Outstanding problems with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at Depsang, Hot Springs and Gogra — friction points on the contested border in eastern Ladakh — will be tackled after full disengagement between rival soldiers in the Pangong Tso area, where mutual withdrawal of front-line troops is underway, the defence ministry said on Friday.
This was the first official mention of Depsang, which lies south of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in a strategic area that the military calls Sub-Sector North, as a friction point after border tensions began last May.
The outstanding issues related to deployment and patrolling at the three friction points will be taken up within 48 hours of pullback of troops deployed on strategic heights on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, the ministry said in a statement.
Disengagement in the Pangong Tso area along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) began on Wednesday.
India has not ceded any territory to China as a result of the disengagement agreement, the ministry said hours after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given away land in the Finger area on the north bank of Pangong Tso to the neighbour. Gandhi asked why the government was silent on Depsang.
“On the contrary, it (the agreement) has enforced observance and respect for LAC and prevented any unilateral change in the status quo,” the statement said. External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told reporters that the agreement was reached after several rounds of sustained negotiations at the military and diplomatic levels.
Giving out details of the Pangong Tso disengagement plan in Parliament on Thursday, defence minister Rajnath Singh said the PLA will retreat to its base east of Finger 8, the Indian Army will move back to its permanent position near Finger 3 and neither side will patrol the contested areas in between until an agreement is reached through future talks.
Singh also told both Houses that India did not “concede anything” during the military talks, and added that there were still some outstanding issues at some other points along the LAC.
Disengagement is progressing smoothly in the Pangong Tso area and it could be over in two weeks after which talks would focus on the other friction points, people familiar with the developments said on Friday.
“Both sides on Friday withdrew more troops from the area for third straight day. Armoured and artillery elements retreated to their respective positions from heights on the south bank on Thursday. Infantry is now being pulled back,” said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named.
Focus will shift to Depsang, Hot Springs and Gogra after Pangong Tso.
PLA’s deployments in Depsang have hindered access of Indian soldiers to routes including the ones leading to Patrolling Points (PP) 10, 11, 11-A, 12 and 13.
The Indian Army’s patrolling activity has also been affected in Gogra and Hot Springs, where rival troops are forward deployed and where skeletal disengagement took place last year, but the gains could not be consolidated.
“The synchronised and simultaneous disengagement process is seemingly progressing as planned. This augurs well for subsequent disengagement from other friction points. While we may not trust the Chinese post the Galwan Valley clash, we need to trust ourselves and the armed forces to protect our interests,” said Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former director general of military operations.
The disengagement will be phased, coordinated and verified at all friction points. It could be a time-consuming process and take several months, said a second official. The external affairs ministry didn’t go into specifics such as the next steps for disengagement during a regular news briefing on Friday, with Srivastava saying these issues were spelt out in Singh’s statements in both Houses.