BY S VENKAT NARAYAN,
Our Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI, October 17:
Perhaps for the first time since India and China fought a bloody war in the Himalayas in 1962, the two Asian giants appear to be engaged in discussing serious proposals for disengagement their armies along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
After seven rounds of meetings between Indian and Chinese military commanders in eastern Ladakh, the two sides have exchanged serious proposals for disengagement that are currently being studied by the top echelons of the Indian government.
Though sources are tight-lipped about the development, it is believed that India is looking for a “comprehensive” disengagement that covers all the friction points along the LAC and addresses future problems.
While discussions on disengagement have been on for some time, the current discussion is seen as a serious movement between the two sides. The proposals have been discussed in the China Study Group in their last meeting and are still being deliberated.
That something serious is afoot was hinted at by Indian External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Thursday. Addressing an online conclave, he said: “Discussions are on, what is going on is something confidential between us and the Chinese,” he said when the moderator at the Bloomberg India Economic Forum pressed him to give a clear status of the border situation.
“There is not very much that I am in a position to say in public. I certainly do not want to prejudge it,” he added.
India-China LAC is 4,057 km-long. Over a period of time, China has agreed that there are 23 areas of dispute needing resolution.
There is no certainty that this could lead to a breakthrough, but it is a significant development and comes after India acquired tactical advantages on the heights around Pangong Tso, thus changing the equations on the ground.
It comes after the government decided to send senior Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official Naveen Srivastava to the border talks. Srivastava was a surprise introduction in the sixth round, and in the seventh, the Chinese foreign ministry too sent its representative.
The development also acknowledges a bitter reality — of deep winter setting which is already imposing human costs on both sides.
The MEA’s official readout after the last round described the talks as “positive and constructive”, adding that it was the second time both sides had issued a joint statement, indicating convergence.
“This is the second joint press release issued after the one issued after the previous round. The two sides have a better understanding of each other’s positions. Disengagement is a complex process that requires redeployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC,” the MEA had said.
The talks so far have been successful in setting in place local steps to avoid confrontation and flare-ups. What they are now talking about is a deeper disengagement. India has made it clear that de-escalation (troops and equipment returning to their bases) could take place only after a full disengagement from all friction points.
India would like to retain the military advantages that it has taken in the area. It’s not yet clear how the disengagement process will be worked out. India would be keen to avoid a Doklam-like situation, where the Chinese built up after the disengagement in the stand-off areas.