After several rounds of talks at the diplomatic and military levels, India and China are poised to take a major step forward to end the over nine-month-long standoff at the LAC. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday that both nations had reached an agreement on the disengagement of troops from the north and south banks of the Pangong lake in eastern Ladakh. Under the pact, the two sides will cease their forward deployments in a ‘phased, coordinated and verified manner’ in these areas. The potential breakthrough comes as many as five months after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, during a meeting in Moscow, worked out a five-point action plan to ease border tensions. Interestingly, the Chinese Defence Ministry went to town about the initiation of disengagement on Wednesday itself, while the Indian government took its time preparing a detailed statement. India’s guarded, carefully calibrated response is understandable, considering how China has given short shrift to a series of agreements signed over the past three decades or so.
The much-awaited de-escalation will offer some respite to the Indian troops, who have been on high alert particularly after the Galwan valley clash of June 2020, but there is no room for letting one’s guard down. India needs to constantly monitor the Chinese pullback and be on the lookout for any aberration. Rebuilding mutual trust will be a long-drawn-out process requiring sustained actions on the ground.
It’s not only China’s misadventures in recent years that have tempered India’s optimism with caution. There is a bitter lesson to be learnt from history too. Back in July 1962, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had welcomed the ‘partial’ withdrawal of Chinese troops from Ladakh. The euphoria didn’t last long. Barely three months later, China invaded Indian territory. Though India will be hoping that such treachery is not repeated, the possibility can’t entirely be ruled out. Another cause for concern is lack of transparency on the neighbour’s part. New Delhi must ensure that Beijing ticks all the boxes of the disengagement process. It should all be in plain view, and easily verifiable.