The agreement between India and China on a five-point plan for restoration of peace at the border comes as an ice-breaker at a time when the two sides were virtually sitting on a tinderbox and any misunderstanding could have sparked off a deadly chain of events spinning out of control. A complete and credible disengagement from all friction points in the east Ladakh region should be the first step towards de-escalation. The present bilateral crisis appears to have gone beyond the military concerns and needs honest initiatives from the top political leadership. A joint statement issued in Moscow after a crucial meeting between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi makes the right pitch for resolution of the stand-off, paving the way for a meeting of the military commanders of the two countries in the next few days to work out details of the final disposition of the troop deployment to their permanent posts. As the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude new confidence-building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas. Given the Chinese expansionist plans to make unilateral cartographic changes in Ladakh, the disengagement process will not be easy. The recent massing of Chinese troops with equipment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is inexplicable. The Chinese side has not provided any credible explanation for this deployment. The provocative behaviour of Chinese frontline troops at numerous incidents of friction along the LAC also showed disregard for bilateral agreements and protocols.
The ongoing, four-month-long tensions along the LAC indicate that some half-a-dozen boundary agreements and dozens of rounds of talks – including 22 rounds under the high-profile Special Representatives (SR) mechanism – failed to prevent what happened on the night of June 15 in the Galwan Valley. Despite provocation from the other side, the Indian troops had scrupulously followed all agreements and protocols pertaining to the management of the border areas. The Chinese leadership must realise that positive bilateral ties in the past two decades were due to peace on the border and the PLA build-up could have a direct bearing on the relationship between two countries. The current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. The commanders on the ground from both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions. Given the rapid upgrade of Chinese infrastructure in border areas compared with India, mutual disengagement is a must in the frontline areas. The two sides must keep communication channels open to prevent any escalation. Even a limited conflict would be disastrous as the two countries have moved a long way from the
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