Continuing pullbacks by Indian and Chinese forces helped create a 4-km deep buffer in Ladakh on Wednesday, the second such unpatrolled area since their bloody clash three weeks ago, but there was little headway in the key friction point around Pangong Tso lake.
Troops from both sides have moved back by 2km each at PP (patrolling point) 15, creating the buffer, a person familiar with the development said. Withdrawals from PP14 had created a buffer on Tuesday.
Indian and Chinese troops were also expected to pull back 2km each at another friction point in eastern Ladakh, known as PP 17A, with the process expected to be completed in a day or two, the person cited above said.
At Galwan Valley, the site of the 15 June clash in which 20 Indian army personnel and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers were killed, troops of both sides moved back by 1.5-2km each.
The creation of buffer zones and a temporary suspension of patrols by India and China to the line of actual control are intended to ensure tensions do not spiral out of control as they did on 15 June, the person cited above said.
But it was in Pangong Tso lake that no real disengagement could be discerned. Two people familiar with the developments said separately that while there was a slight reduction, the deployment numbers from the Chinese side were still very large. Strategic analysts also agreed the real test of the disengagement agreed at the weekend would be the pullback of troops from Pangong Tso. Neither was there any sign of “thinning” of troops in areas that were estimated to be about 10-20km behind the line of actual control where the Chinese have moved thousands of troops, backed by tanks, artillery and air support.
The move to cool tensions between the two armies follow a round of talks between the special representatives of India and China on border matters—national security adviser Ajit Doval and China’s state councillor and minister of foreign affairs Wang Yi. The two spoke to each other on Sunday after which the pullback started following eight weeks of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.
“Ties between India and China have been in free fall since the Galwan incident,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, director at the Society for Policy Studies think-tank. “Both sides have to see how they want to stabilize the relationship.”
For the present, India is in a “wait-and-watch mode”, Bhaskar said, pointing out that New Delhi was demanding that Chinese troops pull back to positions they were at in April, before the escalation of tensions.
“This (pullback of troops) is a work in progress. On current evidence, there is no attempt to withdraw from places like the banks of the Pangong Tso lake. India will have to monitor compliance (of the withdrawal procedure) and see how the process reaches closure. Our aim is restoration of status quo ante and ensuring that the buffer zones are not permanent,” he added.