Troops to pull back in Hot Spring, Pangong Tso, but PLA to remain on Indian territory

Army trucks move towards Ladakh in the midst of border stand-off. Photo: PTI
After days of negotiations between Indian and Chinese officers on the terms of disengagement in the Hot Spring area of Ladakh, the two sides have agreed on Saturday to pull back troops by one kilometre (km) each, say government sources.

The disengagement, which is expected to be completed by Sunday, will create a demilitarized buffer zone of two km, roughly along the Chang Chenmo River, into which neither side will send patrols for the present.

These terms of disengagement are to China’s advantage. People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers, who have intruded 3-4 km across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into Indian territory near Patrolling Point 15 (PP-15), and about 2 km near PP-17A, will only be required to pull back 1 km, say the sources.

That means that, even after the disengagement, the PLA will remain 2-3 km on the Indian side of the LAC near PP-15 and at least one km inside Indian territory near PP-17A. Effectively the demilitarized buffer zone will lie entirely in Indian territory and the LAC would effectively shift by 1-3 km into India.

The plus side to the disengagement is that Indian and Chinese troops will pull back from their dangerous eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation in this sector. About 1,000 soldiers from each side have been confronting each other near PP-15 and about 1,500 from each side in the vicinity of PP-17A.

However, there is no withdrawal or thinning out of the large number troops that the PLA has concentrated on the Chinese side of the LAC, east of India’s PP-18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23. Chinese artillery guns also remain deployed across the LAC from PP-19.

Pangong Tso disengagement

Also disadvantageous to India is the mutual withdrawal being implemented in the Pangong Tso lake sector, where Chinese troops are required to pull back from the confrontation point at Finger 4, to Finger 5 further east. Meanwhile, Indian troops are required to withdraw from Finger 4 to the area of Finger 3, say government sources.

In violating the LAC that lay along Finger 8, and taking control of the north bank of the Pangong Tso till Finger 4, the Chinese intruded 8 km into Indian-claimed territory. With the terms of disengagement requiring them to withdraw by 2 km to Finger 5, PLA troops will remain about 6 km inside Indian-claimed territory.

On the other hand, the withdrawal of Indian troops by 2 km from Finger 4 to Finger 3, will increase the depth of territory lost to 10 km. 

Even more worrying, Chinese soldiers are reportedly withdrawing only from the banks of Pangong Tso. The bunkers and defensive works the PLA has built on the dominating heights above the lake remain occupied by the Chinese, giving them a clear view of Indian activity as far as the west end of the Pangong Tso lake.

As Business Standard reported earlier (July 9, Withdrawal from Galwan Valley puts Indian troops further from LAC) India was also disadvantaged in the earlier disengagement agreement negotiated for the Galwan River valley. The buffer zone agreement for that sector effectively involved the concession by India of one km of territory on the Galwan River.

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