De-escalation On The Ladakh Lac Has Yet To Take Place Two Years After Galwan

On May 5, 2020, two years after PLA troops crossed into Galwan Valley, an uneasy stalemate exists between India and China along the 1597 km Line of Actual Control (LAC) in East Ladakh, with incomplete disengagement from the Kongka La area and unresolved patrolling issues in the Depsang and Demchok areas.

While there have been no fewer than 15 rounds of negotiations between Indian and Chinese top military commanders to restore the status quo ante on the disputed border by April 2020, the PLA remains forwardly stationed in the KongKa La area, also known as patrolling point 15 on the military map. On May 17-18, the Chinese Army crossed the Kugrang River, a tributary of the Shyok River, Gogra, and the north banks of the Pangong Tso.

Despite the fact that the two armies were able to disengage from the Pangong Tso, Galwan, and Gogra-Hot Springs areas, the PLA has yet to withdraw from KongKa La, which establishes Chinese boundary claims as defined by the 1959 Line on the LAC. After the June 15 battles, in which the Indian Army lost 20 personnel, the Chinese disengaged from Galwan in July 2020, but only after suffering unreported fatalities on the PLA troops.

After an audacious action by the Indian Army on the south banks of the saline lake on August 29-31, 2020, the disengagement from the north banks of Pangong Tso took place in February 2021. The Indian Army and Special Frontier Force took crucial heights on the south bank of the lake in a quick move, putting Chinese forces in Moldo at risk.

The PLA would have dragged its feet on disengagement from the north banks of the lake if it hadn’t been for the Indian Army’s intervention. On August 20, 2021, the Gogra station on the Chang Chemo River, which enters the Kugrang River in a broad westerly direction, was disengaged.

Despite the fact that both sides have achieved disengagement on the East Ladakh LAC to a significant extent, there has been no troop de-escalation in the region, with both forces present in full strength with armoured, rocket, artillery, and missile support. The Indian side has remained on high alert, with reports suggesting that the PLA may take advantage of the Ukraine situation to infiltrate new regions along the LAC. The Modi government has issued clear instructions that any PLA belligerence on the LAC must be countered and responded to in kind, without relinquishing a single inch of territory.

The two countries have held bilateral talks at the highest level of diplomacy, with Beijing seeking to improve relations while the military conversation continues. The Indian side has made it plain that the path to normalising relations leads through East Ladakh, with India requesting unrestricted patrolling rights in the Depsang Bulge and Charding Nullah Junction areas of Demchok. The PLA is obstructing access to both of these flashpoints, resulting in military clashes, while the Indian Army manages to send patrols into these areas despite the obstacles.

The Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso Lake are peaceful, but the PLA has strengthened its position by building a new bridge across the salt-water lake for troop and logistical supply exchanges in the worst-case scenario. The Indian side has also beefed up its forces all along the 3,488-kilometer LAC, with unambiguous orders to the troops protecting the north boundaries.

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