As per defense reports, The Pangong Tso disengagement between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is proceeding as per the agreed schedule, with satellite imagery showing the rapid movement of Chinese heavy vehicles beyond the Finger 8 mountainous spur on the north banks of the frozen saltwater lake.
The disengagement process was reviewed in South Block on Friday. The Indian Army expressed satisfaction at the process which is scheduled to be completed by February 19 or in 10 days from the beginning on February 10.
“The structures like the bunkers and shades have been dismantled and the Artillery Guns have been moved east of Finger 8. Also, the posts created on the South Bank have been removed and the armored vehicles (Tanks and the Infantry Combat Vehicle) have been moved back”, told a senior Army officer. It is a phased disengagement beginning with the armored vehicles, artillery, and Infantry soldiers to be moved in the last phase.
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There is evidence of the pullback by Chinese main battle tanks from the southern banks of Pangong Tso, matched by the withdrawal of the Indian tanks and artillery equipment. However, there has been no evidence of any withdrawal of PLA forces or equipment from depth areas or from central or eastern sectors.
“I understand good progress has already been achieved towards this objective. The PLA is moving very quickly as per the agreed schedule,” said a senior official.
As per the Pangong Tso disengagement, the PLA will move east of Finger 8 on the Srijap plain and the Indian Army will move back to the Dhan Singh Thapa post on the Finger 3 area. The entire area between Finger 4 and 8 will be demilitarised with patrolling schedules decided through consultations between commanders at a later stage.
According to the ministry of defense, the two sides will discuss the disengagement in the Gogra-Hot Springs area and the Depsang bulge after the Pangong Tso withdrawal is completed to ensure peace and tranquillity along the 1,597 km Line of Actual Control in the Ladakh sector.
While Indian security planners are satisfied with the disengagement after nearly 10 months of intense confrontation, they are aware that the disengagement does not mean peace on its own.
According to them, both sides will have to go back to their bases prior to April 2020 all along the 3,488km LAC to ensure that there is no further military confrontation. “Disengagement is only step one of the entire process, with peace and tranquillity a long way off,” said a senior military commander.
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Although the disengagement is being verified through satellite imagery each day, the bigger worry for the Indian Army is the intentions of the PLA western theatre commander when summer military exercises will be held in Tibet and Xinjiang region in march.
The PLA deployment across the Karakoram pass in Xiadullah has not changed and the same stands for deployment across the Daulet Beg Oldi sector. It is for this very reason that the Indian Army has adopted a trust-but-verify approach as a military flare-up is not ruled out due to the aggression of local PLA commanders on the ground.