Let’s cut to the chase. India was caught on the backfoot when the Chinese began their aggressive moves in Ladakh. But it recovered smartly to seize the heights in the Kailash Range on the south side of the Pangong Tso. That became its strongest and possibly sole bargaining chip. The key question: Should it have held on to the heights and used it to negotiate deals in other Ladakh regions like the crucial Depsang Plains and Hot Springs Gogra? Or, have we got the best deal possible under the circumstances with both sides agreeing to a pullback on the two banks of the Pangong Tso?
India, for its part, has agreed to vacate the heights and move back to its Dhan Singh Thapa post between Pangong Tso’s Fingers 2 and 3. In exchange, the Chinese are moving back to their permanent posts east of Finger 8. For now, the 8-10 km area in between will become a no-patrol zone. Tanks will move back first, followed by artillery and infantry. This should take around two to three weeks (both sides have to remove fortifications). The next round of talks will begin 48 hours after the pullouts are complete. The two sides are watching each other carefully and Indian military experts insist that our troops are located very close to the Kailash Range in Chushul.
In the Depsang sector, India has been denied access to patrolling points but the government insists that’s a long-running issue which pre-dates the current crisis. Depsang’s near our Daulat Bad Oldi airstrip and is also important strategically for the Siachin Glacier. “It was clear that we saw Depsang as a pre-April 2020 issue and separate from the current talks,” says Manoj Kewalramani, fellow, China Studies, The Takshashila Institution.
Kewalramani also points out the Chinese Communist Party is planning a huge jamboree in July to celebrate its 100th anniversary. It couldn’t allow the border stand-off to spoil the party. The key question now: Has India been able to counter Chinese bully-boy tactics? The answer is that China now knows there could be a risk attached if it pushes India around. Whether that will stop it in the future is another issue altogether.