that the Indian Army was not ready to accept the Chinese PLA’s proposal for a moratorium on patrolling on the northern bank of Pangong Tso – like the one the two sides put in place while agreeing on withdrawal of troops from the face-off point in Galwan Valley after the violent clash on June 15.

The Pangong Tso “disengagement” plan being discussed by the two sides will have three stages, beginning with the withdrawal of tanks and armoured vehicles deployed by the two sides closer to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto boundary between the two neighbouring nations – on the banks of the lake.

It will be followed by the withdrawal of the Indian Army’s troops from Finger 4 to its Major Dhan Singh Thapa post located between Finger 2 and 3 on the northern bank of the lake. The Chinese Army will also withdraw from its current position near Finger 5 to Finger 8.

The two sides will withdraw front-line troops from the southern bank of Pangong Tso in the third phase of the proposed disengagement process, the source in New Delhi said, adding that a mutually acceptable process for verification of the implementation of the pull-back plan has also been discussed.

The disengagement proposal was discussed during the seventh and eighth rounds of talks between the senior military commanders of the two sides on October 12 and November 6. But what proved to be a sticking point was the Chinese PLA’s reluctance to agree to the Indian Army’s demand on returning to its traditional patrolling pattern from its Major Dhan Singh Thapa Post between Finger 2 and 3 all the way to Finger 8. The communist country’s army instead demanded for a moratorium on patrolling to create a “buffer zone” between Finger 4 and Finger 8.

The issue is likely to be discussed again when the military commanders of the two sides will hold the ninth round of talks within the next few days.

Another source in New Delhi told the DH that New Delhi might accept Beijing’s proposal for a moratorium on patrolling for a limited period of time, given the fact that both sides generally did not patrol much during winter months. But what the Indian Army was worried about was the possibility that the Chinese PLA might take undue advantage of it, he added.

The Indian Army had to suspend patrolling from Major Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3 to Finger 8 after its troops had a scuffle with the Chinese PLA soldiers near Finger 4 in early May. The PLA later built bunkers and observation posts and deployed additional troops in the area, thus denying access to the Indian Army to its earlier patrolling limit. The Indian Army too deployed additional troops in response to the Chinese Army’s build-up, resulting in the stand-off, which soon spread to other areas along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.

The spurs of the mountain range on the northern bank of Pangong Tso jut towards the lake like the fingers of the palm, with the Finger 1 at the western end and the Finger 8 at the eastern end. China claims that the LAC, after cutting through the lake, goes through the Finger 4. India, on the other hand, claims that the line goes through the Finger 8.

Source: Deccan Herald


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