Officials familiar with the developments said on Monday that two years after Indian and Chinese troops clashed in Ladakh’s remote Galwan Valley, the two countries are still in talks to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). However, an early resolution to the lingering 25-month standoff is unlikely, even though both Beijing and New Delhi agree that the ongoing dialogue will help achieve disengagement from all friction points.
To end the standoff, the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have held 15 rounds of discussions between corps commanders, 14 of which took place after the Galwan Valley skirmish. These discussions have partially succeeded in disengaging rival soldiers from specific hotspots on the LAC.
According to one of the officials, who did not want to be identified, the June 15, 2020, Galwan incident was the first violent skirmish along the LAC in five decades, and the trust deficit it caused continues to haunt the current talks. The conflict resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops.
“As long as the talks continue, some progress in disengagement can be expected.” “It’s difficult to give a date for complete disengagement,” said a second official, who did not want to be identified.
In another round of diplomatic talks on the LAC impasse on May 31, India and China didn’t make much progress, agreeing simply to continue discussions on unresolved concerns and to hold the 16th conference of military commanders as soon as possible.
Since the two countries withdrew frontline troops from the Gogra-Hot Springs sector in August 2021, the disengagement process between India and China has been stuck. Despite pullout of forces from the Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso, and Gogra-Hot Springs areas, both countries still have over 60,000 troops and advanced equipment positioned in the Ladakh theatre.
Patrol Point-15 in Kongka La, Depsang Bulge in the Daulet Beg Oldi sector, and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in the Demchok sector are all still up for discussion.
“We’re approaching the two-year anniversary of the tragic Galwan battle. If there is one takeaway from this episode, it is that when a big number of troops are pitted against each other and CBMs (confidence-building measures) fail, violence is more possible, even if it isn’t planned,” said Lieutenant General DS Hooda, former Northern Army commander (retd).
The potential of a local clash persists, Hooda added, because the Chinese are not moving forward with the disengagement and de-escalation process.
In a seven-hour battle near Patrol Point 14 in Galwan Valley two years ago, Indian forces headed by Colonel B Santosh Babu fought off numerically superior Chinese troops. Babu, who aged 37 at the time, was one of 20 Indian troops killed in action.
Babu, the commanding officer of 16 Bihar, and five other troops were received battlefield gallantry decorations for their bravery during the skirmish. India and China have toughened their posture on the LAC over the last two years, with heightened military actions on both sides of the border, the deployment of sophisticated weapons, infrastructure construction, and a series of combat manoeuvres by their militaries.
General Manoj Pande, the Indian Army’s chief of staff, said in May that the Indian Army wanted to “re-establish confidence and serenity” with the PLA, but warned that “it can’t be a one-way affair.”