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Incoherent disengagement

Incoherent disengagement
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The mutual willingness expressed by China and India to diplomatically resolve the brewing disenchantment for other over the border dispute is welcome. Dialogue is indeed a mature way out. However, a superficial disengagement is of little value as China on Wednesday demanded Indian withdrawal from Galwan Valley. Following the violent skirmish in Galwan Valley on June 15, there have been three deliberative channels between both nations viz., a phone call between foreign ministers on June 17, a meeting between Corps Commanders on June 22 and a videoconference between border affairs diplomats on June 24. All three have delineated a strong commitment to disengage albeit without any timelines. But the disengagement being discussed is yet to take shape on the ground at the Line of Actual Control. Further, the recent satellite images show that the Chinese have built what appears to be a defensive position at the site of clash in Galwan Valley between June 16 and 22. And, co-existing with the disengagement talks is the outspoken Chinese claim over Galwan Valley that India has rubbished as untenable. It is clear that the Chinese sovereign claim over the territory fuels its actions of building defensive position and increasing troop presence there. Satellite images confirm that the outpost which caused the deadly clash has not only been reinstated but also strengthened. Chinese actions on LAC do not match its intention of disengagement along diplomatic channels. There is a serious discrepancy in border perception which might not allow either side to withdraw personnel from border areas. At least not as swiftly as the diplomatic lines may enforce. If China intends to strengthen the outpost which was the cause for the fatal skirmish on June 15 notwithstanding the nod to disengage, it essentially brings back the dispute to square one. Chinese failure to adhere to discussed terms on June 6 meeting resulted in the ugly clash and loss of our 20 soldiers. The three channels following the clash technically become fruitless if the outpost is erected and India is asked to withdraw from the area it perceives as its own territory. Words, therefore, remain of little value, if Chinese actions are directed towards aggravating the dispute through unilateral developments along LAC. The diplomatic attempt to restore the status quo ante will not succeed unless there is uniformity in action and words.

As reported, the Chinese incursion in another strategic area, Depsang plains, near the airstrip of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) further deteriorates the situation. While the army is yet to officially confirm this development, actions of the PLA do not seem conducive towards disengagement. A macro account of the entire border dispute is simply disturbing, to say the least, especially in the wake of the pandemic that has dampened the economy in both nations. From the humanitarian lens, the Sino-Indian border tension is simply unfortunate. Not that there is any time conducive to such border skirmishes at all but for the same to occur at a time when the countries should rather be collaborating to synthesise a vaccine or enhance trade relations to aid the economy is simply disheartening to note. But since the situation at LAC is tense, India must leave no stone unturned to secure its territory. Satellite images of Chinese activities in Ladakh's eastern boundary are a cause of concern. India ought to stay on guard even as it continues to play the diplomatic card with China since the commitment to disengage on June 6 did not even last a fortnight. China's unilateral claims on the Indian side of LAC are to be adequately countered both in diplomatic channels and on-ground trespass. The Chinese game of encroachment is not new and India has learned its lesson well over the years.

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