It is a half-glass full story in Eastern Ladakh where Chinese and Indian troops are going in for a “ synochronised” disengagement after more than 11-month long standoff as it is not clear whether this “disengagement” will lead to end of the hostile positions at the whole of the Line of Actual Control ( LAC) once and for all.
It has appeared clearly that the beginning is being made from Pangong Tso ( lake) that lies 225 KMs from Leh, the major town in Ladakh region.. Before the standoff, India controlled 45 kms of the 135 km -long lake of shimmering waters and changing colours . There is no mention of other areas where like Despang , Galwan that were the major points of dispute .
The Galwan Valley had embedded into the national consciousness where 20 Indian soldiers had died while fighting Chinese troops who had tried to unilaterally alter the status quo of the LAC . That happened on June 15/ 16-night last year . The status of the Valley at this point in time is not known.
At the moment, it is only the movement of tanks and mechanized weaponry , not the infantry , and even if it comes to that given the accumulation of snow in the Himalayas where troops are stationed, it is very difficult to move any time before April or May .
An analogy is being drawn between the situation at Siachen glacier , where the mistrust has prevented the demilitarization of the glacier . There is no trust in India that once Pakistan retreats from the glacier that it will not come up again.
The similar kind of situation prevails with China, too. The basic issue is of sincerity and truthfulness , if Chinese were to disengage on permanent basis, in that case why should have they created a situation which they did, last year .
The army also believe that it is going to be a big challenge in the coming weeks or months as China will take time to dismantle the infrastructure , if it really intends to do so.
No magic wand is at work that will dismantle all the infrastructure built over the past one year in a matter of days. The cost and consequences would be factored in.
Defence Minister too admitted in the Rajya Sabha that everything has not been worked out in final terms . He told the House : “ There are still some outstanding issues with regard to deployment and patrolling at some other points along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. These will be the focus of further discussions with the Chinese side”.
Though the ninth round of the army commander level talks of the two armies concluded on January 24 , where this disengagement plan was worked out , the actual process began on Wednesday , and the nature and mechanism of which is locked in a series of ifs and buts .
It was the Chinese ministry of defence that made a disclosure of the disengagement on Wednesday but specific details were given by Indian defence Minister Rajnath Singh in the Parliament on Thursday morning .
He explained : “ The agreement for the disengagement in the Pangong lake area envisages that both sides will cease their forward deployments in a phased, coordinated and verified manner. The Chinese side will keep its troop presence in the North Bank area to east of Finger 8. Reciprocally, the Indian troops will be based at their permanent base at Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3. A similar action would be taken in the South Bank area by both sides.
These are mutual and reciprocal steps and any structures that had been built by both sides since April 2020 in both North and South Bank area will be removed and the landforms will be restored.”
China set the narrative of the disengagement in Ladakh on the day when American President Joe Biden spoke to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping . Biden, according to readout of the conversation issued by White House , “ committed to pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements when it advances the interests of the American people and those of our allies. “
India may not be deemed as an ally as such , but the American and Indian interests converge on most of the issues , and Washington has always attempted to counter balance China with India in the region . That tenet of American foreign policy remains unchanged .
It has been a consistent stand of the US that China is pursuing its expansive policies in which south China sea, Taiwan and Chinese aggression on the Indian side of the LAC have found mention in the past . The Biden administration holds the same view
But the real test will come in the coming months , not anytime soon , because the brilliant diplomacy of the two countries took 11 months to work just for one lake area. There are many more areas and disputes waiting for their turn for resolution . Glass is half empty as well .
About the Author:
Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express and The Tribune.
He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.