India and China have completed troop disengagement on both sides of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, setting the stage for talks on the remaining ‘friction points’ at Hot Springs, Gogra and Demchok as well as the strategically-located Depsang Plains in the next corps commander-level meeting on Saturday.
The two armies verified through physical and electronic surveillance that the four-step disengagement process in the Pangong Tso-Kailash range area, which kicked off on February 10 after over nine months of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, was completed to “mutual satisfaction” by Thursday evening.
They then decided to hold the 10th round of military talks, led by 14 Corps commander Lt-General P G K Menon and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point from 10 am on Saturday, officials said.
India, however, is keeping an “adequate” number of troops “suitably poised” to react to any contingency, while having also deployed requisite ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platforms to closely monitor the activities of the People’s Liberation Army.
In military talks, the friction at patrolling points 15 and 17A near Hot Springs and Gogra will be relatively easier to resolve since most rival troops there had earlier disengaged, leaving only a small number in close proximity to each other. Similar is expected to be the case with the trouble-spot at the Charding Ninglung Nallah track junction in the Demchok sector.
But the Depsang Plains or ‘Bulge’ area, the tabletop plateau at 16,000 feet that provides India access to the Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip and the critical Karakoram Pass in the north, will be a much harder nut to crack.
The PLA has been consistently blocking Indian soldiers from going beyond the ‘Bottleneck’ or ‘Y-junction’ area in Depsang, which is around 18 km inside what India perceives to be its territory, to their traditional PPs 10, 11, 11A, 12, and 13. “Depsang has been a problem since 2013, and will require sustained negotiations,” an officer said.