Indian and Chinese troops are pulling back from one of the several disputed border areas in the Himalayan mountains where they have been locked in a standoff for over two years.
The Indian Defense Ministry said in a statement Thursday evening that troops had begun to disengage from the area of Gogra-Hotsprings “in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to peace and tranquility in the border areas.”
The announcement marks a step forward in resolving a military standoff that began after a June 2020 clash in Ladakh in the western Himalayas killed 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers.
Both countries have since deployed about 50,000 troops each, backed by fighter jets, artillery and tanks along the Himalayan borders, along what are called “friction points” along their unmarked 3,800-kilometer border. At several places, the troops are positioned in close proximity.
“The perception that things could flare up due to the military standoff have been diffused so the pullback has created a degree of tranquility in Ladakh,” Brigadier Arun Sahgal from the Delhi Policy Group, a think tank in New Delhi, told VOA. However, he warned that the buildup along Himalayan borders by the two countries will not end anytime soon.
“Both sides have built up certain capacities and capabilities and they are here to stay. To that extent the postures will remain hard, so I don’t think the de-escalation will take place any time soon.”
Protracted negotiations between each side’s military commanders to end the standoff in the last two years have made slow progress. The agreement to withdraw troops from the Gogra-Hot Springs area came in the 16th round of talks, held last month between the Indian and Chinese military commanders, a year after they last announced they were withdrawing troops from another area.
The pullback comes ahead of a regional summit to be held next week in Uzbekistan, scheduled to be attended by both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. There has been speculation in domestic media of a likely meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit marking their first direct contact since tensions erupted after the 2020 border clash.
India has repeatedly said that ties with China will not improve unless the status quo that existed along the Himalayan border prior to that clash is restored.
“The state of the border will determine the state of the relationship,” Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said last week at the launch of an office in New Delhi of the Asia Society Policy institute, a think tank.
Key disputes at other places along their Himalayan borders continue to pose a challenge – one of the toughest to tackle is an area called Depsang Plains, where Indian analysts say Chinese troops are blocking access to a key mountain pass.
However, the latest pullback of troops in Ladakh has led to some optimism. “A sort of political narrative is being created that there is a move forward,” Sahgal said, which ”probably would open up space for more political-level consultations.”