Indian and Chinese military commanders on Tuesday held over 10-hour-long intense negotiations on finalising a framework for a “time-bound and verifiable” disengagement process from all the friction points in eastern Ladakh including Pangong Tso and Depsang, people familiar with the developments said.
The marathon fourth round of Lt General-level talks also focussed on steps for pulling back large number of troops and weapons from rear bases along the Line of Actual Control(LAC) in eastern Ladakh, they said.
The Indian side insisted on “total restoration” of status quo ante in all areas of eastern Ladakh prior to May 5 when the standoff began following a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in Pangong Tso, sources said.
It also conveyed concerns over China’s “new claim lines” in the region and demanded immediate withdrawal of Chinese troops from a number of areas including Pangong Tso, they said. There was no official word on details of the meeting.
The talks began at around 11 AM at a designated meeting point in Chushul on the Indian side of the de-facto border between the two countries and continued beyond 9 PM.
The Indian delegation was led by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, the commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, while the Chinese side was headed by the commander of the South Xinjiang military region.
The key focus of the talks was learnt to be on rolling out the phase two of the disengagement process besides firming up modalities for withdrawal of forces and weapons from the rear bases in a time-bound and verifiable manner, the sources said, adding they were aimed at further de-escalation of the situation at various friction points.
The third round of military talks on June 30 lasted for 12 hours.
The talks are taking place days after implementation of the first phase of the disengagement process from the friction points.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has already completed pulling back troops from Gogra, Hot Springs and Galwan Valley and significantly thinned down its presence in the ridgeline of Finger Four in the Pangong Tso area in the last one week as demanded by India.
In line with a mutually agreed decision, the two sides created a minimum buffer zone of three kilometres in most of the friction points where they were locked in a standoff.
The formal process of disengagement of troops began on June 6, a day after a nearly two-hour telephonic conversation between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on ways to bring down tension in the area.
The two countries have already held three rounds of Lt General-level talks and the last one took place on June 30 during which both sides agreed on an “expeditious, phased and step wise” de-escalation as a “priority” to end the standoff.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the sources said the two sides are also expected to finalise a roadmap for overall restoration of peace and tranquility in the high-altitude region that witnessed an eight-week bitter standoff between the troops of the two countries.
The first round of the Lt General talks was held on June 6 during which both sides finalised an agreement to disengage gradually from all the standoff points beginning with Galwan Valley.
However, the situation deteriorated following the Galwan Valley clashes on June 15 as the two sides significantly bolstered their deployments in most areas along the LAC. The second round of talks took place on June 22.
The Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a bitter standoff in multiple locations in eastern Ladakh for over eight weeks since May 5.
The tension escalated manifold after the violent clashes in Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed. The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.
Following the Galwan Valley incident, the government has given the armed forces “full freedom” to give a “befitting” response to any Chinese misadventure along the LAC.
The Army has rushed additional troops to forward locations along the border following the deadly clashes. The IAF has also moved air defence systems as well as a sizeable number of its frontline combat jets and attack helicopters to several key air bases.