NEW DELHI: India and China have agreed on a gradual and verifiable disengagement from their over 50-day troop confrontation in different areas of eastern

Ladakh

, which will eventually lead to the two sides also thinning out their massive military build-ups along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control.

With rival troops remaining on a knife-edge since the violent skirmish in Galwan Valley on June 15, the breakthrough over de-escalation plan came during the 11-hour marathon meeting between 14 Corps commander

Lt-Gen Harinder Singh

and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, which finally ended at 10.30 pm on Monday.

A similar meeting on June 6 had also resulted in a “consensus” over disengagement which, however, went awry after Chinese troops refused to adhere to the pull back plan at “Patrolling Point-14” in Galwan Valley and attacked Col Santosh Babu and his men. A week later, following blame apportioning by both sides, the outcome of the fresh discussions are a welcome development which will need action on the ground though.

“The corps commander-level talks were held in a cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere. There was a mutual consensus to disengage. The modalities for disengagement from all friction areas in eastern Ladakh were discussed and will be taken forward by both the sides,” said an official source on Tuesday.

The step-by-step disengagement will first take place at the face-off sites in

the Galwan Valley

region and Gogra-Hot Springs area, where the rival troops are more or less on their own sides of the LAC. They will need to move further away and thin down deployment.

The proposed de-escalation at Pangong Tso (Tso means lake) still remains a major area of concern, with some uncertainty about China’s intentions there. Chinese troops have built dozens of new fortifications and pillboxes as well as taken the dominating heights after occupying the “Finger-4 to 8 area”(mountainous spurs separated by an 8-km distance) on the north bank of the lake, as was reported earlier by TOI.

If things go as per the plan, the gradual disengagement will kick off with the rival troops progressively moving back by specified distances in different areas while more meetings take place between sector commanders.

In the second phase, both sides are slated to begin de-inducting additional battalions, artillery guns and armoured vehicles from the “depth or rear areas” of the confrontation sites as well as from other sectors like Depsang and

Chushul

in eastern Ladakh, said sources.

“Let us see how things play out at Pangong Tso. For India, the LAC runs north to south at Finger-8. The People’s Liberation Army (

PLA

) may delay their withdrawal, with restoration of status quo ante taking time there,” said a source.

Amidst all this, Army chief General M M Naravane reached Leh on Tuesday afternoon to review the operational situation on the ground with Northern Command chief Lt-General Y K Joshi as well as Lt-Gen Singh, among others.

India will closely monitor the pull-back through drones and surveillance aircraft with far greater caution this time. A similar disengagement process initiated a couple of weeks ago ended in Col Babu and his team being ambushed by PLA troops, who reneged on removing their observation post on Indian territory near “Patrolling Point-14” in the Galwan Valley region on June 15.

Though Col Babu and his around 40-member team succeeded in dismantling the observation post set up at the vertex of the bend in the Galwan River, they were brutally attacked by the numerically-superior PLA soldiers armed with nail-studded iron rods and stones.

The ensuing skirmish led to Col Babu and 19 Indian soldiers being killed, while the PLA also suffered an unspecified number of fatal casualties, including the commanding officer and another officer of the rival unit.

During the Monday meeting on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border personnel meeting (BPM) point in eastern Ladakh, Lt-Gen Singh strongly raised the “unacceptable and pre-meditated” violence by PLA soldiers during the skirmish. “It was decided that steps will be taken by both sides to ensure such incidents do not reoccur,” said another source.

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